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iCloud Backup

True or False?

If your information is backed up to the iCloud, you can recover something you deleted before yesterday.

False.

Ugh. Then what’s the point of the iCloud backup?

I get this question all the time. I think the word “backup” itself is confusing; it describes very different approaches.

Traditional backup systems copy data from your computer to an external hard drive and keep each complete backup intact; nothing is overwritten by subsequent backups. In these systems — Apple’s Time Machine and Windows’ File History, for example — you can locate and restore a file or files you deleted a day, week, or month ago.

Apple’s iCloud backs up your mobile data too, but primarily for sharing contacts, music, pictures and calendar events, etc. with your other devices in real time. In the process, it backs up your data, but only as one ever-changing daily backup that keeps overwriting yesterday’s backup. It is not your long term storage. (The limited, although important, function of iCloud’s backup is to load your data onto a new device. That it does seamlessly.)

To work efficiently, you want both systems:

  • Back up to the iCloud to keep a current copy of your mobile data to share among your devices, and to share with a new device if necessary. Be sure it is turned on: iPhone Settings > tap your name > iCloud > iCloud Backup > On.
  • Back up your computer to an external hard drive to keep your information longer term and unchanged by more recent activity.

Is that clearer or should I, um, back up???

Note: some of you backup your computer data to Carbonite. This offsite system’s data retention is somewhere between the iCloud and an external hard drive. From the Carbonite website: When Carbonite is backing up, it will keep a copy of your files in the backup as long as the files exist on your computer. If files are deleted or missing from your computer while Carbonite is backing up, the files will be removed from Carbonite after 30 days (15 days for trials).