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When iPhones Go Wrong – Restoring From iCloud Backups [iOS]

By Tim Brookes2012-06-08

restoring iphone from icloudLike any Apple product, the iPhone ”just works” right? Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world and regardless of what anyone will tell you, iOS is not perfect. Things go wrong, but luckily there are some great counter-measures and third-party tools to soften the blow.

We’ve spoken about iCloud in the past, covered setting up the core features and even retrieving a lost or stolen phone, but we’ve still not tackled the iCloud restore process. If – like me a few days ago – you’re not too sure how the process works (or whether it works at all), today’s article is for you and your peace of mind.

If you’re wondering how safe your phone’s treasure trove of personal data really is then read on.

Time For A Restore

Something went wrong with my Camera Roll a few days ago. After shooting a quick snapshot from the lockscreen, I couldn’t get my Photos or Camera app to show the Camera Roll without crashing. Multiple restarts later I decided it was probably time to update the phone’s software, over-the-air.

I’m not always the most punctual individual when it comes to updates, and recently I’ve been relying on my phone as more than a communication device. I had been putting off the OTA update to iOS 5.1.1 until I could afford to spend the time fixing any issues that arose.

restoring iphone from icloud

Despite my faith in iOS, I had a feeling something might go wrong. I’ve had iTunes restore from backup feature fail on me in the past, so from the outset I was concerned about restoring from iCloud if the worst happened. I wasn’t going to take any chances with my most precious data – photos and videos.

At this point it’s worth pointing out that this iPhone isn’t paired to a Mac or PC in my possession – the PC it was paired to recently died a death. I decided to grab my photos using a small freeware program called iExplorer (previously iPhone Explorer) which is great for grabbing whole folders from your iPhone and exporting them to a destination of your choice. This way I had my photos and videos, even if the OS upgrade caused issues and iCloud couldn’t help.

restoring iphone

Then, from the Settings > General > Software Update menu I initiated the update.

…..& So It All Went Wrong….

For the first few hours my phone sat there downloading the full update, prepared the installation and restarted. Upon restart I was presented with a status bar, which started to move very slowly. I left the phone doing its thing for a couple of hours, but soon noticed the status bar flatly refused to move. It had been about 6 hours by this point so I decided it had crashed and held the power and home buttons concurrently to reset the device.

restoring iphone

Unsurprisingly not much happened when the phone restarted, the status bar was back but it wasn’t going far. After an hour of nothing, I figured it was time to “iTunes my iPhone”, so I plugged the phone into a waiting Mac in its current state of stasis and to my surprise it was recognised. I clicked Restore in iTunes and kissed my data goodbye.

restoring iphone

Eventually the phone restarted and asked me for an Apple ID, permission to use location services and whether I wanted to use iCloud or not. Sure I did, but the option to restore wasn’t there – instead I was invited to “set up iCloud”. Fearing for my cloud-based backup, I decided to master reset the phone without connecting it to a Mac, hoping that the option to restore from iCloud would appear this time.

The Silver Lining

It turns out master resetting your phone from the Settings > General > Reset > Erase All Content And Settings menu does indeed reveal the Restore from iCloud option. Seeing some light at the end of the tunnel, I chose the most recent backup and went to bed. I’d been at this all day, and was looking forward to getting my phone back in the morning.

restoring iphone from icloud backup

Imagine my frustration then, when I woke up to that same static progress bar that caused the problems in the first place. Accepting that the iCloud backup had indeed failed, once again I gave the iPhone the iTunes treatment. After this I reset it again to reveal the Restore from iCloud option, crossed my fingers and chose an earlier iCloud backup taken about 24 hours prior to the one I had already tried.

restoring iphone from icloud

This process takes hours. Hours and hours and hours. It was 4 hours before my phone restarted and when it did things were looking good. Everything was there, from my backgrounds to stored Wi-Fi passwords, but it still took several more hours for apps to restore and a long, long time for my Camera Roll to download. My Internet connection isn’t particularly slow, so this was pretty surprising.

Eventually my phone was back to its old self and running the latest version of iOS.


So what did I learn? A few things:

  1. If you’re going to restore or update your iOS device then you’d better have some spare time to babysit it through the process just in case things don’t go to plan.
  2. The option to choose an older iCloud backup is a Godsend should your most recent one fail.
  3. If all of your iCloud backups fail then it pays to have a failsafe backup, though you probably won’t need it.
  4. Restore from iCloud puts your phone back the way you left it provided you have enough iCloud space to backup everything. Never again will you have to “start again” with an iPhone, even if you buy a new one.

Have you restored from iCloud yet? Did it go to plan? Any nightmares? Reveal all in the comments.

Image Credit: iPhone Status Bar (dahlstroms)


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