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The right way to switch to a new iPhone

I feel enormous guilt, even though I shouldn't. Every time a friend gets a new iPhone, it’s inevitable that I’ll get a call about some basic configuration they used to have, and need help finding out how to put back.  Then I find out they just switched phones. And by this point it’s too late: They just came back from the retail store, and the damage is done.  They won’t even know it, but they’re going to waste several hours over the next week that I could have prevented.

There’s a right way to switch to a new iPhone.  It takes a few minutes of your time, and saves you several, maybe dozens of hours of time.

Done wrong, you’ll be stressed, waste dozens of hours of your time, and possibly lose precious memories or important information.

The unfortunate reality is that most people do it wrong. In fact, I’ve been to over 50 Apple Stores in the US and abroad, and even several Verizon Wireless stores, and not only did I never once hear a customer being told how to do it the right way, but when I asked, they didn’t even know how.  

I’m going to show you the ultimate time-saver that can help you switch to a new iPhone seamlessly. Once I show you the steps, you’ll be able to restore a perfect backup to the same or a new iPhone easily by yourself, whether the switch is intentional, or an accident, like in my friend Steve’s case:

It was Saturday just after 11:00AM when my iPhone chirped. When I get calls on the weekend, they’re usually urgent. It was a long-time customer in upstate New York.

“James! I’m sorry to do this to you on a Saturday buddy… but I just made a mistake.”

“Steve, no worries, tell me what’s going on.”

He explained that he had some friends visiting, so he was mentally preoccupied with entertaining them.  Pool side.  And he had just joined then in the pool…. with his iPhone in his pocket.

I asked if he had the new one already.  He told me he just came back from the store, new iPhone in hand.  He was pretty stressed, and told me about how he dreaded going back to the busy retail store.

“Don’t worry,” I comforted him, “You won’t need to go back to the store. Let’s follow the plan.”

About one hour later, Steve’s new phone was perfect: Every app was back, located in precisely the right spot. His email accounts were perfect, as were his calendars and contacts. His photos and music were identical to the old phone.  Even the pictures he used as his wallpaper and lock screen were the same. Best of all, Steve and I spent maybe about 5 minutes in total getting the new iPhone restored.  “It’s perfect,” said Steve, “Absolutely perfect.”

What we did was simple, but the basic steps are almost never provided as an option to customers at retail stores, including Apple Stores: 

  1. We enabled iCloud backup before the accident happened.  
  2. We only used iCloud backup to restore. 
  3. We do not use iTunes.

iCloud backup, used properly to restore a new iPhone, is absolutely the best way to switch phones.  Here are the reasons why:

  • Every single app you had on your phone will be back, exactly where you had it.  Most of us get used to finding our apps with “muscle memory”.  Try finding an app on someone else’s phone without using spotlight and you’ll get a taste of how it feels to not be able to easily find things.  iCloud backup restores everything, as long as 1) it’s still an available app on the App store, and 2) you have the Apple ID and password that first bought the App or installed it on your phone.  
  • Your iPhone camera albums will be fully restored.  Not just Photostream or iCloud shared photos, but everything that you had on the other phone, no matter how many gigabytes of photos and videos you had.
  • Your Mail, Calendar and Contacts accounts will be completed restored, as well as your settings.  This is a big deal.  Remember how I shared my feeling guilty when my friends or colleagues come to me for help with something?  Well, that something is almost always a pain-in-the-ass issue with their email not being the way it was before, or their contacts not being fully complete (that’s another blog post to follow). When you use iCloud backup to restore a new phone, all you need to remember is your email account password, which you’ll need just once after restore is complete.
  • Downloaded music, playlists, ringtones, settings.. I think you get the picture.  It’s simply everything.  Even the awesome pictures you set for your lock screen and wallpaper will be restored.  

If you want a detailed, on-screen video version showing you the entire process, I’ve created a downloadable Quicktime movie you can play on Mac or PC showing you how.  Just click here to join the Switcher Genius community and get the video for free, along with other great tools to help you save time and enjoy your technology more.  

