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Four reasons I don’t restore a backup to new iPhones

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I was showing my new iPhone 6 to a friend the other day and he was surprised to see that I had so few apps on my handset. I currently have 29, which barely takes up two home screens.

“Wait,” he said, “haven’t you used iOS since like forever? You had to have bought more apps than that.” He’s right, of course. You should have seen his jaw drop when I explained that I don’t restore backups after purchasing an new [company]Apple[/company] iPhone; I always set them up as new handsets.

kevins iphone 6 usage

Everyone’s iPhone use is different, of course, and my strategy won’t work for everyone, but I stopped restoring backups to handsets a long time ago. Here’s why.

1.  A new phone seems to run better with a “clean” install. Every year I hear more than a few people complaining about how crashy iOS is on their new iPhone. This year was no exception, and I’m not even counting the iOS 8.0.1 update that really gunked up the works for some people. I really haven’t had any crashes on my iPhone 6 save for one or two apps that I know haven’t yet been updated for the new software version.

I used to have iOS stability problems with new iPhones in the past, though. This could be coincidental, but as soon as I started setting up the devices as new handsets — that is, not restoring any apps or data — the problems seemed to go away. I realized this a few years back when trying to troubleshoot a particularly unstable new iPhone, figuring that if I started from scratch, I could isolate the problem. Of course, you end up having some manual work as a result. I actually find that to be a positive, not a negative, because…

2. You get a yearly opportunity to weed out unnecessary apps. A “new” iPhone doesn’t come with any of the apps I previously purchased and downloaded; that’s not a bad thing. I take the opportunity to figure out which apps I really want on my iPhone, only re-installing them as needed. That explains why after a few weeks with my new iPhone 6, I only have 29 apps installed. I’ll surely add more over time, some new and some that I previously bought. Instead of pages and pages of folders and apps, though, I have a clutter-free environment on my iPhone.

iPhone 6 thin

Apple keeps track of every app you’ve bought, so you don’t have to. That’s handy and gives me a nice repository to work with — it’s the Purchased section of the iTunes App Store on an iPhone. And because of that repository, you don’t have to pay twice for the same app. Setting up IDs and passwords in these apps is still a manual process that nobody enjoys. I recommend a password manager app to help with that. I use 1Password and there are others to choose from.

3. What about my gazillion photos? I take as many photos as the next person with an iPhone, so yes, there’s a challenge when it comes to managing digital images when moving to a new handset. But this isn’t 2002, when we needed to use USB cables and clunky software to move data to a mobile device. It’s 2014 and the cloud is all around us.

dropboxScreen Shot 2012-02-27 at 6.54.41 AM

There are numerous options to automatically backup photos to online storage these days. You could use Dropbox, for example, to save your images right after you snap the shutter. I use Google Plus, mainly because of the unlimited storage features; all of my pictures and videos float right up to the cloud as a result. Of course, you could use Apple’s iCloud storage in a similar fashion. I simply chose Google’s because I tend to use its ecosystem the most and because it’s free.

4. But I have documents, music and other data too! Again, I’m cloud-centric and have been for a while, so I don’t store much in the way of local data. I really don’t want to because it’s too limiting. I want all of my data available on all of my devices, regardless of the software platform they run on. That means keeping everything online somewhere.

While I can appreciate the Handoff feature of iOS 8 where you start a document on one device and pick it up on another, it keeps me locked into using certain devices. I switch between iOS, Android and Windows Phone for my handsets and tablets. And my computing needs are shared by a MacBook and several Chromebooks. I realize that not everyone uses an array of devices the way I do, but it’s pretty liberating, provided I can get at the data on any device I want. Again, that means cloud storage.

ios 8 handoff

It works for music too, which I have spread out between iTunes, [company]Google[/company] Play and the [company]Amazon[/company] MP3 store. After installing the music apps, I simply sign in and choose which tracks or albums I want on my iPhone. They get downloaded with no muss or fuss. And most music apps let me stream songs from my library in the sky as well, so I only download the tunes I know I’ll want to hear over and over again.

This isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. Some people don’t want to recreate playlists, home screen folders or other things they worked to hard to create in the first place. But I find that there are some advantages to starting from scratch with each new iPhone; perhaps you will too.

25 Responses to “Four reasons I don’t restore a backup to new iPhones”

  1. When I get my new phone I don’t want all my old emails either so setting it up as new makes sense. Any tips on the email and how do I get my contacts in without a backup?

    • Linda, once you set up email, the Mail app is going to pull old mails from the server, so the best you can do is clean them up there or configure the app to only show mail for a certain period. All of my contacts are in the cloud — with Google, but there are obviously other companies that can help you manage contacts. So for my setup, contacts just get downloaded when setting up my mail account and enabling the contact sync option.

  2. Some key points are missing:

    Photos – For the free Photos stored in the ‘cloud’ options:
    * Google plus w/out a paid storage plan are not full resolution, same goes with iCloud photo stream. NOTE: In iOS 8 apple has a photos in the cloud beta, but its a beta so use at your risk.
    • What I do recommend is using Dropbox camera upload – then my desktop at home uses automator to move them out of that folder to a local directory.
    • OR: paid for these cloud services and you should be able to get more cloud storage and full resolution – but this is a subscription so monthly/annual bill.

    Music – iTunes Match: all music from any service in cloud
    • To your note about having music in different services apple iTunes Match is a pretty decent solution: You can have all your purchased from iTunes Music available in the cloud for any device AND for any non-iTunes music (drm-free) you can have up to 25K stored in the cloud as well.
    • Nice as its integrated into to the Music player app in iOS and iTunes for you Mac or Win.

    Documents – Dropbox + Goodreader
    • Still think Dropbox combined with Goodreader is the way to go – tho again you have space constraints so may have to get that annual subscription to store it all.

  3. James Chou

    My first iPhone was an iPhone 5s. I am using a 6 now and also have no problems as of now since I set it up as a new phone. However, I had no clue there were so many problems with restoring a backup on new iPhones. It is good to be aware of it. Cloud does solve a lot of issues I have with transferring data to the new phone.

  4. Kevin, this is actually a solution Apple suggested to me after my IPhone 6 Plus had the following problems after I restored from the backup of my IPhone 4: battery life was awful, screen froze intermittently, Bluetooth issues (repeatedly connected and disconnected), sudden closing of apps. I had never had problems like this and went to the Apple store. They gave me a new IPhone and recommended I set it up as a new phone. I did and had no problems but grew frustrated because I needed some old text messages. I restored my backup and am now having the same problems as before. The only explanation Apple provided was there was some sort of corrupt code from the iPhone 4. Nothing specific. This is hugely inconvenient, but I’m going to wipe the phone and start over. It’s better than having a new phone that doesn’t work properly.

  5. Hi,

    That’s what I did on my iPhone 16GB. I took way too many photos, and – I don’t know if someone has experienced that – after months with the storage almost full, (I had something about ~ 80 to ~100 MB free) the device start rebooting and being really unstable.

    I just refreshed and updated to iOS 8.1 and at this moment, no sudden reboots, nor instability.

    Contacts all locked on Google, so, there’s no contact loss, I just need to setup my account back.

    For me, one of the most valuable content on this phone is photos. I saw someone saying: oh, what about Whattsap chats history. Dude, in less than 1 year, you’ll see no value on those history. (I was an old-timer IRC channel operator with tons of chats logged from mid 90’s. I still have all my chats in backup, but, you know, I don’t remember I’m opening those txt’s for review.). At other side, however, pictures will make a lot more sense to review. I love to see pics from the past and have that sensation…

    Anyway, the way I backup my photos is a little bit different. I don’t use iCloud, Dropbox or Google +. I sync my pictures using BitTorrent Sync. By far, that’s the BEST option for me to keep my pictures safe in my device. Just download the free app on the App Store, and download a client on your computer and sync. It’s really easy, no cost for storage, and the photos fly directly from your device to your computer.

    I also do have a file server – an old computer that stays on all the time on my basement, so everything goes there automatically. I use a suite called Zentyal to manage all my network, file server, http server, firewall, web cache, users and more. All for free.

