My husband Chris recently ditched Windows for good on his MacBook, on which he had previously been running Windows via Boot Camp as his primary OS. Once he decided to make the leap for good, he just backed up his important files, deleted the Windows partition and started using OS X.

All worked great until the time came to sync his iPhone. Since he was still on the same computer, he didn’t think anything of plugging it in. However, he had been in the Windows world, and the two operating systems—though on the same physical computer—treat syncing devices separately. When he plugged his iPhone in, iTunes naturally treated it like a new device.

Without thinking, he clicked through the windows prompting him to set up his new device and all info was lost. Around the same time, I had been having issues with my own iPhone and needed to troubleshoot to getting it working correctly again. What a great time to write about safely backing up and restoring an iPhone!

So, if you’re having issues with your iPhone or iPod touch or you’d like to utilize the restore feature before syncing to a new iTunes library, here are some things to keep in mind (if you need step-by-step instructions for the restore process, see the bottom of the article for links):

  • iTunes has a built-in feature that backs up your data each time you sync, update or restore your device.

However, this does NOT include your photos, videos or audio. If you have the information still on your computer that you want to sync, it will do so; however if you’re setting up your device for the first time and your information is not already on the computer, you want a more fully-featured backup program such as iPhone/iPod touch Backup Extractor. (Leopard only)

  • If you want to restore your device from a backup, either right click the iPhone or iPod touch icon in the lefthand navigation bar or click Restore in the Summary tab in iTunes.

If your data is completely up-to-date the way you want it, and you need to restore it because it’s acting funny, I’d recommend syncing first, so you have a recent backup.

Note: If you click Restore in the Summary tab and proceed from there, it gives you a little more information about the backups than if you right click on the device icon (e.g. my old iPod touch and iPhone are named the same thing—only the former example gives you your phone number to indicate that it’s a phone, rather than an iPod!)

Depending on the size of the backup, it could (and probably will) take several minutes.

  • Once your data is restored, all of your information should be back on your device, but the apps will be out of order.

If you’re like me and have several pages of apps that you’ve painstakingly organized to perfection (yep, I said it), I recommend taking a screenshot of each page beforehand to help you sort them out afterward! (iPhone only: To take a screenshot, press the Home button and the button on the top simultaneously. It will take a screenshot that is then stored in your pictures.)

More resources:
Backing Up/Restoring your iPhone/iPod touch software
iPhone and iPod touch: About backups
iPhone Troubleshooting Assistant
iPod touch Troubleshooting Assistant

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