How to swap iPhones and not lose Apple Watch data

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When you unpair an Apple Watch from an iPhone, your iPhone creates a backup of your Watch data and configuration, then wipes the Watch. Since so many people will be getting a new iPhone 6S tomorrow, I wanted to see if there was an easy way to pair an Apple Watch to a new phone and restore all important data.

According to this Apple document (thanks to Rob Wensing), iPhone includes your Watch backups when it runs an iCloud backup. So, in theory, and supported by a few of my Twitter followers, here is the easiest way to switch your Apple Watch to a new iPhone and keep all your data. I don’t know what your schedule is like, but it might be best to start this the night before you get your new iPhone:

  1. Unpair your Apple Watch from your current iPhone to create the latest backup of your Watch data on that iPhone.
  2. Plug your iPhone in to charge while on WiFi to run an iCloud backup, which includes your Watch backup (preferably at home or on the strongest connection you can find). Make sure this backup finishes. Alternatively, you could plug into iTunes and do a full, encrypted (so it saves passwords and Health data), local backup there. If you’re doing this on an iPhone launch day, this will probably be a much speedier solution than relying on iCloud, which will be under a significant strain for at least the day, if not more. Hat tip to my pal Laurie Duncan at Macsamurai Consulting for the tip.
  3. Note: Previous versions of iOS could not restore a backup to a device running an older version of iOS (for example: if your backup was created from iOS 8.4, you couldn’t restore it to a device running 8.0). Multiple friends and followers tell me Apple has resolved this with iOS 9, as they have restored iOS 9.0.1 backups to devices running 9.0.
  4. Restore your new iPhone from your latest iTunes or iCloud backup. Make sure it finishes before moving on. This is especially important if you use iCloud, as it is usually slower than iTunes.
  5. Pair your Watch with your new iPhone, which should offer the option to restore from the backup you created in step 1.

UPDATE: One follower claims they recently restored an iCloud backup created with a 9.0.1 device to a device running 9.0. iOS has historically not allowed this, but maybe Apple solved this problem with 9.0. YMMV. Personally, I’m still going to go with OS parity and maybe experiment with this down the road.

Note that, by design, your Apple Watch backup does not include a few key things, but you aren’t losing data:

  • Bluetooth pairings
  • Credit or debit cards used for Apple Pay on your Apple Watch
  • Passcode for your Apple Watch
  • Playlists synced to your Apple Watch

To be clear, I haven’t gone through this yet, though I will tomorrow. However, between Apple’s documentation and enough Twitter followers confirming this works (because they have broken or upgraded phones mid-cycle), I feel pretty good about giving this a shot tomorrow.