Why You Shouldn’t Trust iCloud to Back Up Your iPhone or iPad

I hate it when I see people I know have tech problems that shouldn’t happen. Mashable journalist Christina Warren broke her iPhone the other day, and just got a replacement. She was just saying on Twitter how she was unable to restore the new phone from her iCloud backup:

Icloud backup christina sad

This sucks. You get a new phone, and you run the risk of losing all your accounts, setup, and some of your data.

iCloud is terribly unreliable. I get lots of emails from people who have this problem, who trusted iCloud to back up their device but, when the chips were down, just failed.

It’s a lot safer to back up your iPhone or iPad to iTunes. This is not only more reliable when restoring a device, but it’s a lot quicker, since the backup is local and you don’t need to download it. There may be times when the iTunes backup is unavailable. If you’re on a trip, and you’ve broken your iPhone, you may have no choice but to restore it from iCloud, or set it up as a new device. But when you get home, you can restore the latest iTunes backup.

Itunes backup happy

What I do is back up both to iTunes and to iCloud. I let iTunes back up my devices when I connect them to my Mac. I probably don’t connect my iPhone every day, and my iPad less often, but there is always a recent backup stored by iTunes. And every couple of weeks, I turn off iTunes backups and do an iCloud backup. As soon as it’s finished, I switch the iCloud backup off. So I have the best of both worlds; if I need to restore my device when I’m on the road, I can (hopefully) do so from iCloud.

So be safe: back up your devices in iTunes, as well as in iCloud.

28 thoughts on “Why You Shouldn’t Trust iCloud to Back Up Your iPhone or iPad

  1. iDevice backup would be much better if it were possible to have the phone automatically back up to iCloud AND to a computer without having to choose. I’m not sure why Apple forces a choice. And whatever happened to iTunes backup over wifi (which is what I relied on before iCloud backup)?
    I and most of my family rarely connect our iPhones to a computer (Kirk – are you doing it primarily to back up? What other reason is there these days other than to grab a quick mid-day charge, or to change the music you keep on the phone?). So we all depend primarily on iCloud backups. However, I encourage an occasional iTunes backup especially before taking a phone in for service or before a major iOS upgrade.
    Unfortunately I find that for certain relatives iCloud backup “finds a way to shut itself off”, so they end up with no current backup.
    Also, I’ve had (years ago) iTunes restores that would fail to complete, and the last time I did a restore from iTunes I lost half my apps because apparently transfer purchases failed and I didn’t realize it (of course in iOS9 transfer purchases is no longer possible and I think apps are grabbed from the app store if not on the computer so this may be one less point of failure).

    • IiTunes can sync and back up over Wi-Fi. I connect my phone regularly either to charge it, or to sync new music. It’s almost a reflex.

      • RE: WiFi sync to iTunes is still a selectable option in iTunes, but I don’t see anything about WiFi backup to iTunes. Maybe this never existed and I’m misremembering. Sync appears to now only be for media (and contacts and calendars if not using iCloud for those). I seem to recall sync used to include settings and bookmarks and was more of a backup than it is now. Also, looking at Apple support doc HT203977, WiFi to iTunes backup is not mentioned (says to “connect” the phone). Anyhow, I plugged in my phone, changed auto backup to “this computer”, turned on WiFi sync and automatically sync, and we will see what happens.
        Since I charge overnight, I rarely have the need to charge during the day, so the iPhone is rarely connected to the computer (and I never connect the iPad). Also I rarely have iTunes open which is another undesirable requirement for all this to work.
        Bottom line for me: Routine iTunes backup might be better, but requires a certain “workflow” (iTunes open, cable connection, or perhaps WiFi if multiple settings are tweaked and phone is being charged) that seems unnecessarily cumbersome (unlike say my laptop which backs up automatically over the network, wired or wireless, to another computer without action on my part). But ideally, both iCloud and iTunes backup could be set to automatic simultaneously.

        • Since my battery is usually half-full by the end of the day, I’d rather not leave it plugged in overnight, so unless I’m going out early, I don’t leave it on charge, and connect it during the day. Wi-fi sync does backups to iTunes. But, yes, you should be able to do both local and iCloud. I think it’s a bit odd that you can’t.

  2. iDevice backup would be much better if it were possible to have the phone automatically back up to iCloud AND to a computer without having to choose. I’m not sure why Apple forces a choice. And whatever happened to iTunes backup over wifi (which is what I relied on before iCloud backup)?
    I and most of my family rarely connect our iPhones to a computer (Kirk – are you doing it primarily to back up? What other reason is there these days other than to grab a quick mid-day charge, or to change the music you keep on the phone?). So we all depend primarily on iCloud backups. However, I encourage an occasional iTunes backup especially before taking a phone in for service or before a major iOS upgrade.
    Unfortunately I find that for certain relatives iCloud backup “finds a way to shut itself off”, so they end up with no current backup.
    Also, I’ve had (years ago) iTunes restores that would fail to complete, and the last time I did a restore from iTunes I lost half my apps because apparently transfer purchases failed and I didn’t realize it (of course in iOS9 transfer purchases is no longer possible and I think apps are grabbed from the app store if not on the computer so this may be one less point of failure).

    • IiTunes can sync and back up over Wi-Fi. I connect my phone regularly either to charge it, or to sync new music. It’s almost a reflex.

