Ask LH: Can I Transfer App Data And Game Saves From My iPhone To A New IPad?

Dear Lifehacker,

I'm thinking about grabbing a new iPad, but I want to transfer all my app data from my iPhone over to it so I can continue using some of the data from my apps and finish up some games. Is this possible?


Dana Transfer

Dear DT,

For most apps, the built-in iTunes backup service should work, but it's not always reliable. If you've spent hours toiling away in an app you want to be sure that data is saved. With that in mind, here's how to pull your save data out of apps and back them up on your computer just in case iTunes doesn't do its job.

How To Manually Backup And Restore App Data

Before we start, we should note this works for any iOS device. So if you want to back up and transfer data for iPads, iPhones, or between the two, this works. To manually backup and transfer data, we're going to use the free Mac and Windows program iExplorer. You don't need to jailbreak your iPhone to use iExplorer and it's easy to pull data from your iPhone to transfer it to your new device. Here's how to do it.

  1. Download the app you want to transfer data to on your new iPad.
  2. Plug your iPhone into your computer.
  3. Start up iExplorer and wait for your device to show up in the file browser.
  4. Click the arrow next to your device name.
  5. Click the arrow next to Apps.
  6. Find the app you want to transfer data from and click the arrow.
  7. Inside the app's main folder is a folder called Documents. That's where your saved data and game saves are located. Copy it to your desktop.
  8. Disconnect your iPhone from your computer and plug in your iPad.
  9. In iExplorer, find the app you want to transfer data to on your iPad using the same steps from above.
  10. Locate the Documents folder and copy all the data you just copied to your desktop folder onto the iPad.

That's it, you're done. Different apps use different save files and occasionally the above process will require you to copy several files over. Other times you only have one file. This process works for most apps, but not all of them. Let's take a look at a few of the instances where data doesn't transfer over properly.

A Few Caveats On When And Where It Works

In most cases, the above method works just fine, but there are a few instances where things get a little muddled. Here's some tips for dealing with those issues.

In some cases two separate versions of an app exist. An iPhone version and a HD iPad version. Despite the separate apps and the fact you have to buy and download them individually, you can usually transfer data between the two. More often than two separate versions is a single universal version that works on both an iPad and a iPhone as one download. You should have no trouble swapping files this way either.

For some reason, not all apps save their files in the Documents folder. If it's data you absolutely have to have, I'd suggest copying the entire app folder instead of just the Documents folder. There's no guarantee your data will transfer properly, but at least you'll have the old data if you need it.

Finally, a lot of modern apps utilise iCloud for their save data or sync to a web app online. In this case, you have nothing to worry about provided iCloud is properly set up. Unfortunately, this varies from app to app. Some do the syncing automatically, others require you to turn on the feature in a settings menu. Either way, apps still save the data locally and you can grab them with iExplorer.

That's it! It's really not a complicated process and makes it so you can continue right where you left off on your iPhone on your new iPad. Even if you're just swapping out an iPad for a new iPad, the above steps are good measures to take if you're invested in an app and want to make certain you won't lose any save data. I've had mixed luck with iTunes backup myself and for any apps I've spend more than five hours with, I back up the data before upgrading the operating system or getting a new device.



PS If you have any trouble with the above method on certain apps, sound off in the comments and help others prepare for the same issue.

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    A similar guide for android would be much appreciated. The only ways I have found to do this on android require root

      Signing in with your Google account provides some level of syncing. But check out Titanium Root. I know some of the advanced features require root, but I don't know if the /data folder is one of them. If it is, then root away! As it's software, you can simply unroot (if you have the right app) and your phone is unmodified, as far as they know.

    Apple needs to start enforcing this store-wide. It's like giving someone a new car and they refuse to drive it. Cloud-syncing isn't all that difficult to setup and makes a big deal to users who (i.e.) spent months 3-starring every level on Angry Birds, then phone gets stolen/lost/broken and they find themselves back at square 1. Or if I'm halfway through a very long game on my iPad, and I've only got my iPhone with me I'm not playing the whole damn game again.

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