It's useful to know how to back up text messages, and transfer them from one iPhone to another, or to a Mac or PC. The obvious application is when setting up a new iPhone: when you open Messages for the first time it will be empty, and your old conversations can be important for work or hold sentimental value.
This article looks at the best ways to transfer SMS and iMessage texts from one iPhone to another using iCloud backup, and how to back them up to a Mac using an app called PhoneView and to a PC using CopyTrans.
Back up to iCloud
Text messages are contained within the iCloud backup, so you can use an iCloud backup to transfer and restore all your text messages from one iPhone to another.
The only caveat to bear in mind is that messages form part of the wider backup and restore, so you'll have to restore device settings and app data at the same time (which removes any new messages from your iPhone). So this technique is best to use when you're setting up a new iPhone.
This Apple Support document lists all the items that are backed up and restored by iCloud.
Follow these steps to back up and restore Messages (and other app data) from one iPhone to another:
- Connect the old iPhone to a power source and turn on Wi-Fi.
- On the old iPhone, open the Settings app and tap your name at the top of the screen, then tap iCloud. Scroll down and tap iCloud Backup. (In older versions of iOS, you will need to tap Settings > iCloud > Backup, or Settings > iCloud > Storage & Backup.)
- Make sure iCloud Backup is turned on.
- Tap Back Up Now, and wait for the backup process to complete. You'll need to remain connected to Wi-Fi for the entirety of this process.
- Turn on your new iPhone. If you haven't done so already, you'll need to go through the setup process. When asked, tap Restore from iCloud Backup and Next. If you've already been through the setup process, you'll need to reset your iPhone. Open the Settings app and tap General > Reset > Erase All Content and Settings.
- Enter your Apple ID and Password.
Your new iPhone will now display all your messages from the old iPhone, along with all your apps, photos, emails and other app data.
Back up to Mac
If you want to transfer text messages from one iPhone to another without using a backup and restore process, then you'll need a third-party app. A few apps allow you to access and save the data from an iPhone, but we're going to use PhoneView. (There's a free trial, while the paid-for version costs $29.95.)
Here's how to use PhoneView to access the messages on your iPhone:
- Install PhoneView.
- Open the app. Click OK when you're told that 'PhoneView would like to access your contacts'.
- Connect your iPhone to your Mac.
- Click Archive in the PhoneView alert window.
- Click Messages in the Sidebar and OK to the Now Loading Phone Data window. It takes a few minutes for the iPhone data to load into PhoneView (a blue progress bar at the bottom of the sidebar on the left shows how the data load is going).
- The names of people you have had conversations with appears in the middle column. Select one to view the text messages you've shared with them.
- You can drag the name of a person directly to the desktop to save that conversation as a PDF.
- To extract all of your messages select All and click Copy From iPhone. Choose a location and click Save.
You can change the type of file PhoneView saves from PDF File to a text file, tab delimited file, CSV or XML (this makes it easy to import into a spreadsheet such as Numbers or Excel).
What you can't do, unfortunately, is copy these messages back into the Messages app. You can, however, copy them to a compatible app on the iPhone (iBooks works, but we prefer an app like GoodReader for viewing PDF files). You can email them to yourself or use iTunes File Sharing to copy the files across.
Transfer texts to PC
If you use a Windows PC, you can also download your texts (and much more) to your computer.
As on Mac, you'll need a third-party program. In this instance we chose CopyTrans, which is free to download and has a good user interface.
Once you download the CopyTrans Control Center you'll need to install CopyTrans Contacts; this software will enable you to extract your text messages from your iPhone.
Before proceeding, you'll need to ensure you've got iTunes or the appropriate Apple drivers installed. Thankfully CopyTrans has a download for that too!
Once you've got the program installed, you can plug your iPhone into your computer. Confirm that you trust the machine when prompted.
After waiting a few minutes, you should see CopyTrans loading your messages. Depending on the amount of texts and images (including ones from third-party applications such as Viber and WhatsApp), it might take some time for CopyTrans to pick up all the details.
After it has loaded you'll see a list of contacts. From here, simply select the conversations you wish to backup or export and hit the 'Export Selected' button and you'll be presented with various ways of exporting your messages.
After selecting your method, in our case we chose to extract it to a Word document, you'll be prompted to save it to a certain location.
Once saved, make sure the backup and copy has successfully transferred over. Interestingly we found that text, images and even emojis (converted) correctly transferred over to our Word document.