Should you set up a new iPhone from scratch?

We’ve all been there. Waiting for a new iPhone you have preordered is a cruel wait. It’s the equivalent of a Christmas Eve wait to open the presents next day, but for adults. Keeping my head busy from fantasising how awesome this new phone is going to be I had to ask myself this question: am I going to set up my new iPhone as a new device or transfer all my stuff with an iCloud backup?

There are arguments for each option, but I decided to set up mine from scratch. While restoring from an iCloud backup can be a lifesaver if you have a broken device or have lost your phone, there are quirks that can be very difficult to troubleshoot and can be extremely irritating. See the David Barnard, developer of Launch Center Pro struggling with his battery life. The first suspect will always be “have you restored from an iCloud backup?”

Choosing a clean install, on the other hand, could be a lot of work if you have multiple email accounts, custom Safari bookmarklets, keyboard shortcuts and other tweaks available on the Settings menu. Earlier this year I decided to wipe my iPhone clean for a fresh start and the result was really positive. My choice now was clear.

Writing about the constraints friends using their 8GB iPhone 5c face due to its limited storage also got me thinking. It taught me a lesson about how we use our smartphones. I will continue using Apple’s solution for Photos and Music — iCloud Photo Library and iTunes Match — because… Well, because it’s already paid. Even if they have their issues, I like the ability to have access to all “my stuff” without having to store it on the device. You will find that these days a lot of apps are services with a cloud element that allow you to migrate or sync to other devices without any issues.

Downloading just out of curiosity

The story with bulkier apps and, especially, games is completely different. There’s no need to download every new app “just to check it out” and left if forgotten in a folder. There is something hygienic about keeping only the apps you need. What a better opportunity than doing this than when you have a new iPhone with nothing on it? If I need an app, I’ll go and download it. It won’t have a booked space on the homescreen just yet — we don’t want an app to get too comfortable and be biased by the good looks of its icon.

Fellow Upgradian David Cuthbertson is also using iOS 9 as an excuse to wipe he iPhone and start from scratch. In his posts he mentions this will allow him to try Apple’s improved Mail, Maps and Calendar apps instead of alternatives while getting rid of those apps rarely used.

“I have apps that I keep around because I someday might, possibly, maybe use them. Many of them I haven’t used for months or years, but I keep them around as a safety net.”

I would like to try this approach and reduce the number of apps I keep installed in my phone to the ones I use daily or almost daily. One of the things I enjoy most is to download new apps to check them out and delete them after a while, which is not always the case. Opportunities like upgrading to a new OS version or getting a new device are the perfect time clean up.

Now, to set up my new iPhone I followed the principles of “the great wipe” to start with a fresh install without carrying forward all the clutter from iOS versions and my own settings tweaking. The idea is to back up as much as you can with an iCloud copy and at least another one on a local drive. You can use iTunes or a third-party app like iMazing. Obviously this works too when you are setting up a new iPhone from scratch, with the added benefit of being able to have your old device with you should you have to double-check any obscure preference. In both cases — wiping your current device or setting up a new one — you should back up everything at least twice.

How to download and try keeping only what you need

At this point is probably worth remembering that all your purchases (paid and free apps) will be available to re-download from Apple’s servers. You should not worry unless you want to keep an app that has been pulled from the App Store, beta software or a custom app your company may use not being distributed on the App Store. For the rest of the apps and games you just need to go to the App Store app → Updates → Purchased.

My personal recommendation is to avoid as much as possible seeing what’s in there to avoid the temptation to download every app you own again. You can perfectly get started with a handful of apps — 1Password, Simplenote, Fantastical and OmniFocus do it for me.

As you use your app-less phone you will have the urge to download something really specific when you need it, and never beforehand. As far as games go, I’m not currently addicted to any that I need to play wherever I go. It will be more of a discover, play and delete basis, which we already agreed was a bad habit. What about you? Are you setting your iOS device from scratch too?