How to Back Up an iPhone or iPad with Your Mac Running Catalina

One of the most significant changes in macOS 10.15 Catalina was the breakup of the long-standing iTunes app into separate Music, Podcasts, and TV apps. But what about backing up iOS devices, which you also used to do in iTunes? In Catalina, Apple moved this function into the Finder. So if you’ve upgraded to Catalina or bought a new Mac that comes with Catalina, here’s how you can continue to backup your iOS or iPadOS in the Finder.

One note first. If you haven’t been using iTunes to back up, manage, and sync media to your device from your Mac all along, we don’t recommend that you start now. Although Apple continues to make these capabilities available for those who need or prefer them, the company focuses most of its efforts on cloud-based services like iCloud Backup, Apple Music, and iCloud Photos. Plus, many of Apple’s apps, like Books, Calendar, Contacts, Podcasts, and TV, can sync their data among all your Apple devices through iCloud. We’re focusing on backup here—for more details about manually syncing media to your iOS device, check out Take Control of macOS Media Apps, by Kirk McElhearn.

Initial Connections

As when you were using iTunes, you’ll need to connect your iOS device to the Mac with a USB cable, either a USB-to-Lightning cable for most devices or a USB-C cable for recent iPad Pro models. When you plug your device into your Mac, it should appear in a Finder window’s sidebar. However, it may not show unless you open Finder > Preferences > Sidebar and select CDs, DVDs, and iOS Devices. (And if it still doesn’t appear, restart your Mac.)

The first time you connect an iOS device to your Mac, you’ll need to establish a trust link between the two devices. That requires that you select the iOS device in a Finder window’s sidebar, click a Trust button that appears, click Trust again on the device itself, and then enter the device’s passcode. This is all very sensible since it prevents someone from stealing your iPhone and connecting to their Mac to read its contents.

Back Up Your Device

Once you’ve jumped through the necessary security hoops, select your device in a Finder window sidebar to view the General screen, which has an interface that’s eerily reminiscent of iTunes. Here’s where you’ll find backup controls, along with a button that lets you update your device’s version of iOS and (not shown) a variety of other general options. Again, we’re focusing on backup here.

You have two choices: storing the backups on iCloud or keeping them on your Mac. Apple has more information comparing the two, but here are the basics:

  • iCloud backups: Assuming you have enough (or are willing to buy more) storage space in iCloud, select “Back up your most important data on your iPhone to iCloud.” Backing up to iCloud is the best option because it automatically happens once per day whenever the device is connected to power, locked, and on Wi-Fi—for us, that usually means during an overnight charge. Plus, if your Mac has a relatively small SSD, you may not have space to store the backups for a large iOS device. iCloud backups are highly secure and reliable, but there are those who don’t want to pay for sufficient iCloud space or don’t want their data in iCloud.
  • Local backups: If you prefer, select “Back up all of the data on your iPhone to this Mac.” Be sure to select “Encrypt local backup.” Otherwise, the backup won’t include saved passwords, Wi-Fi settings, browsing history, Health data, and your call history. And anyone breaking into your Mac could access everything else in your iPhone backup! When you select “Encrypt local backup,” you’ll be asked for a password—make sure it’s one you won’t forget.

If you’re going with iCloud backups, you’re done—backups will happen automatically. For local backups, however, click Back Up Now to initiate a backup. Backups can take quite some time—a circular progress indicator replaces the eject button next to the device’s name in the sidebar. That’s a hint that you shouldn’t unplug the device while it’s backing up.

In fact, you don’t have to choose between iCloud and local backups. Nothing prevents you from leaving the default set to iCloud (this mirrors the setting on the device itself in Settings > Your Name > iCloud > iCloud Backup) but occasionally connecting your device to your Mac and clicking Back Up Now to make a secondary local backup, just in case. That would be a sensible thing to do before switching devices or intentionally erasing the device for some reason.

Since iOS device backups can be quite large—up to hundreds of gigabytes—you may need to recover space used by backups for devices you no longer have. Plus, if you switch to iCloud backups at some point, there’s little point in devoting many gigabytes of storage to obsolete backups.

Click Manage Backups to see a list of backups. To delete one, select it and click Delete Backup. You can also Control-click any backup to delete it, archive it (which prevents it from being overwritten by future backups), or show it in the Finder. That last option is useful for determining the size of the folder containing the backup—select it in the Finder and choose File > Get Info.

Finally, backups are useful only if you can restore from them in case of problems. To do that from the Finder in Catalina, connect your iOS device and click Restore Backup. You can choose which backup to restore, if necessary, and enter the password you set for an encrypted backup. Restoring will likely take quite some time, depending on how much data needs to be transferred.

We’ll leave you with one last thought. An eject button appears next to your iOS device in the Finder window’s sidebar. You can click it to disconnect the device or, if there’s no other progress indicator there, just unplug the device.

(Featured image components by Apple)


Social Media: If you prefer to back up your iOS devices to your Mac, rather than take advantage of daily automatic iCloud backups, note that in macOS 10.15 Catalina, you now do that in the Finder, not in iTunes. Here’s what you need to know:

Find Files in the Finder Better by Specifying a Search Scope

This isn’t about periscopes or mouthwash—when it comes to searching, a scope is the area in which a search takes place. When you use the Search field in a Finder window to look for files and folders, you have the choice of two scopes: This Mac or the current folder. You can always switch the scope after starting the search by clicking the other choice near the top of the window, but it’s easier to set the default search scope in Finder > Preferences > Advanced so it’s set right to start. From the “When performing a search” pop-up menu, choose Search This Mac to search across all indexed drives, Search the Current Folder to limit the search to the folder showing when you start the search, or Use the Previous Search Scope. Most of the time, if you have any idea where the item you’re looking for might be, selecting an enclosing folder and then searching within it is the best approach.

