The iPhone 12 has arrived. If you’re keen on an upgrade, now is the time to work out how you’re going to shift your data from your existing iPhone to your new device. Apple’s own iCloud makes this easy but for most users will involve some cost. If you want to save that cash, here’s how to shift your content without paying Apple anything extra.
It’s not a surprise that Apple makes iCloud its default, preferred and very heavily pushed methodology for iPhone backups at all. It seems like every single time I upgrade an iPhone, it starts pestering me about iCloud backups, because I prefer to back up my content via other means.
There’s a pretty simple reason for this. While Apple does provide some iCloud backup space to every iPhone owner, it’s a measly 5GB. If you’re an iPhone owner with any level of photos, videos or other personal content on your device, you probably blew past that limit years ago, maybe even more than a decade ago. If you want more than 5GB on iCloud, Apple charges for the additional storage allocation, which effectively means that you’re paying Apple for the convenience.
It is convenient, but with just a tiny bit of digital elbow grease, you can back up and transfer your content via your computer instead. Here’s what you need to know and what steps you need to take.
Make sure you’ve got enough storage on your computer!
Just as with the iCloud example, you’re not going to get very far if your PC or Mac is bursting at the seams with other content and there’s no space for your backup. You don’t actually need the full data capacity of your iPhone for the backup – I’ll get into why that is shortly – but it’s not a terrible benchmark for how much space you should have ready to go.
iPhone backup for Windows 10 PCs
While Apple has steered away from iTunes on its own Mac platform, it’s the method of choice if you’re doing a backup on a Windows 10 PC.
You should already have iTunes installed on your PC, but if not, you can download it from the Microsoft Store at this link.
Once iTunes is installed, connect up your iPhone to your PC, and launch iTunes if it doesn’t automatically launch itself.
Click the iPhone button located near the top left of the iTunes application window.
Click on Summary.
Click on “Back Up Now” to start the process.
Quite how long it takes will vary depending on how much content you have to back up and the capabilities of your PC. It is possible to set up a wireless backup with Wi-Fi syncing, but that’s a considerably slower process.
iPhone backup for Macs
Much older Macs will still have to use iTunes in much the same way as Windows PCs, but for most current Mac owners – macOS 10.15 or newer – it’s all managed through the Finder application.
Connect up your iPhone to your Mac with the supplied Lightning cable, bearing in mind that for some models of MacBook you may need a USB A type to USB C type converter to make that final connection. You may also be prompted for a software upgrade if you’re running behind in this respect.
Your iPhone should appear in Finder as a drive like any other. The first time you connect you’ll probably be asked to “trust” the Mac you’re connecting to, typically by verifying your screen unlock on the iPhone you’re backing up.
Once that’s done, click on the iPhone as though it was a drive.
You should automatically end up in the General tab, but if not, click on the area in the Finder window that says “General” to get there.
Select “Back up all of the data on your iPhone to this iMac.”
Select Apply, and wait for the backup to finish. You don’t need to worry if your iPhone has to take a call or anything while it’s backing up, as long as you keep it connected.
As an added bonus, your iPhone will very lightly get a battery charge from your Mac while you’re backing it up.
Does this backup make a complete copy of my iPhone?
No, it doesn’t, and it’s important to understand what is and isn’t backed up this way. This is true for iCloud backups too – it’s just the way Apple handles this kind of content.
What should be backed up is your own content – particularly photos, videos, calendars, Safari browser history and device and network settings information. Messages are backed up if you choose to encrypt your backup, but not if you don’t, and the same is true for other sensitive data such as your health information. Frankly, there’s not much of a reason not to encrypt your backups to ensure you’re getting as full a copy as possible.
When it comes to apps, it’s a slightly more difficult picture, because what gets backed up is your own data within those apps, as long as those apps support that feature.
That could be a note in a word processing app, or a high score table or progress save within a game, but for most Apps, you won’t actually backup the core application itself. Apple’s idea here is that you can always download a fresh and updated copy from the App store when you copy your backup over to your new iPhone 12.
The reality there is more complex, because depending on the age of your iPhone and its apps, and especially the version of iOS you might be coming from, it could include apps that aren’t actually available on the app store any more.
Most obviously, don’t look to get Fortnite on your new iPhone 12 even if it’s on your current phone, because Apple’s pulled it from the app store entirely. While it’s feasible to sideload Fortnite onto an Android phone, app store backups simply don’t work that way. There are other reasons besides legal battles with Apple as to why an app may no longer be available, especially if the developer has abandoned it over time.
The smart step to take there is to note down which of your apps are truly vital to you, and then check the app store right now to see if they’re still available and updated. If a simple search can’t surface them any more, you may have to hunt down alternative apps for the same functionality when you upgrade.
With a backup in place, you can then work out how much you might get for your existing iPhone to lessen the cost of the new model, and safely order a shiny new iPhone to suit your budget and taste.
This article has been updated since its original publish date.