iOS 5 – Backing up and restoring from iCloud


With iOS 5 just around the corner we thought we would take a detailed look at one of the main new features and get you all ready for the release. One of the key new features in iOS 5 is over the air (OTA) backups and restores to the new iCloud. But how does it work? What get’s backed up and what doesn’t? Carry on reading to find out.

When Apple mentioned at WWDC 2011 there would be a big emphasis on cutting the cord to the PC…..they were not kidding. With the introduction of IOS 5 you will soon be able to take advantage of OTA software updates, wireless syncing of your device to iTunes and also the feature we will be looking at today, OTA backups and restores.

First things first, if you choose to backup to iCloud instead of iTunes then your backups will be stored there and nowhere else. You will need to sign up to the free iCloud service with your Apple ID when it’s released this Spring or transfer your existing MobileMe account over. Developers already have access to these tools and we will be using our developer iCloud account to show you today.

Before you get going your device needs to be:

  • Connected to WIFI
  • Connected to power
  • Locked


The first thing you will need to do is enable the iCloud Backup feature on your device. The option can be found in Settings – iCloud – Storage and Backup.

Switch On iCloud backup

Once this is enabled you will see this message:

Confirm auto backups to iCloud

Now, this is a pretty self explanatory message, you will be auto backing up to iCloud OTA and NOT to iTunes. This does not mean that you will only be able to back up using one or the other, this only means that if you’re using iCloud as your OTA backup method and you want to do a manual back up you need to hook up to itunes, right click on your device and press back up manually.

Manual iTunes Backup

Next up on your device you need to choose which items you want to back up. This is in the manage storage section.

Manage Storage

List of Apps to be backed up

By default your device will backup:

  • Device settings
  • App Settings
  • Camera roll
  • Documents (iWorks)
  • Accounts
  • Text messages

There is some interesting things to note here. When I initially started my iPad back up to the cloud it was showing as a 6GB back up which was going to take over 8 hours. I initially thought the reason for this was the large amount of apps I had on my device would be backed up, I was wrong. The process will backup the settings and data from all your apps by default and if you have any movies stored in Apps such as cinexplayer or books stored in iBooks (as I did) by default these will be backed up.

Switch off large backup size apps

This is where selecting which items you want to backup comes into play. Unless you have a huge amount of time (and data) on your hands you are going to want to turn these larger ones off. Aside from camera roll which is always at the top, the apps are listed in size of backup order starting with the largest.

Apps listed in size order

Next up on the interesting things to note list is your apps are not backed up. Pretty easy to see why, with devices being able to store hundreds of apps your back ups would be HUGE. Instead the backup simply makes a snapshot of what apps you had installed and re-downloads them from iTunes after your initial device settings restore. More on that below in the restore section.

So how often does the back up take place? Well that’s the great thing, most of us plug our iPhones in overnight, whilst connected to our home WIFI and lock them. As we mentioned earlier these are the exact ingredients required for a backup to take place. I found my backup’s were taking place once every 24 hours at around 4am whilst I was fast asleep dreaming about the iPhone 5.

You also have the option to manually perform a back up also if you so choose.

Back Up Now

So how long does a back up take? Well obviously this will depend on your connection and what you have stored on your devices but I can tell you on an average WIFI connection my 70MB iPhone back up took around 12 mins and my 34MB iPad took about 5 mins.

10 Minutes Remaining

Another thing worth noting is these are delta backups, this means only the changes you made to your device in the last 24hours are backed up. Subsequent backups after my initial one were taking only 1 minute.

Delta backups

Right then, you have had to wipe your iPhone for whatever reason, maybe a clean install of the OS or you have just bought your shiny new iPhone, lets get that backup restored to the device.


Restoring your device could not be easier, once you have turned on your device for the first time as new you will see the below:

Select Restore From iCloud

Select the Backup

Simply select restore from iCloud backup, choose the backup you want to restore from and it will begin. As you can see it takes only a few minutes to get the device restored.

Restoring From Backup

We mentioned earlier that your apps are not included in the back up however once the initial restore of settings has taken place and your device has rebooted your apps will automatically begin downloading from the app store.

Your Apps will now be downloaded

Everything as you would expect will be downloaded as you left it.

Just as you left it

iOS 5 brings another new feature which complements the restore….. simultaneous downloads. This makes the re-download of all your apps a lot easier. You are also free to use your phone as you wish whilst apps are re downloading.

Simultaneous Downloads

The backup even goes so far as to install apps from other app stores you may have had installed. My few US and UK app just required the password to be entered and they were re-downloaded.

That’s it, one Device backed up and restored over the air. Easy, Simple, painless. Aside from re-downloading the apps the whole process took me less than 20 minutes.

So lets recap.

An iPhone backup to iCloud WILL include:

  • Device settings
  • App Settings
  • Camera roll
  • Documents (iWorks)
  • Accounts
  • Text messages

An iPhone backup to iCloud will take a snapshot only of:

  • Installed apps
  • Purchased media

(These will be re-downloaded to your device after the restore)

An iPhone backup to iCloud will NOT back up or restore:

  • Non purchased media – Anything you had on your device which was not purchased through iTunes will not be restored in any way, you will need iTunes to restore all your “legitimately purchased” outside of iTunes music.

If you are listening Mr Job’s, to improve the OTA backup and restore feature and make it more practical I’d like to see 3 options/settings added:

  1. Back up device settings only toggle i.e. no apps
  2. Restore device settings only over 3G – My iPad backup was only 34MB, why the need for WIFI?
  3. After the initial restore I’d like to see an option to re-download your apps later or via iTunes as this is what takes the time and data. Currently this process just starts automatically, if you leave the WIFI connection your apps painfully hang in limbo until you connect to WIFI again.

OTA backups and restores are an awesome welcome addition to iOS. In my testing they worked flawlessly, I mean even the same web pages I had open in Safari prior to backing up were there after a restore. Will I use this feature in the real world? I will be keep a minimal sized back up in my iCloud in case I need to restore quickly and get all my settings back in a hurry, other than that I will probably be using the traditional iTunes method, why? Simple really: the re-download of the apps takes forever. My devices have over a hundred apps each on them and to restore all those from the iCloud took over 2 hours and with games such as Infinity Blade weighing in at 600MB a good chunk of data.

It’s great to have the option to use the iCloud for backups and as I say I will definitely be keeping a minimal sized back up of settings only on my iCloud for emergency restore use.

Is this one of the features you are most looking forward to in iOS 5? Are you a developer who is using this feature already?

Let us know all your thoughts in the comments.

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  1. Chris says:

    Facinating, i really hope iCloud addons start appearing for NZ ISPs like Snap’s Unmetered Youtube

    (Chris has made 73 comments)

  2. Mak says:

    Nice. I would have liked if it still backed up automatically when syncing with iTunes (either cable or better yet, OTA)… it’s not like its wasting resources..

    (Mak has made 222 comments)

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