With so much important information now stored on either our iPhones or iPads, backing them up is an essential way to prevent losing any irreplaceable data. It also makes moving to a new device like the shiny iPhone X very easy, as you don't have to set up all your accounts and apps again.

Apple itself provides two main methods for achieving this, by using either iCloud or iTunes. In this article we take a look at what each has to offer and which one is the best choice for you.

Be sure to also check out our How to use iCloud and How to back up an iPhone or iPad tutorials for additional details on creating and restoring data with iCloud or iTunes.

What are the main differences between iCloud and iTunes backups?

There are a number of key differences between the two services.

Storage

As iCloud backups are stored in iCloud - hence the name - this means you could soon run out of room if you only use the free 5GB that comes with the account. Apple tries to limit the amount of data included in backups by preserving data about purchases and apps rather than the complete files.

Any music, movies, apps, TV shows or books that you buy from iTunes, the App Store or iBooks are not included in the backup itself, but instead they are triggered to download once the backup has been restored on the device.

Photos and videos can also be offset, as turning on the Use iCloud Photo Library setting excludes them from backups due to the fact that they're already stored online.

Of course, this still takes up storage space on your iCloud account, so if you have a lot of images you might want to buy an increased amount, which in the UK will cost you 79p p/m for 50GB, £2.49 p/m for 200GB, or £6.99 p/m for 2TB.

Should I backup to iCloud or iTunes

Read our How to back up your iPhoto library for more details on iCloud Photo Library and other available options.

The advantage of using iTunes here is that as the backup is stored locally on your Mac or PC, the only limit is the amount of free space on the hard drive.

Accessibility

One of the reasons many people choose iCloud backups is for the simple convenience. You can perform a backup wherever you are, so long as you have a Wi-Fi connection, and they can also be restored in the same manner.

With iTunes, the backups are kept on your Mac or PC, so if you don't have the computer handy then there's no way to make or restore them.

Encryption

Privacy is an important consideration these days, and both iTunes and iCloud backups offer encrypted backups that will keep your data safe from prying eyes.

The difference is that iCloud has encryption enabled as a default, whereas it's a feature that you need to enable on iTunes. If you fail to do so on the latter then not only will your information be vulnerable, but the iTunes backup will omit any activity, health or keychain data.

Do the backups include everything on my iPhone?

Not completely. As you can see from above, Apple avoids duplicating files as it saves on space.

On iCloud backups, the company states that the following items are not included:

  • Data that's already stored in iCloud, like Contacts, Calendars, Notes, My Photo Stream and iCloud Photo Library
  • Data stored in other cloud services, such as Gmail and Exchange mail
  • Apple Pay information and settings
  • Touch ID settings
  • iCloud Music Library and App Store content (if it's still available in the iTunes, App, or iBooks Store, you can tap to re-download your already purchased content)

As you can see (in the case of Gmail, Exchange, Apple Pay and Touch ID) this means there will still be a few things to set up once you move to your new iPhone or restore a backup to your current model.

It's a similar story on iTunes, with Apple outlining the following as being left out:

  • Content from the iTunes and App Stores, or PDFs downloaded directly to iBooks (you can back up this content using Transfer Purchases in iTunes)
  • Content synced from iTunes, like imported MP3s or CDs, videos, books and photos
  • Photos already stored in the cloud, such as My Photo Stream, and iCloud Photo Library
  • Touch ID settings
  • Apple Pay information and settings
  • Activity, Health and Keychain data (to back up this content, you'll need to use Encrypted Backup in iTunes)

So, again, there's a few things to get up and running once the backup has been restored.

Which one is best?

As always, it really comes down to your own personal preference. If you like to do all of your admin at home then there's a good chance that iTunes will be available. The same is true if you don't want to shell out for any additional storage on iCloud.

The favoured son, though, especially by Apple, seems to be iCloud. It keeps your iPhone and iPad independent from a PC or Mac, can be accessed anywhere there's a Wi-Fi connection, and remains a seamless way to move between devices.

Of course, our recommendation would be to use both. iCloud for the convenience, and iTunes as a backup to your backup. After all, you can never be too careful.