Never lose data and documents, even if your device is stolen or destroyed

So your iPhone slipped from your grasp, fell to the ground and was run over by a bus. Or someone stole your iPad, and you’ve no idea when. Or the screen just went black, and no amount of cajoling will fire your device back to life. What now?

If your first thought is ‘panic’, that’s not good. A lost or damaged-beyond-repair device is cause for concern, but needn’t be catastrophic – at least if you’ve ensured your data is secure.

This feature looks at how to make your data safe, from blocking other people getting at what’s on your phone to backing up data, so it can be restored to a new device should the need ever arise.

Lock down your device

In Settings, set up Touch ID/Face ID and a passcode. When defining the passcode, at the very least use a six-digit one from the available options. (It’s 1000 times harder to guess than four digits!) Do not use a code that will be obvious to anyone else.

Next, scroll down to and turn on Erase Data. This option will remove all of the data on your phone should someone try and fail ten times to enter a passcode.

Activate device tracking

In Settings, tap your name, then iCloud and Find My iPhone. (Or iPad.) Turn on the feature, and also Send Last Location, which sends Apple the location of your device when the battery’s almost dry.

Its location can be tracked even if you don’t have another iOS device – just use your Apple ID to log into icloud.com on a PC or Mac. If your device is lost, you may be able to find its location, set it to Lost Mode (locks device; displays a custom message; blocks payment cards), or – as a last resort – erase it entirely.

Turn on iCloud

If you only have one Apple device, you might not see the need for iCloud. But that service isn’t just about syncing information between devices – it means your data for Contacts, Calendar, Reminders, Notes, Safari, and more, resides on Apple’s servers.

This means you can access all this data on icloud.com, and easily restore it to a new device. If you send keychain data to iCloud, that includes all your vital website login information too.

Store documents in the cloud

When possible, save documents to the cloud. Which cloud depends on the apps you use. For example, Google Docs saves to Google’s servers, whereas Apple’s Pages will default to iCloud.

For apps that don’t default to iCloud support, but enable you to save/export content to a user-defined location, ensure your documents reside somewhere they can be accessed by other devices you own or can use. (Familiarize yourself with Files as a starting point.)

Send photos to iCloud

Photos and videos cause upset when a phone is missing. Don’t let your iPhone or iPad be a single point of failure regarding the loss of cherished memories, not least given that Apple provides options for safeguarding pics and home movies.

Visit the iCloud section of Settings. Under Photos, you can use My Photo Stream. This automatically uploads stills from the past 30 days (but not videos nor Live Photos), which can subsequently be downloaded to a Mac running Photos. Alternatively, iCloud Photo Library/iCloud Photos stores your entire library in iCloud, including videos, Live Photos and edits.

Note that the latter may require you to splash out on more iCloud storage. (You can increase the default 5GB allowance tenfold for a monthly fee of $1/£1). Also, any changes you make are replicated across all devices – including deletions. If you err, you’ve 30 days to retrieve deleted items from the Recently Deleted album; however, to more fully safeguard favorites, manually export them to Files, and/or use an additional low/no-cost photo-upload service like Google Photos or Flickr.

Retain deleted game data

When you’re running low on storage space, you might be tempted to delete massive games, but not fancy losing your progress. When games offer to save your progress online, let them. For those that don’t, consider offloading rather than deleting them.

To do so, go to Settings > General > iPhone Storage. (Or iPad). Apps are listed in order of size. Select one and then Offload App. This will free up the amount of storage outlined under App Size, but retain documents and data for a subsequent reinstall. That means you can pick up where you left off if you reload the app at a later date.

(Offloaded apps remain on your Home screen, and are differentiated by iCloud download icons next to their names. Tap the icon to begin a reinstall.)

Backup to iCloud

Assuming you activate the feature, your device will be regularly backed up to iCloud, which you can then restore to a new device.

In the iCloud section of Settings under your Apple ID, turn on iCloud Backup. This will backup documents, accounts, and settings (but not apps) when your device is on, connected to power, locked, and on Wi-Fi. This typically happens overnight, but you can immediately trigger a backup with Back Up Now.

As ever, you might require more iCloud space to house your backup. Alternatively, you can prune what’s saved. Go to iCloud > Manage Storage > Backups. Select your current device, and under Choose Data to Back Up, deselect items of lesser importance. Just be aware those items will not be available to restore.

Back-up to iTunes

It’s not smart to rely solely on iCloud backups, because they can fail. And although this only occurs rarely, that will be no comfort if it happens to you. Therefore, if you can, periodically backup your device to iTunes on a PC or Mac.

To do so, connect your device to your computer using a USB to Lightning cable, open up iTunes, and have the device trust the computer if asked. In iTunes, select your device in the toolbar, and click Back Up Now. Should you want the backup to include account passwords and Health data, tick Encrypt backup prior to doing so.

Another good reason for backing up to a Mac or PC is that it becomes feasible to extract individual documents with third-party software like iMazing. So even when your device is lost and you don’t yet have a new one, it’s still possible to get at key bits of data that would otherwise remain out of reach.