I think this will be a useful community wiki reference: excluding device settings, what iOS user data (the kind of data that is created and stored over time) can only be migrated to a new device through the use of iCloud/iTunes Backup and Restore from Backup?

This can be relevant to anyone buying a new iPhone or other device to replace an old one — if you decide to set the new device up as a "New iPhone", even though you had data on an old iPhone Backup, you will immediately start creating two streams of data that cannot be merged without using 3rd party tools.

This contrasts with data that can be re-downloaded to a new phone after logging in with an Apple ID (iTunes app/music/video purchases, iCloud Mail/Contacts/Calendars/Drive), as well as data that can be migrated piecemeal using iTunes (app documents).

  • The answer is "everything, except these specific cases". There is very little that can be transferred to a new device without a backup. iMessages cannot be, despite your assertion to the contrary. The only things that really transfer are things stored separately in iCloud: iCloud Photo Library, contacts, mail (iCloud, yes; other services, possibly), calendars stored in a cloud (iCloud/Gmail/etc), files stored in iCloud Drive, media and apps purchased from Apple ... – tubedogg Sep 19 '16 at 1:57
  • ... and data in random apps that support iCloud Data. That's really about it. A better question would be, "What content can be migrated without a backup?" – tubedogg Sep 19 '16 at 1:57
  • I disagree, on the basis that I can imagine far more answers to that question than I can for this one. The number of iOS features that generate user data that is not stored in the cloud really appears to be quite limited, but that data does tend to be very high value. Just the other day I noticed that keyboard autocompletes were synced across my devices, including to new ones. You've also got keychain data, which powers a slew of features. – NReilingh Sep 19 '16 at 17:22

Apple Watch Data

As this support article indicates, the only way to pair an Apple Watch with a new phone and maintain continuity of your data is to restore the new phone from a backup.


Health Data

The Health app provides a way to export all data in XML format, but the very same app offers no bulk import functionality from this XML format. Health data is included in iCloud/iTunes backups.

  • 1
    HealthKit data is only stored in iTunes backups if they are encrypted. – tubedogg Sep 19 '16 at 1:30


iMessages are distributed using end-to-end device-specific encryption, so it is not possible for message history to be redistributed to a new device. SMS/MMS messages are delivered by your service provider to your phone and only stored locally.

  • iMessage history cannot be downloaded onto a new device, even by logging in. Such an option flies in the face of end-to-end encryption for iMessage. Messages are encrypted for known device(s) of the recipient at the time of creation on the sender's device (with the recipient's public key[s]). The key required to decrypt only exists on the receiver's device(s). Therefore it would be impossible for a message to be decrypted by a new device that was not known at the time of message creation. The only exception is backups, and you're not talking about backups based on the end of your answer. – tubedogg Sep 19 '16 at 1:37
  • Also, please provide a reference for the option to "have Apple save all [iM]essages indefinitely", as such an option would directly contradict the statement in Apple's official iOS security guide that "iMessage messages are queued for delivery to offline devices. Messages are currently stored for up to 30 days." (emphasis mine) – tubedogg Sep 19 '16 at 1:44
  • Again, though, this storage is for delivery to known devices that happen to be offline, and will not result in historical messages appearing on new devices, even within the 30 days. – tubedogg Sep 19 '16 at 1:59
  • @tubedogg Hey, I'm perfectly willing to believe that I've misunderstood iMessage storage. You don't have to ask permission to edit this answer, and I think that would've taken far less time than it took you to tell me how wrong I am. – NReilingh Sep 19 '16 at 17:02

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