Manually back up your important documents from your iPad or iPhone

I’ve always been more comfortable with manual device backups for my iPhone and iPad, mostly because I know I really have the data and I also know the specific location I’m backing it up to.

You can always have iTunes backup your iPad or iPhone by CONTROL-CLICKING (mac) or RIGHT-CLICKING (pc) the iPad or iPhone device icon when you’re in iTunes. When you do that, a pop-up window will appear with an option to BACKUP. Just choose that and iTunes will backup everything on your iPhone.


If you want to try a manual backup, a website called MACROPLANT is giving away a free copy of their PHONE DISK software through December 1st. PHONE DISK is a pretty nice cross-platform application that allows you to access your iPhone or iPad on your computer like you would a USB disk.

Once you have installed PHONE DISK, it will reside in the system tray (pc) or your menu bar (mac) until you plug in a iPhone or a iPad. Once you do, the iPhone or iPad will appear along with the rest of your hard drives.

The default mount path for the iPhone and iPad is the device’s MEDIA folder. From this mount path, you can see the following folders on the device…

  • Books (all the books you’ve purchased from the iBooks app)
  • DCIM (all the photos you’ve taken)
  • Recordings (all the speech and audio recordings you’ve made)

Grab all of these folders and copy them over to a safe location on your hard drive as backup!

Now to backup purchases you have made from inside other apps (such as the great COMICS app or DC or MARVEL apps) or even to save in-game progress (like Angry Birds or Galaxy on Fire games) you will need to do one more thing.

Go to the PHONE DISK icon on the system tray or menubar and go to your iPhone / iPad’s name.

From there, choose CHANGE CONNECTION ROOT.

Once you do that, you will see all the apps you have on your device.

Scroll to the app you want to backup and click on it.

Once you do that, the iPad / iPhone will disappear from your computer, and a drive with just that application you selected will appear in its’ place.

Grab everything you see and back it up!

For example, I have a lot of free comics from the COMICS app (which BTW is a very easy way to entertain nephews and little kids!)

Once I changed the CONNECTION ROOT to COMICS, I see a folder with…

  • Comics
  • Documents
  • iTunesArtwork
  • iTunesMetadata.plist
  • Library
  • tmp

…as the content.

The comics I’ve downloaded ad purchased are all in the LIBRARY / CACHES / COMICS / BOOKS folder. (I would hate to re-download all of those. Or worse, lose them all!)

Grabbing everything from the main directory (Comics, Documents, Library, etc), I now know that in case of a major catastrophe I really do have a backup of all my in-app purchases!

I usually CHANGE CONNECTION ROOT and go to all the APPS I have made significant app-specific purchases with (and in the case of some games, backup my saved progress!)

When you’re done, just CHANGE CONNECTION ROOT back to the MEDIA folder (at the end of the list of APPS you have) and you will go back to the default view you saw when we started.

Then just choose UNMOUNT DEVICE. Done!

Of course, if you have a jailbroken device, the PHONE DISK software will mount the device at its’ “true” root. (Hoo-Ah!)

A jailbroken device will have all of your the APPLICATIONS under the VAR / MOBILE / APPLICATIONS directory. (Under a cryptic naming system… I just grab them all.)

The BOOKS purchased from the iBooks app will be under the VAR / MOBILE / MEDIA / BOOKS directory on a jailbroken iPad / iPhone (I just grab the entire BOOKS directory too)

Hopefully I won’t have to deal with too many nuke-and-pave repairs on my iPad and iPhone this year, but with these manual backups, I at least know I’ve got a plan “C”.

25 thoughts on “Manually back up your important documents from your iPad or iPhone

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