Ready for the steps?  If you’re just looking for the basic steps, here they are:

  1. Start by enabling iCloud backup in your Settings App.  Make sure you have enough storage to back up your entire iPhone and all of it’s data. 
  2. Once you’ve enabled iCloud backup, make a full backup of your iPhone.  You do this in the iCloud backup settings section. Make sure you’re on WiFi and preferably plugged into power.
  3. Once the backup is complete, you’re ready to restore to a new iPhone.  If the iPhone has already been partially set up, you’ll need to back up or safely get all the irreplaceable information off the new phone first.  That includes photos, text messages you may need, new contact information, audio memos, and anything else that you may want.  Unfortunately there is no way to merge two backups, so that means that you’ll need to start with a phone in a like-new condition, completely erased, at the initial welcome screen.  To do this, you’ll use the “Erase all contents and settings” under General and Reset within your Settings App.  WARNING:  Do not erase your phone until you’re 100% sure that you won’t lose anything.  If you need help, let me know.
  4. Once the phone is reset, you’ll be welcomed again.  This time, instead of setting up as a new iPhone, use “Restore using iCloud backup”.  You’ll need your iCloud login and password, and once you’ve logged in, you’ll be presented with a list of iCloud backups for any devices on your account.  Identify the one that you just completed for your old phone, and select it.
  5. The iPhone will go to a black screen with a white progress bar moving across it.  This is called the “Foreground Restore”, which means you can’t use your phone while it’s restoring the first part of the data.  The Foreground Restore is pretty quick, and over a decent WiFi connection typically takes between 5-15 minutes.  Once the Foreground Restore is complete, the iPhone will reboot.
  6. Next, the iPhone will boot up to what looks very similar to your backed up iPhone.  A message will appear that says the iPhone will now perform a background restore.  You can click continue or OK.  You’ll start getting prompts at this time for logins and passwords, including Apple IDs for music and Apps, as well as passwords for Internet accounts that were configured for mail, contacts and calendars on your phone.  Make sure you have all these passwords at this time and log in each account.
  7. You can use the phone to make calls, text and work the Internet while the phone restores.  As long as you’re on WiFi the phone will restore all the apps quietly in the background.  If you need to leave the network, it’s no problem.  The restore will simply pause, and then resume once you’re on a WiFi network again.  Depending on how much data you have and how fast your WiFi connection is, the background restore can take an hour to several hours.  I’ve let mine restore overnight while I sleep, but that’s because I have about 40GB of data on a 128GB iPhone, so it takes more time.

That’s it! You just switched to a new phone the right way.

A couple suggestions and precautions I recommend you take:

  1. If you have the luxury of holding onto your old iPhone for a little while, I recommend it.  iCloud restore has failed me twice, and both times I spent several hours on calls with AppleCare support, for which I’m at an advantage having not only worked with AppleCare engineers for over 20 years, but also having a background in the NetApp technology that powers iCloud.  I don’t accept no for an answer when it comes to restoring from a backup.  The point is, you don’t want to be in that position.  So keeping your original iPhone is valuable.
  2. If the switch is a proactive switch, and not the result of walking into a hot tub with your iPhone or anything else that can destroy the phone, then I recommend backing up all your iPhone data locally to your computer.  I explain the process for backing up the iPhone photos, texts and everything else in detail in my free eBook and screencast on how to back up, archive and explore the contents of your iPhone.

So why wouldn’t Apple Stores, Verizon Stores and everyone else in the business of selling and servicing iPhones inform every customer about the benefits of iCloud backup? I’ve talked with a lot of employees in both stores about this. This one key piece of information about the best way to backup an iPhone, and the best way to switch to a new iPhone, could save customers a LOT of wasted time and frustration.  

My theory is that it takes too much time to explain, and too much time to stay with the customer through the process: Restoring from iCloud backup is a multi-step process that isn’t intuitive, and requires a lot of really good communication to help the iPhone owner understand explain the benefits and be willing to make a perceived investment of time.  As for time, the process only takes a few minutes of hands-on time, but requires anywhere from a half hour to even a few hours to complete over a WiFi connection.  The retail stores just aren’t set up to do this.