Backups: iCloud vs iTunes

Many users have opted to stop backing up their devices with iTunes in favor of storing everything in the cloud, but is this really the best option for iOS users? Let’s take a look at the facts.

iCloud backups changed the iOS ecosystem. Instead of having to manually back up your iOS device to iTunes, you can simply sync it to Apple’s iCloud service and it will back up automatically. However, many iOS users have never connected their device to their computer to perform a backup, yet alone a sync. In this article, we’ll discuss the two backups (iTunes and iCloud) . Each has its pros and cons, so you’ll have to decide which one is better for you.

Backing up and restoring with iCloud

iCloud provides an easy-to-use backup solution that is more or less “set it and forget it.” Once you’ve enabled iCloud Backups, it’ll do a nightly backup of your device, assuming that you have a Wi-Fi connection. All of your photos, videos, stored application data, and iOS settings are whisked to the cloud every day to ensure that if an emergency strikes, all of your information is easily accessible.

On the down side, there quite a few items that iCloud doesn’t back up, including any media content on your device that wasn’t purchased through the iTunes Store and photos that you’ve synced over from your computer.

iCloud also has space restrictions. Apple provides 5 GB of free storage (which is usually good enough to back up one or even two devices if you don’t store many photos and videos), but the pricing can get a little costly as you need more storage. Only your application data and stored photos and videos will actually take up storage on iCloud, though. Apple doesn’t count iTunes content against this limit.

To enable iCloud Backup, follow these steps:

  • Open the Settings app
  • Go to iCloud
  • Go to Storage & Backup
  • Enable the option for iCloud Backup (Figure A)

In this same section, you can manually create a backup at any time by pressing the Back Up Now button. Under that button, you can also see the date of the last iCloud Backup.

Enable the option for iCloud Backup.

You can restore from your iCloud Backup only after you have reset all of the settings and are in the iOS setup view. When you get the options to either Set Up as New iPhone, Restore from iCloud Backup, or Restore from iTunes Backup, tap Restore from iCloud Backup

Here you’ll be able to select the backup to restore and begin the restore process. Note: The backup will load from Apple’s servers, so you’ll need to be connected online throughout the entire restore process.

Backing up and restoring your iOS device with iTunes

iTunes is an older way to back up your iOS device. You can do this by plugging in your device or by connecting compatible devices to the same Wi-Fi network as your Mac or Windows PC that’s running iTunes.

It’s important to note that where iCloud fails, iTunes takes over with the backup process. iTunes backs up everything: applications, application data, and all content stored on your device (including iTunes content). This is good for a few reasons, but mainly because it backs up all of your purchased content. This means that if an app or other iTunes purchase becomes unavailable in the iTunes Store, you’ll still have a copy on your computer that can be loaded back to your device.

You can back up your iOS device on iTunes by performing the following steps:

  • Open iTunes and select your iOS device
  • Click File | Devices | Back Up
  • The first time you begin a backup, you’ll be prompted to select what kind of content — like photos, music, or apps — that you want to back up

If you’re using iTunes 10.7 or earlier, or if you have the sidebar in iTunes 11 shown, then you can right-click on your device in the sidebar and select Back Up Now.
Backing up apps to iTunes.

If you visit the Summary tab in the device window, you can enable wireless syncing (and wireless backups) to iTunes . As long as your iOS device is connected to the same wireless network as your opened iTunes installation, it’ll start syncing and back up your device at regular intervals.

Enable iTunes wireless syncing.

Here’s how you can restore iTunes backups to your iOS device:

  • Open the latest version of iTunes, and connect your iOS device to your computer
  • Choose File | Devices | Restore from Backup
  • Choose the backup you want from the drop-down list, and click Restore

If you’re using iTunes 10.7 or earlier, right-click on your device in the sidebar and choose Restore from Backup

Restoring a backup from iTunes.

While iTunes backups are an older form of technology and not as convenient as iCloud, they do provide immediate access to your data should something happen to your device (or iCloud account). iTunes restores are also faster than iCloud restores, because all of your data is stored locally on your computer running iTunes.

Which method should you choose? 

We’ve talked about the two ways to backup and restore your iOS devices, but which should you use on a regular basis? Is one better than the other?

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