(Featured image by Noah Fischer from Pixabay)

Personalize Your Mac with Custom Document Icons

Do you have a document that you open regularly, perhaps from your Desktop? If you’d like to make it stand out from other documents, why not give it a custom icon? This was common practice on the Mac back in the day, and it’s still possible in modern versions of macOS. Go to Google Images and search for “searchTerm icon” to see what images are available. (It’s fine to use any graphic for one-time personal use; if you’re planning to distribute the file or publish the icon in any way, make sure to read and honor any licensing requirements.) Download an image you like (Control-click it and look for a Save Image command), open it in Preview (where you can delete any background or crop as desired), press Command-A for Select All, and Command-C to copy the image. Then select the icon for the file you want to customize, press Command-I to open its Get Info window, click the current icon in the upper-left corner (it gets a faint highlight outline), and press Command-V to paste.

(Featured image by Andrew Wulf on Unsplash)

Get Stacked: Reduce Icon Clutter in Mojave with New Desktop Stacks

Desktop Stacks are a new way to reduce icon clutter in macOS Mojave 10.14. There are three types of people in this world: those who keep their Mac Desktop organized, those who don’t and don’t care, and those who don’t but wish they could. If you’re sitting on the Group #3 bench–you have oodles of icons scattered willy-nilly`around your Desktop, and it bugs the bejeebers out of you—macOS 10.14 Mojave might have the solution: Stacks.

Apple has used the term “Stack” before, and still does, in relation to how the icons of folders in the Dock display, either as normal folders or as a stack of icons with the first on top. Mojave’s new Stacks feature brings that visual approach to the Desktop, organizing icon clutter into neat stacks that you can expand and collapse with a click, working with the revealed icons just as you’ve always done.

In the Finder, the best way to invoke Stacks is by Control-clicking the Desktop and choosing Use Stacks from the contextual menu (below left). If you first click the Desktop, you can also find the commands for Stacks in the View menu: Use Stacks and Group Stacks By. Lastly, if you open the View Options window by Control-clicking the Desktop and choosing Show View Options, you can work with Stacks by choosing from the Stack By pop-up menu (below right).

Regardless, when you invoke Stacks, the Finder promptly collects all like icons—even new files, as you create them—together into one or more stacks of icons. Click once on a stack to reveal its contents below. Click again to collapse the revealed icons back into the stack. If you open multiple stacks at once, each subsequent stack takes over a spot at the top of the screen and expands down. If you don’t show disks on your Desktop, you can get a nice columnar view of what’s on your Desktop.

How does Stacks figure out which files are alike? You determine that by Control-clicking the Desktop and choosing from the Group Stacks By menu. You can create three basic types of stacks:

  • Kind: These stacks are named for the type of file they contain, such as Documents, PDF Documents, Movies, Images, Screenshots, etc.
  • Date: With date-based collections, each stack’s name and contents depend on what date ranges make sense, such as Today, Previous 7 Days, Previous 30 Days, October, 2017, and so on. The date groupings can key off the date added, last opened, last modified, or created.
  • Finder tags: Tag-based stacks are useful only if you regularly assign tags to all your files.

We expect that grouping stacks by kind will work best for most people, with a few chronologically inclined folks opting for one of the date options.

How can you control the order of the files within a stack? That’s trickier. Control-click the Desktop, choose Show View Options, and in the View Options window, choose from the Sort By pop-up menu. We’re partial to Name (for an alphabetical list) and Last Modified (to put the most recent file you’ve touched on top), but see what works for you.

The main problem with Stacks is that it eliminates any spatial memorization you might have relied on to find icons on your Desktop. You might be able to identify the document you’re looking for by its icon, but exactly where that icon appears when you expand its stack depends on what other stacks are open or closed, what other files are in the stack, and how the stack is sorted. So if your Desktop is a mess, but you know to look in the lower-left corner for the files you’re working with, Stacks may irritate you.

Luckily, you can give Stacks a try without permanently rearranging your Desktop. Just invoke it—the Command-Control-0 (zero) keyboard shortcut can be handy here—and try Stacks. If you don’t like it, another press on Command-Control-0 puts things back the way they were, with no harm done. (The only exception is that if you sort your Desktop, switching in and out of Stacks removes your Sort By setting.)

Stacks may not be ideal for everyone, but many people whose Desktops are obscured by icons will appreciate how it cleans things up instantly and keeps everything neat and tidy.

Tired of PDFs or Other Documents Opening in the Wrong App?

When you double-click a document, macOS uses the document’s file extension to figure out which app should open the file. So, by default, a PDF file called laser-squid.pdf opens in Preview because the Finder knows that everything with a .pdf extension should open in Preview. But what if you would prefer to open .pdf files in Adobe Reader, or you want comma-separated value (.csv) text files to open in Numbers? To change any mapping, select a file of the type in question and choose File > Get Info to open the Info window. In the Open With section, click the pop-up menu to choose the desired app and then click the Change All button.

How to Customize the Columns in a Finder Window’s List View

When a Mac folder contains a lot of files, the Finder’s List view often works best, since it lets you focus on a single folder and easily sort the contents by clicking the different columns: Name, Date Modified, Size, and Kind. But did you know that you can resize columns, rearrange them, and even add and remove columns? To resize a column, drag the vertical separator line to the right of its name. To move a column, click and hold on its name, and then drag it to the desired position. And to add or remove a column, Control- or right-click any column header and select or deselect the desired column. Choose from Date Modified, Date Created, Date Last Opened, Date Added, Size, Version, Kind, Comments, and Tags.