How to switch iPhones and transfer your data

One of the nicest things about buying a new iPhone is the ease with which you can set it up to be exactly like your old iPhone.

When you’ve finished working through this tutorial, your new handset will look the same as the old one. It will have the same wallpaper; the same apps arranged in the same way, and stored in the same folders; all your photos in the Photos app; email set up the way you like it; old text messages in your Messages app; all your contacts; and all the other preferences and settings just the way you like them.

Thanks to iOS and iCloud this can be done easily and pretty much anywhere (as long as you have access to Wi-Fi). In this article we show how to set up a new iPhone from a previous phone’s backup, and how to transfer key data if restoring from backup isn’t possible.

Here’s how to switch iPhones and transfer all your data from one handset to another.

1: Back up your iPhone

You can create a backup of your old iPhone in iCloud, or use iTunes or Finder on your Mac or PC. We prefer iCloud since it means we can access the backup anywhere, but the iTunes/Finder method is faster.

Back up via iTunes

If you’re running a PC, or a Mac with macOS Mojave or earlier, you can use iTunes.

  1. Plug your iPhone into your Mac or PC.
  2. Open iTunes.
  3. Unlock your iPhone if required.
  4. You may see a warning: “Do you want to allow this computer to access information on [your name]’s iPhone?” Click Continue and enter your passcode.
  5. It’s also possible that a software update will be required on your Mac or PC. If that’s the case, click Install.
  6. You’ll see an iPhone icon beside the Music dropdown menu. Click this.
  7. In the section headed Backups, select This Computer, and click ‘Back Up Now’.

How to switch iPhones and transfer your data: Back up iPhone to Mac or PC

How to switch iPhones and transfer your data: Back up iPhone to Mac or PC

Back up via Finder

If you’re running a Mac with macOS Catalina or later, iTunes’ role in the above process will be taken by Finder. (iTunes was discontinued in Catalina.)

  1. Plug your iPhone into the Mac.
  2. Open the Finder app. If you weren’t using it before this is likely to open a fresh window we can use for this purpose; if that doesn’t happen, open a new window with Cmd + N.
  3. Look for your device under Locations in the lefthand column of the Finder window. Click it.
  4. On the righthand side of the window you should see information about your iPhone. Click General in the tab along the top, if it hasn’t already been selected.
  5. In the Backups section, choose the option to back up your device’s data to the Mac. We would recommend encrypting the backup by ticking ‘Encrypt local backup’ and creating a password.
  6. Click Back Up Now.

How to switch iPhones and transfer your data: Finder backup

How to switch iPhones and transfer your data: Finder backup

Back up via iCloud

Finally, you can back up your old iPhone to iCloud. This is a great option if you might need to set up a new iPhone without your Mac in the future, and if you want to ensure that backups happen daily (without needing to plug your iPhone into your Mac), but bear in mind that you will probably need to pay money for iCloud storage – here’s how much iCloud costs in the UK.

We have a separate article showing how to back up your iPhone using iCloud (among other methods), but here’s the quick version:

  1. Open the Settings app on your iPhone.
  2. Tap on your the name/picture at the top, then tap iCloud.
  3. Check the list of Apps using iCloud to make sure all the apps with data you need will be backed up.
  4. Scroll down to iCloud Backup and tap on it. How to switch iPhones and transfer your data: iPhone backup How to switch iPhones and transfer your data: iPhone backup
  5. Make sure iCloud Backup is turned on (the slider should show green).
  6. Now tap Back Up Now. How to switch iPhones and transfer your data: iCloud iPhone backup How to switch iPhones and transfer your data: iCloud iPhone backup

In older versions of iOS, head to Settings > iCloud > Backup and tap ‘Back Up Now’.

A note for Apple Watch owners

Apple Watch owners beware: switching iPhones will require you to reset your watch. Its apps and settings will be backed up to the Watch app on your iPhone before it’s reset – don’t worry about storage, as the backups are only around 100-200kB.

If you have health data you must back up your iPhone via iCloud or using an encrypted iTunes/Finder backup, as for legal reasons, Apple isn’t allowed to store personal health-related data in unprotected backups.

This means that if you choose not to encrypt your backup in iTunes/Finder on your Mac (this happens automatically in iCloud), your backup will restore your Apple Watch apps, but it won’t transfer your exercise/health data.

For more information, take a look at this: How to keep Apple Watch apps when switching to a new iPhone.

2: Turn on your new iPhone

Once you’ve turned on the new iPhone, simply follow the onscreen instructions to set up the device.

3: Restore from your backup

Once you’ve logged into your new iPhone using your Apple ID, you’ll be asked whether you want to set up your iPhone as a brand-new device, or if you’d like to restore a backup via iTunes or iCloud.

From here, select either Backup from iCloud or Backup from iTunes and select the most recent backup from your old iPhone.

4: Wait while your data is restored

After selecting a backup to restore from, your data and preferences from your old iPhone will be transferred. The time it takes may vary depending on the size of the backup and your Wi-Fi speed.

Once this is complete, you’re done. You should be able to access all photos, contacts, messages and other data from your old iPhone.

How to transfer data without a backup

The above method is fine for those of us that haven’t already set up our iPhones as ‘new’ iPhones – but what if you’ve already started using the new phone and don’t want to restore from a backup? Luckily there is a way to transfer some data at this point.

The following method uses Apple’s iCloud and should transfer all photos, contacts, notes, calendars and Safari passwords from your old iPhone to your new one. For related advice, read How to transfer music from one iPhone to another.

1: Enable iCloud on your old iPhone

On your old iPhone, open the Settings app and make sure you’re signed in with your Apple ID/iCloud account and you’re connected to a Wi-Fi network.

Once signed in, click on your Apple ID information at the top of the page, then click on iCloud. Toggle on everything you want to transfer to your new iPhone (Photos, Contacts and so on). Leave your iPhone connected to Wi-Fi and your data should start syncing with iCloud, although there’s no progress bar to see how much has been synced.

How to switch iPhones and transfer your data: iCloud

How to switch iPhones and transfer your data: iCloud

2: Enable iCloud on your new iPhone and sync data

Once you’ve synced your old iPhone with iCloud, it’s time to transfer all your data to your new iPhone. Head to Settings and make sure you’re logged in with the same Apple account as your old iPhone, then open the iCloud settings and toggle on everything you want to download.

After a few minutes, you should find your old data appearing in relevant apps, such as Photos and Contacts.

3: Download purchased apps

Although the above step will successfully transfer data including images, videos and contacts, it won’t transfer everything. If you want to access and download your purchased apps, head to the App Store, tap the Updates tab and find the Purchased page. This will bring up a list of every app you’ve downloaded, both paid and free, available to download to your iPhone.

It’s worth noting that if you want access to your old preferences (Wi-Fi logins, Settings and so on), third-party app data (game saves), health/exercise data or text messages, you’ll have to erase your new iPhone and set it up again, this time selecting a backup of your previous iPhone to restore from.

And that’s it! Your new iPhone should now be indistinguishable from the old one… except for all the hardware upgrades, of course. Next time you choose to buy a new handset, remember to check our guide to the best iPhone deals.

Related advice can be found in How to transfer contacts from iPhone to iPhone and How to transfer text messages to a new iPhone.

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