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iTunes makes automatic backups each time I want to sync in a different day (if I recall correctly) - what if I want to restore to a backup WITHOUT having to restore the whole operating system? Can it be done?

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up vote 2 down vote accepted

iTunes doesn't restore your OS during a normal restore, it only restores backed up information which is listed below.

  • Contacts(1) and Contact Favorites (regularly sync contacts to a computer or cloud service such as iCloud to back them up).
  • App Store Application data inlcuding in-app purchases (except the Application itself, its tmp and Caches folder).
  • Application settings, preferences, and data, including documents.
  • Autofill for webpages.
  • CalDAV and subscribed calendar accounts.
  • Calendar accounts.
  • Calendar events.
  • Call history.
  • Camera Roll (Photos, screenshots, images saved, and videos taken. Videos greater than 2 GB are backed up with iOS 4.0 and later.)
  • Note: For devices without a camera, Camera Roll is called Saved Photos.
  • Game Center account.
  • Home screen arrangement.
  • In-app purchases.
  • Keychain (this includes email account passwords, Wi-Fi passwords, and passwords you enter into websites and some other applications. If you encrypt the backup with iOS 4 and later, you can transfer the keychain information to the new device. With an unencrypted backup, you can restore the keychain only to the same iOS device. If you are restoring to a new device with an unencrypted backup, you will need to enter these passwords again.)
  • List of External Sync Sources (Mobile Me, Exchange ActiveSync).
  • Location service preferences for apps and websites you have allowed to use your location.
  • Mail accounts (mail messages are not backed up).
  • Managed Configurations/Profiles. When restoring a backup to a different device, all settings related to the configuration profiles will not be restored (accounts, restrictions, or anything else that can be specified through a configuration profile). Note that accounts and settings that are not associated with a configuration profile will still be restored.
  • Map bookmarks, recent searches, and the current location displayed in Maps.
  • Microsoft Exchange account configurations.
  • Network settings (saved Wi-Fi hotspots, VPN settings, network preferences).
  • Nike + iPod saved workouts and settings.
  • Notes.
  • Offline web application cache/database.
  • Paired Bluetooth devices (which can only be used if restored to the same phone that did the backup).
  • Safari bookmarks, cookies, history, offline data, and currently open pages.
  • Saved suggestion corrections (these are saved automatically as you reject suggested corrections).
  • SMS and MMS (pictures and video) messages.
  • Trusted hosts that have certificates that cannot be verified.
  • Voice memos.
  • Voicemail token. (This is not the voicemail password, but is used for validation when connecting. This is only restored to a phone with the same phone number on the SIM card).
  • Wallpapers.
  • Web clips.
  • YouTube bookmarks and history.

    1. Your contacts are part of the backup to preserve recent calls and favorites lists. Back up your contacts to a supported personal information manager (PIM), iCloud, or another cloud-based service to avoid any potential contact data loss.

Source: http://support.apple.com/kb/HT4946

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It's worth noting that the "Restore" button should not be the one used, it's Right Click (or ctrl+click) the device while connected and click "Restore from Backup" so the OS does not get redownloaded / reinstalled, according to the Apple Knowledge Base - thanks for the info! –  AeroCross Oct 16 '11 at 16:13
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