What to do when your iOS backup is newer than your iPhone’s OS


What to do when your iOS backup is newer than your iPhone's OS
Running an iOS beta can cause problems when you get a new device.
Photo: Ed Hardy/Cult of Mac

Everyone in Apple’s beta program is running a pre-release version of the next iOS version. Which is great, until you get a new iPhone or iPad. Then you can’t restore the new device from the backup made on your previous one because the old device is running a newer OS.

If you find yourself in this situation, don’t panic — there are a couple of possible solutions. We’ll walk you through both.

If you’re confused about what we’re talking about, consider the just-released iPhone 12. It comes running iOS 14.1, but anyone whose previous iPhone was in the Apple Beta Software Program is already on a beta of iOS 14.2. The easiest way to set up the new iPhone would be to install a backup from your old handset, but you can’t do that if that backup was made with iOS 14.2. It’s newer than the OS the phone is running, so the device won’t install it.

The same holds true for a newly-purchased iPad Air 4. It can’t install a backup made with the iPadOS 14.2 beta.

One option is closed to you. It’s not possible to remove the iOS beta from the older device, make a fresh backup, then install that on the new iPhone. But there are good possibilities.

Put the iOS beta on the new device to install the backup

The most obvious option is to put the latest beta on the new device. Then both your phones or tablets will be on the same iOS version and you can install the backup. But the process is a bit more complicated than you might think. Here’s what you need to do.

The first thing is set up the new iPhone/iPad as a new device. Give it your Apple ID, but don’t restore from any old backups you might have on iCloud.

Once this is done, head immediately to the Apple Beta Software Program webpage. Say that you want to Sign Up, then sign in with your Apple ID. On the resulting page, click on “enroll your iOS Device.” Install the profile, then restart your iDevice.

Once the phone/tablet has been restarted, go to Settings > General > Software Update, and the latest beta should be listed. Install it.

Once you have your computer running the latest iOS beta, you have to completely reset it once again in order to get it ready to install the backup you made with your previous device. Go to Settings > General > Reset and choose “Erase All Contents and Settings.” Jump through the hoops necessary to convince the device you really want to do that.

When the iPhone or iPad has finished removing all previous data and rebooted, you’ll need to set the computer up again from the start. Hint: This proves a lot easier if you put your old tablet, or your iPhone, near the new one with Bluetooth turned on. The device you’re setting up will be able to grab some settings off the older one.

This time, as you work your way through the setup process, the most recent backup made on your previous computer will become available to install. Do so.

Finally, if this whole upgrade experience soured you on the Apple Beta Software Program, we have instructions on how to leave it.

Or set it up as a new iPhone

Another option is to set your new handset up as a fresh device, and not install from a backup. This is a bit of work, but Apple makes it as easy as possible. It’s the only option that avoids putting a beta on the handset or tablet.

Give the new iPhone or iPad the same Apple ID so iCloud will offer access to Keychain with all your passwords already stored. iCloud also can automatically bring in photos, Safari bookmarks, texts, Notes and Podcast subscriptions.

It will be necessary to manually re-enter non-Apple email account details. If these are Google accounts, Keychain should have the user names and passwords stored, making setup much easier. (If you’ve forgotten how to add accounts, it’s simple. Just go to Settings > Passwords & Accounts > Add Account.)

The biggest job for many people will be asking the App Store to install third-party software. This is still fairly easy, though. In iOS 14, go to the App Store, then tap on your Apple ID icon in the upper-right corner to bring up a pop-up window. Then tap on Purchased to see a list of  third-party software you’ve bought or just installed in the past. Tap the cloud arrow next to any app and it will download itself to your shiny new iPhone 12.

Take this as an opportunity to consider what you need on your iPhone. Maybe there are apps you’ve been carrying around but don’t ever use. Alternatively, you might run across a game you’d forgotten fidget-cxv0-475tgrf4987dfreabout — install it now and have fun all over again.

Updated: This article was first published in 2019 just after the release of iOS 13. It’s been updated to reflect iOS 14.


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