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I had an iPad mini which had some valuable photos in the Photos app. I had backed up the device on iCloud using 4.2 GB of my available 5 GB of space. Now that device is dead and is beyond repair. I thought I had the backup in iCloud and didn't take care to backup anywhere else. Now when I open iCloud, I see that it is completely blank. Is there any policy Apple has to delete the backup after a certain amount of time? Is there any hope for recovering these photos?

  • I've given you a detailed guide on what you should do next down below, please let me know if it helps (as I hope it will)! – owlswipe Jul 20 '16 at 22:54
  • Also, can you expand on what you mean by "iCloud is completely blank"? – owlswipe Jul 21 '16 at 2:13
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Why your photos are not in iCloud Photos

Now when I open iClould I see its completely blank.

Photos do not appear on iCloud.com unless iCloud Photo Library was turned on; from your description, it seems that it is not turned on: that is why the Photos section of iCloud is completely blank. You evidently did not have iCloud Photo Library turned on, so photos were tied to your device backup instead of being tied to your iCloud Drive. Thus, your photos are not visible from your iCloud account. But have no fear, that doesn't mean you can't access your photos.


How to get your photos back

You'll need a new/used iPad that runs iOS 7 or later (so iPad 2 or later, iPad Mini 1 or later). You can buy a relatively inexpensive used iPad Mini 1st gen here for ~$150, or upgrade to an iPad Mini 4th gen (the latest and greatest) here for ~$350. Make sure the iPad you purchase has at least as much storage space as your lost iPad before you buy it. (Note: Apple may offer to exchange your dead iPad if you contact their support team at getsupport.apple.com)

When first launching the iPad (if it's used, you must do a factory reset first if it still has data on it), follow these steps to set it up from a backup of your lost iPad Mini:

  1. Turn on the new iPad.

  2. From the Apps & Data screen, tap Restore from iCloud Backup, then sign-in to your iCloud account.

  3. Proceed to “Choose backup,” then choose from a list of available backups in iCloud (probably just choose the latest backup).

After following these steps, your new iPad will boot up and have all of the data from your lost iPad Mini, including all of your photos.


What to do to prevent this next time

I recommend using the Google Photos app to seamlessly back up all of your photos/videos (free of charge, unlimited photos and videos). With Google Photos, you can access the backed-up photos/videos anytime on almost any device (including from the web at photos.google.com). Or, you can turn on Apple's iCloud Photo Library, in Settings -> iCloud -> Photos, which lets you access the photos anytime from icloud.com. (Note that iCloud Photo Library eats up your iCloud storage space and isn't free or unlimited like Google Photos is.)


Let me know if you need any further assistance, and please let me know whether this helped you or not!

Sources:

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You can restore your backup to another iOS device to recover your photos, if they were included in your original iCloud backup.

You can find detailed instructions on this Apple Support page: Restore your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch from a backup

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From iCloud: iCloud storage and backup overview:

Here’s what iCloud backs up:

[…]

  • Photos and videos on your iOS devices

    • However, if you turn on iCloud Photo Library on your iOS device (iOS 8.1 or later) or Mac (OS X v10.10.3 or later), your photos and videos are already stored in iCloud, so they aren’t included in your iCloud backup.

This means that if you have both iCloud Backups and iCloud Photo Library turned on, your photos are "backed up" to iCloud but they are not duplicated in the device backup (to save your iCloud storage).

This also means that if you have iCloud Backups turned on, but iCloud Photo Library turned off, your photos should be included in the device backup, but not as browsable Photos.

In any case this means: if you have iCloud Backups turned on, your photos should be backed up into iCloud in some form.

How these scenarios differ can be demonstrated by logging in to www.icloud.com:

  • If you have iCloud Photo Library turned on, you can browse your photos via Photos app
  • If it is turned off, then they are in the device backup and not browsable via Photos app — so when you restore your backup they should go into your device's Photos app just as they were.

You can confirm that backup is consuming your iCloud storage via the Settings app (on icloud.com).

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