I am upgrading to a new iPhone 5 from an iPod touch, and I want a shiny new, fresh install.

I would rather not restore the whole shebang from my tired old, disorganized, app-laden, settings-broken iPod data to the new phone.

I'd like to re-download the dozen-or-so apps I actually use… and then restore the data for just those apps (preferably from iCloud, but iTunes would be fine).

What are my options?


This is reasonably possible with a little configuration work on your old iPod Touch. The key will be to turn off everything except what you want on your new iPhone. Also, there is some possibility that miscellaneous settings and such will sync over. However, we should have control of basically everything.

Another important note is that the restore cannot be done after you set it up as a new device without re-wiping the device. iCloud, unfortunately, doesn't allow selective restore, but it does allow selective backup.

What you will need to do is open your Settings app on your iPod Touch and select "iCloud". Go down through that first list and disable everything there. I'd probably leave "Photostream", "Documents and Data", as well as "Find my iPhone" enabled. If you would like "Contacts", "Calendars" and such synced over, go ahead and leave those switches on as well.

Next go down and select "Storage and Backup" > "Manage Storage". Leave all the Documents and Data enabled there - those will only be referenced/downloaded if you have the applicable app. But, if you desired, you could disable some of these as well.

Now select your iPod above "Documents and Data" and start working through the list. Turn off everything you don't want, and leave on anything you want. This could take several minutes as you will have to choose to delete all the unneeded data.

If you happen to turn off a switch accidentally that you want left on, turn it back on and perform a manual backup. That should re-send the data to iCloud.

Again, while this may happen to sync things that you didn't really want restored - like settings - I can't think of anything that would do that. Either way, this is the control we have.

After all the above is complete, wipe the iPhone 5, restore it from your iPod Touch backup, and configure your iPhone 5 to backup. You can now go through and re-enable everything on your iPod Touch as it will be listed as a different backup and will no longer affect your iPhone's current data situation.

And, of course, congratulations on your new iPhone

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  • "If you happen to turn off a switch accidentally that you want left on, turn it back on and perform a manual backup" -- does it work in an opposite way? Eg if I want to restore a single app X previously backed up to iCloud, but want to back up a latest data for all the other apps--can I disable that app X from backing up, and make sure that its last iCloud copy will survive? – yurkennis Nov 11 '14 at 7:14
  • @yukennis, without testing it, I don't know right off. However, I would be very surprised as I understand iCloud backup to mostly "all-or-nothing" and not a version type of setup used in iWork and Time Machine. I believe it is either the latest version of an app or nothing, but again would have to test to confirm. – bassplayer7 Nov 11 '14 at 15:35
  • Thanks for reply. Similarly, I'd better give more context for my question, here it is: apple.stackexchange.com/questions/155786 Would be grateful if you could help there. – yurkennis Nov 11 '14 at 15:38

Indirectly this is easy by deleting the un-wanted apps and making a new backup. I prefer to be cautious so I leave the original device alone and make a final backup if needed of the full data:

  1. Restore everything to the new device.
  2. Once the data is on the device, the apps start loading.
  3. Once the apps are done loading, delete the things you don't want. It will delete both the app and all your data for the unwanted apps.
  4. If you don't trust that things are properly cleaned, at this point make a back up to iCloud (or locally) and wipe the device and repeat, dropping the thinned backup onto the new device. I've not seen this save much if any measurable space and file placement on solid-state storage isn't as important as it was on HDD for speed reasons, so this step might be totally a waste of time on iOS 6 and later.

This seems faster for me and my time than going into the iCould storage settings and deleting the app backups for each un-wanted item on the originating device. The benefit for me of pruning things on the restoring device is that I would have deleted the data already on the first device if I didn't need it anymore. It seems like extra work to temporarily stop backing up something I need just to reduce a restore and then have to re-enable backing those items up. However, if my network speed were severely constrained, I might choose to thin the backups.

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How restore works on iOS:

iTunes/iCloud extracts the backup onto the device into /var/mobile/Library/SafeHarbor, one directory per app.

There it sits, having no effect whatsoever on the device until a corresponding app is installed. Whenever any app is being installed (whether from iTunes or from iCloud/Appstore), installd checks the SafeHarbor directory for restore data, and if present, it moves the restore data into the app's data directories, ready for use.

As I understand it, SafeHarbour data eventually gets deleted if the device needs the space and the app has never been installed.

So as to your question, the best way to restore the data for just the apps you use is to restore the device as normal, then only install those apps you use (for instance by setting iTunes to sync apps manually, or by installing one-by-one from the App Store). The data for the apps you no-longer use will stay out-of-the-way in the SafeHarbor, and eventually get deleted.

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  • WOW this is an insightful piece of information I've never seen anywhere on the web! Thank you very much. Just wish I could access the root file system. – Syclone0044 Jul 7 '18 at 6:06

Yes, you can restore individual app data if you have an old backup on your computer but it is a tedious and intrusive process so follow carefully step by step:

Step 1 - You should have an old backup on your computer which has the app data you want to retrieve.

Step 2 - Delete the particular app(s) from your iPhone

Step 3 - Do a complete backup of your current iPhone data, apps and everything

Step 4 - Reset iPhone to factory setting.

Step 5 - Restore to your old backup which has the particular app data

Step 6 - Turn on iCloud backup and back up the particular app(s) alone by going to manage section and checking the relevant app(s)

Step 7 - Reset iPhone to factory settings again

Step 8 - During initialisation make sure you choose to restore form iCloud backup when you are asked to sign in during the iPhone setup

Step 9 - After restoring, go to the Appstore and download the corresponding app(s). Now you ll be happy to see the old data back in the app(s)

Step 10 - Now restore your iPhone to the latest backup you just made which is as per Step 3. This will not erase or replace the apps you installed and restored via iCloud. It will only merge.

Now you have retrieved the data of the particular app you wanted without modifying anything else on your iPhone.

OR, if you have a backup in iCloud, make sure you turn off automatic backups before it updates the data and you should do a complete backup on your computer just to be safe, then erase the iPhone completely. Now during setup restore from iCloud and then download the app, you are done. Now you can copy and export the data.
WARNING : Do not delete the app if its data are in the iCloud. Deleting the app, will also delete the app data and its preferences.

Cheers :)

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  • 1
    Hmm, Intriguing — Yes, it's a bit convoluted, but I'm going to have to parse this carefully to see if it actually does what I would like. Sounds promising, though. – Robert Cartaino May 2 '14 at 14:40
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    "Do not delete the app if its data are in the iCloud. Deleting the app, will also delete the app data and its preferences." -- even if backup to iCloud is disabled? – yurkennis Nov 11 '14 at 7:25
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    @yurkennis. Yes. iCloud Backup and iCloud data syncing for individual apps are two different things. – tubedogg Nov 11 '14 at 7:40
  • @tubedogg Looks like I need to give more context for my question, here it is: apple.stackexchange.com/questions/155786/… Would be grateful if you could help there. – yurkennis Nov 11 '14 at 7:43

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