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Troubleshooting iCloud, Part 2

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Tom Negrino offers some insightful tips for troublshooting iCloud.

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If you have been using a Mac or an iOS device (iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, or iPad mini) since October 2011, when Apple introduced iCloud, chances are you're using Apple's data synchronization service. In Part 1 of this series, I explained what iCloud does (and doesn't do); a little bit about how iCloud works with your devices; how iCloud synchronizes and protects your important data; and I introduced the troubleshooting process that you should follow in the rare cases when iCloud goes awry.

Here in part 2, we’re going to dive a little deeper into the troubleshooting process. I describe some specific troubleshooting techniques, including Step 0 in your troubleshooting routine and show you how to fix problems that can crop up when you’re using iCloud.

The Proverbial Prevention, Or Backing Up Is Easy to Do

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” – Benjamin Franklin

Old Ben, of course, did not have an iPhone. But I feel certain that a man of such wisdom (let’s just skip past that whole flying a kite in a thunderstorm business, shall we?) would never have been caught without a solid backup of his iOS device. Luckily, the rest of us don’t need the acumen of Franklin to make sure that our iOS devices are securely backed up at least several times a week, if not every single night. Apple has made it a very simple, set-it-and-forget-it process. By having a solid backup, and knowing it, you’ll never feel as though you’re standing on quicksand when it comes to troubleshooting. You’ll be able to restore your device to its state of (at worst) a few days ago, and that should provide you with the confidence you need to try to fix problems without worrying that you’re going to end up making matters worse. Here are the steps you need to accomplish to make sure that you are protected in case of disaster:

  1. Don’t turn your iOS devices off at night. They’re designed to be on all the time, and they simply fall asleep when you’re not using them. You’re not saving anything by turning them off, and you’ll be preventing the backup process from happening while you sleep.
  2. Plug in your device to charge every night.
  3. Make sure your device is connected to a Wi-Fi network. The iOS device will use the Wi-Fi network to silently connect with the iCloud servers and back itself up.
  4. Make sure that backups are turned on. To do that, choose Settings > iCloud > Storage & Backup. Then in the Backup section, turn on iCloud Backup (Figure 1). For extra credit, scroll down on the Storage & Backup screen and tap the Backup Now button to begin your first backup, as long as you are connected to a power source and to Wi-Fi. After the first backup, which may take a while, subsequent backups only copy items that have been added or changed, so those backups go much quicker.

Figure 1: Once you turn on iCloud Backup, your device will automatically and faithfully backup to Apple’s servers every night while you are asleep. Do it.

It’s probably worth mentioning what it is that gets backed up. Some of the items that are backed up count against the free 5 GB of storage you get with an iCloud account, and some items don’t. Items that do count against your free storage include photos and videos in the Camera Roll; text messages of any sort; email; device settings; and ringtones. Another important chunk of data included against the 5 GB limit is data that’s normally kept inside apps. For example, I have the Kindle app on my iPad, and I have about 80 MB of books loaded in the app, all of which counts against my 5 GB storage quota.

On the other hand, you get unlimited free storage for music, apps, books, and TV shows that you purchased from the iTunes Store (so notice that if I had bought those Kindle books from Apple instead of Amazon, Apple wouldn’t care about how much storage they use).

Some things don’t get backed up to iCloud at all, such as music and TV shows you didn’t buy from the iTunes Store; movies, podcasts and audio books (presumably because you can always re-download them); and photos that were originally synced from your computer (instead of using Photo Stream).

One last thing about backup is that you want to make sure that the backup actually happened. Do that by choosing choose Settings > iCloud > Storage & Backup. Then in the Storage section, tap Manage Storage. That screen shows you backups from the different iOS devices in your iCloud account, and details for the particular device you’re looking at. If you tap the name of that device, you’ll see the last backup time, and you have the option to back up individual apps on the device (Figure 2).

Figure 2: It’s important to check that your backups are really happening. The Manage Storage screen (left) shows you the iOS devices associated with your iCloud account, and tapping the device you’re using brings you to the detailed Info screen (right), which tells you the last time the device was backed up.

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