Back in the dark ages, we plugged our iPhones and iPods into computers to sync them. Barbaric, I know. Turns out, people don’t do that anymore. In fact, Apple’s data shows that more than 50% of customers who have brought their iPhones in for service have never synced the device with a computer and I suspect based on my personal experience that number is growing. But, there are good reasons to occasionally sync your iOS device with iTunes and that includes backups. Just this month I received an email from a distraught Mac Power Users listener who went to restore his iPhone form an iCloud backup only to discover the restore failed and he was left without any of his data.
iCloud backup failures are rare, but they do happen. Backups can become corrupt, incomplete or fail for any number of reasons. These stories are particularly disheartening because you have someone who was proactive enough to backup their devices but still lost data because their backup failed. An iCloud backup also requires good bandwidth and you may be in an area without Wi-Fi or poor data access. I personally have twice replaced my own iPhone while traveling (I don’t have an Apple Store in my town) and restoring your device over Apple Store or hotel Wi-Fi can be a pain.
That’s why my second “rule of backups” is that backups must be redundant. Fortunately, we have a second method of backing up our iOS devices and that’s done using iTunes. Be aware that when your turn on iCloud backups by default, iTunes backups will be disabled. But you can always run them manually by choosing your device within iTunes and selecting “Back Up Now” in the summary menu. For good measure, I recommend that you choose the option to encrypt the backup as this will additionally restore your passwords when your device is restored.
I keep a dock plugged into my computer which makes it easy for me to sync my iPhone and iPad to my Mac and create backups. For people with large media libraries, syncing with a computer also gives you a place to offload your photos and movies. As a general rule, I will backup my device at least once a month, or any time I’m getting ready to take a trip or before any major update. But do keep an eye on the number of backups you keep because they can be quite large. Generally iTunes will only keep the most recent backup of each device, but if you have multiple devices backed up, or have updated the operating system you may find you have older or redundant backups that can be deleted. This information can be found in iTunes > Preferences > Device Preferences
Photos and Video
One of the most common concerns when discussing iOS backup is large media files, such as photos and video. Because free iCloud storage is limited to only 5GB, if you store a lot of media on your phone, you can quickly run over this limit. Photos and video are generally the culprit. As a result, many people turn off backup of their camera roll which means these photos aren’t backed up to iCloud, and unless these photos are available in your photo stream or have otherwise been synced to your computer or another sharing service, they’re gone in the event of data loss. I can’t tell you how many people I know who have taken years worth of photos on their iPhone and then lost them because they didn’t know how to transfer their photos off their device, or they didn’t have a backup.
I generally recommend that you include your camera roll in your iCloud backup and if this exceeds your free storage limit, simply purchase additional iCloud storage space to accommodate. At WWDC this year, Apple announced new iCloud storage prices allowing users to purchase 20GB for $0.99 per month and 200GB for $3.99 per month with tiers available up to 1TB. This pricing went into place with the release of iOS 8. In my opinion, with pricing this reasonable there’s no reason not to buy the additional storage once your total iCloud usage exceeds the free 5GB threshold.