Apple’s iTunes still backs up iOS devices

“Apple made a major change in the latest version of iTunes, version 12.7: they removed the App Store,” Kirk McElhearn writes for Kirkville. “And because of this, you can no longer sync apps using iTunes.”

“But many people think that this means that iTunes no longer backs up your iOS devices. It still does, exactly as before,” McElhearn writes. “iTunes backs up much of your data via iTunes (you can also back up your device to iCloud), but it doesn’t store apps; it never has.”

“It merely stores a list of apps and how they are organized on your device. When restoring a device from a backup, it used to copy the apps from your iTunes library,” McElhearn writes. “Now, it downloads them directly to your device, which, as I point out in this article discussing what’s new in iTunes 12.7 can be problematic for many people.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: Yes, this is an issue for anyone with multiple iOS devices, a lot of large apps, and limited bandwidth, since they’ll need to download apps and app updates to each device. For the rest of us, though, here’s to Apple’s efforts to reduce iTunes bloat!


  1. Article stating the obvious.

    Hate to have to install Xcode, just to talk to my iPhone.

    The reason iTunes supports iOS devices goes back to the beginning of the iPod. The iPhone is an iPod, with a phone. Music has always been the focal point. Not interested in music? Your using it wrong. With Apple Music and streaming your iTunes library, coupled with unlimited data, the next step might be to get rid of iTunes all together. But that’s harsh.

  2. The article is incorrect. The author says that iTunes never backed up actual app, rather, it created a list of apps you own. My laptop begs to differ since it does in fact have my actual apps backed up along with everything else on my iPads and iPhone.

    1. No, he is not wrong. ITunes backups never copied the apps to local storage, or the backups for each device would have contained a separate copy of each app for each device. Backing up 20G of the same apps from 3 devices would have consumed 60G. Similarly, music backups save the playlists, but not the actual songs. If the song is not already on the computer, the user is asked if he wishes to copy his purchases. The songs go into the iTunes folder, but they are not copied into the backup.

      The old iTunes app tab essentially did the same. Most of us set our computer to automatically download app purchases and updates or did it manually when we synced each device. The apps were in the iTunes folder, but not physically copied into the backup, which was just a list of the applicable app files.

      When we restored from a backup, the computer checked the list against the files on the computer. If an app file (.ipa) was there, it was copied onto the device. If the local file was missing, the .ipa was downloaded from the App Store, if it was still available, and copied onto the device.

      The new iTunes does not deal with individual apps or local storage at all. There is no way to access the App Store from your computer or to download iOS apps to it; apps must be downloaded directly to each separate mobile device. Backups are always just lists, and the actual apps are never transferred from the device to the computer.

      When restoring from backup, iTunes ignores any local .ipa files and downloads everything from the App Store. If the app is no longer available there, all you get is a warning message, even if the .ipa is still in your iTunes folder (there is a way to load app files directly, but it is a major headache and a security risk). So restoring a 20G collection of apps to three devices requires 60G of downloading, even if all the .ipa files are already on the local computer.

      The new iTunes has also removed all of the other features that enabled users to manage their iOS apps from their computer. Those features were not cruft, but important to the user experience for many of us. Removing that functionality from iTunes without moving it to another place is an insult. It would be like expecting users to manage their Apple Watch on the device itself without an iPhone Watch app. Some tasks are just simpler on a larger screen.

      1. “Tunes backups never copied the apps to local storage, or the backups for each device would have contained a separate copy of each app for each device. ”

        You’re making a technical distinction that the user doesn’t give a shit about. From the user’s point of view, he plugs in his device, and everything on it is copied or backed up to this computer. The fact that the user data backup and app binary backup are separate doesn’t interest the user.

  3. You are correct; the author of the article is definitely incorrect. The .ipa (iOS app extension) files on Mac confirm that the apps do reside in the iTunes folder.

    Many who are concerned about this change in iTunes 12.7 don’t like the fact that they’ll not be able to continue to use that are part of their iTunes backup but have been removed from the App Store.

    Hopefully someone will email this blogger and let him know that he’s completely wrong.

    1. How about you tell me what’s wrong? iOS backups do not contain apps; they never have. You may be confusing this with the fact that iTunes, up until iOS 9, transferred purchases from an iOS device. It still does, but not for apps, because iOS 9 introduced app thinning, so apps on a device are not complete; they only contain the assets for that device.

      Or you could have posted a comment to the article on my site…..

      1. “iOS backups do not contain apps; they never have. You may be confusing this with the fact that iTunes, up until iOS 9, transferred purchases from an iOS device.”

        It’s functionally the same thing. From the user’s point of view, they used to plug in their device, and everything used to be backed up. The fact that the user data backup and the app binary backup were separate is an irrelevant distinction.

        “because iOS 9 introduced app thinning”

        Yeah, I don’t think IOS 9 has app thinning, I think the App Store has app thinning. Apple could have worked around this, but were clearly too lazy.

        1. It’s not functionally the same thing at all. If apps are backed up, what might be a 2 GB backup becomes a 10 GB backup. Nothing has changed with the update; the change occurred back when iOS 9 was released.

          But even before that, apps weren’t backed up. But app backup has never been an issue; I don’t know why it is now.

    2. Fascinating to watch people agreeing with “the author is wrong” when that is absolutely incorrect. @kirkmc knows a LOT more about this stuff than whoever Marc G is, and in this case, he’s not just an expert, he’s correct.
      You don’t get to vote on facts. A belief can be popular, but incorrect.

  4. I have always kept “Automatic downloads” off on all my items. I will install when I want to install it.
    That said, I have used iTunes since version 1. Yes it did backup all apps on the phone and put them on the Mac.

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