      • RE: WiFi sync to iTunes is still a selectable option in iTunes, but I don’t see anything about WiFi backup to iTunes. Maybe this never existed and I’m misremembering. Sync appears to now only be for media (and contacts and calendars if not using iCloud for those). I seem to recall sync used to include settings and bookmarks and was more of a backup than it is now. Also, looking at Apple support doc HT203977, WiFi to iTunes backup is not mentioned (says to “connect” the phone). Anyhow, I plugged in my phone, changed auto backup to “this computer”, turned on WiFi sync and automatically sync, and we will see what happens.
        Since I charge overnight, I rarely have the need to charge during the day, so the iPhone is rarely connected to the computer (and I never connect the iPad). Also I rarely have iTunes open which is another undesirable requirement for all this to work.
        Bottom line for me: Routine iTunes backup might be better, but requires a certain “workflow” (iTunes open, cable connection, or perhaps WiFi if multiple settings are tweaked and phone is being charged) that seems unnecessarily cumbersome (unlike say my laptop which backs up automatically over the network, wired or wireless, to another computer without action on my part). But ideally, both iCloud and iTunes backup could be set to automatic simultaneously.

        • Since my battery is usually half-full by the end of the day, I’d rather not leave it plugged in overnight, so unless I’m going out early, I don’t leave it on charge, and connect it during the day. Wi-fi sync does backups to iTunes. But, yes, you should be able to do both local and iCloud. I think it’s a bit odd that you can’t.

  3. “I get lots of emails from people who have this problem, who trusted iCloud to back up their device but, when the chips were down, just failed.”

    It’s really odd, given that the rest of iCloud is so 100% reliable.

  4. “I get lots of emails from people who have this problem, who trusted iCloud to back up their device but, when the chips were down, just failed.”

    It’s really odd, given that the rest of iCloud is so 100% reliable.

  5. > And every couple of weeks, I turn off iTunes backups and do an iCloud backup. As soon as it’s finished, I switch the iCloud backup off.

    Why not just leave the switch set to back up to iCloud? You’ll get daily (if, yes, unreliable) backups to iCloud and you can still manually back up to your computer each time you connect your iPhone.

    • Because that’s not how it works. If you set it to back up to iCloud, it doesn’t back up to iTunes.

      • Sorry, I should have been more specific. If you have it set up to back up to iCloud then you can still plug it in and click “Back Up Now” to do an iTunes backup. The iTunes backups won’t happen automatically, but since I plug in my phone to charge more often than I plug it into the computer this strategy maximizes the frequency of my backups. (I don’t have any trouble remembering to click “Back Up Now” when I connect my phone to my computer, although that might be a sticking point for some people.)

  6. > And every couple of weeks, I turn off iTunes backups and do an iCloud backup. As soon as it’s finished, I switch the iCloud backup off.

    Why not just leave the switch set to back up to iCloud? You’ll get daily (if, yes, unreliable) backups to iCloud and you can still manually back up to your computer each time you connect your iPhone.

    • Because that’s not how it works. If you set it to back up to iCloud, it doesn’t back up to iTunes.

      • Sorry, I should have been more specific. If you have it set up to back up to iCloud then you can still plug it in and click “Back Up Now” to do an iTunes backup. The iTunes backups won’t happen automatically, but since I plug in my phone to charge more often than I plug it into the computer this strategy maximizes the frequency of my backups. (I don’t have any trouble remembering to click “Back Up Now” when I connect my phone to my computer, although that might be a sticking point for some people.)

  7. I backup to iTunes, if Apple provided more than 5GB of storage for iCloud I’d most likely backup to iCloud. For now it seems as if I’m doing the right thing.

    Regarding iCloud storage it still bothers me that someone who purchases a 16GB iPhone gets the same amount of free storage as someone buying a 64GB phone. I’d like to see Apple provide more free storage based on the amount of devices and hard drive space a user has. Maybe this is just wishful thinking?

  8. I backup to iTunes, if Apple provided more than 5GB of storage for iCloud I’d most likely backup to iCloud. For now it seems as if I’m doing the right thing.

    Regarding iCloud storage it still bothers me that someone who purchases a 16GB iPhone gets the same amount of free storage as someone buying a 64GB phone. I’d like to see Apple provide more free storage based on the amount of devices and hard drive space a user has. Maybe this is just wishful thinking?

  9. I do what you do, Kirk, and make sure I’ve got both iCloud and local iTunes backups up to date, belt and suspenders style.

    However, I’d be curious to know what evidence there is that iCloud backup is less reliable besides plural anecdotes sent to the iTunes guy and the travails of Christiana Warren.

  10. I do what you do, Kirk, and make sure I’ve got both iCloud and local iTunes backups up to date, belt and suspenders style.

    However, I’d be curious to know what evidence there is that iCloud backup is less reliable besides plural anecdotes sent to the iTunes guy and the travails of Christiana Warren.

  11. Can any of you help a granny?
    I have an Iphone X.
    I’d like to make an ITunes back up on my “new-to-me” older Dell 3500/ windows 7/ 64 ? Whatever?

    I’m in the process of trying to set up the company for ME ONLY…. Personal use…. It’s reset to factor default with my husband’s name …. But he says I just have to go in & change I

    Can I use ITune on Dell?
    Do I have to download an app? Or can I use the website?

  12. Can any of you help a granny?
    I have an Iphone X.
    I’d like to make an ITunes back up on my “new-to-me” older Dell 3500/ windows 7/ 64 ? Whatever?

    I’m in the process of trying to set up the company for ME ONLY…. Personal use…. It’s reset to factor default with my husband’s name …. But he says I just have to go in & change I

    Can I use ITune on Dell?
    Do I have to download an app? Or can I use the website?

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