    When the pictures from my iPhone flies to my BitTorrent Sync folder, I do have an UPNP server looking for new files on that folder as well. This UPNP media server will automatically detect any changes or new files in that specific folder, and will add to a database and make the media available. This means, that instantly I can snap a picture on my phone, sync on the fly with Torrent and then see on my 70 inches Smart TV in a matter of seconds. I can be anywhere in the world, that my wife can see the pict in our TV, iPhone, iPad, Samsungs, PCs, whatever…

    Again, all for free and not spending one cent for that. :)

    My 2 cents!

  6. Mimi Tenace

    Great article thank you as I am considering upgrading my iPhone 5 to a 6. Truly only several parts of data are important to me, photos (which I have dropbox so I’m safe and would rather start fresh then erase all of them that are taking up my storage), contacts and calenders which i can sync with my mac afterwards. My only 2 challenges are my text histories and my notes. Any shortcuts to copy those and restore them? I’ve researched saving texts and it seems tedious, not sure what to do about notes, they are stored on iCloud
    Thanks in advance for your response to the “non-geek”


    I just got my iPhone 6 and did a restore and it was flawless other than there is no jailbreak for iOS 8 so I’m missing a ton of features that I used to have on 7.0.6 jailbroken.

    In fact I always would do a restore to get all my stuff after jailbreaking I don’t know of a more seamless flawless way of getting back all your stuff.

    In contrast the 10 million gyrations to get my rooted Android back to ground zero after actually paying for Titanium a 3rd party backup utility because Google’s backup is incredibly lacking.

    There is a reason you pay more for Apple

    My 2 cents from a day walker who uses both Android and iOS devices

  8. Dale Dietrich

    Seems like an awful lot of work to solve a non-existent problem. The bit-rot phenomena simply does not and cannot exist in iOS. There is no central registry. All apps are segregated. I see the virtue of paring back apps from time to time but this approach causes WAY to much work.

  9. Restoring can also bring over problems from your old phone. I had a particularly nasty bug in my iTunes library on my phone which was causing all sorts of issues on my old phone. I was looking forward to ‘losing’ those issues with my new phone but simply restoring my old phone brought the issues too. So – a clean install was done and the issues went away. Yes, it is work and yes, you can lose things like iMessages, voice mails, etc. – but weigh the pro’s and con’s and make your decision.

  10. Kevin – this seems more a matter of empirical observation, conjecture and opinion, and not scientific in any way that I can tell. Is there an Apple article that provides more substantiation or basis?

    BTW (Unlimited) Google drive storage is not free. They charge $1.99/month for 100 Gb and a whopping $9.99 for 1 Tb. There is nothing in between. Please check your facts.

    • As Kevin mentioned, it’s his obversation. And even without your requested ‘substance’, I think you should give the man some credits since he is a professional journalist in this area and tested many, many devices. If you believe he is not capable of giving his opinion without an Apple article, you could deicde to follow another blog.

  11. Shawn Joseph

    I restored one time and have been setting up iPads and iPhones as new devices ever since. Just a much cleaner way to go. Cheap and easy way to trim back the “app fat” so to speak.

  12. I tried this myself, based on many of the virtues espoused here. However, for me it was a disaster.

    None of my Calendars, emails, iMessage histories were there. Tried iCloud backup (even boosted my storage to 20GB for $0.99), but that took forever. And when it was done, it had copied over my old apps & data over anyway, despite me thinking I’d unchecked that option. I just ended up wiping again, and copying from backup. Done.

    For light users / ones with not many apps, starting fresh might be a good idea. But for any serious user, it’s still easiest to say “copy all of the brains from my old phone, please.” No iPhone I’ve copied this way (this is the fourth) have ever run “slow” because of this.

    • Why do people care so much about this? Before smartphones, I doubt this was even an issue… People didn’t “suddenly” become important just because they now have smartphones to where they “needed” every conversation recorded for posterity…. And if you really feel you need those transcripts, I’m sure the NSA might be able to help you (albeit with some difficulty I’m sure) to get those (and more you probably weren’t aware were there…).