You probably shouldn’t run an iOS public beta on your primary device. But maybe you took the plunge anyway—anything to get in on that sweet Memoji action—and now you regret it. Maybe an app you use every day isn’t compatible with iOS 12 yet, and you want to go back.
You can. Whether you can put everything back the way it was before you jumped on the beta train depends on how (and if) you backed up your phone.
How to restore iOS 11 from an iTunes backup
When you install the iOS 12 beta, you’re instructed to first make an iTunes backup of your device running iOS 11. iCloud backups, after all, are not backward-compatible, so even if you back up to iCloud all the time, it’s smart to make a tethered backup to iTunes before major OS upgrades like this.
When you do, we recommend checking the box to encrypt the backup, which will save your Health info and app logins. Apple also suggests you go to iTunes > Preferences > Devices, right-click your device backup in the list, and choose Archive. That will keep this backup from being overwritten by subsequent backups of the same device. It’s like backup insurance.
If you have that archived backup, restoring your phone is a simple process. If you don’t, skip this section for now, read on, and come back to it later when you’ve decided what to do.
- Connect the phone to your computer and launch iTunes. Click the phone icon in the toolbar to open its summary page.
- Put your device into Recovery mode. This procedure depends on your device. On an iPhone X, iPhone 8, or iPhone 8 Plus, press Volume Up once, Volume Down once, and then hold the Sleep button on the side until you see the Recovery mode screen. On an iPhone 7 or 7 Plus, hold down Sleep and Volume Down at the same time. Keep holding them past the Apple logo, until you see the Recovery mode screen. On an iPhone 6s or earlier, iPod touch, or iPad, hold down the Sleep and Home buttons together, like you’re restarting the device, but don’t let go when you see the Apple logo. Keep holding until the Recovery mode screen appears.
- Once your device is in Recovery mode, iTunes will ask if you want to Update or Restore. Choose Restore. This is going to completely wipe your phone—which is OK, since you have that backup.
- Sign in to your restored device with your Apple ID to activate it.
- Next you’ll be asked if you want to restore from a backup. Since you’re still connected to iTunes, just choose the archived backup of your iOS 11 device, and click Continue to restore.
- When it’s done, the iPhone shuts down. Start it up again and follow the setup prompts.
How to restore if you back up to iCloud
Once again, iCloud backups are not backward compatible, so if your iCloud backup was made with the iOS 12 beta, you won’t be able to restore it. But if you have an older iCloud backup hanging around, from before you upgraded to the iOS 12 beta, it just might work—and it’s worth a try.
To see how old your iCloud backup is, go to Settings, tap your name to see your iCloud settings, then tap iCloud > Manage Storage > Backups, and your device. That will show you how old the backup is. If it’s from before you updated to iOS 12, proceed with caution.
First, follow steps 1 to 3 above, and you’ll wind up with a restored phone running iOS 11. This process will wipe out all your data, leaving you with a fresh iPhone.
As you go through the setup process, the Apps & Data screen asks if you want to set this up as a new device, restore from an iTunes backup, or restore from an iCloud backup. Tap “Restore from iCloud Backup,” and then “Choose backup” and pick one from the list.
If you set up your restored iOS 11 iPhone as a new device, you can still try this method by opening Settings > General > Reset, and tap “Erase All Content and Settings,” which wipes your iPhone again without updating iOS. That will send you through the setup process again, giving you a chance to try “Restore from iCloud Backup” instead.
How to restore if you have no backups at all
This is tough. You’re basically stuck on iOS 12, or you will lose all your data going back to iOS 11. See why it’s so important to back up before joining the beta program?
If you don’t mind starting with a fresh iPhone, follow steps 1 to 3 above to restore your phone with a new copy of iOS 11. Before you wipe your phone, check your iCloud settings to see if you’re syncing everything you can to iCloud, including your iMessages, contacts, calendars, email, reminders, Notes, Safari bookmarks, Health data, and any photos you have stored in your iCloud Photo Library. That way they’ll all sync back to your phone once you’ve restored it and signed back into iCloud.
You’ll have to reinstall all your apps, and sign into all your accounts again. And many apps keep your data in the cloud (think Kindle, Google Photo, Facebook, Twitter, pretty much anything with a login), so once you sign in again, everything’s still there.
Starting fresh can actually be nice. It’s a chance to evaluate which apps you really need. I like to start with only my ride-or-die everyday apps and then add others back when I miss them, which might be never. To find old apps, search the whole App Store, or browse/search the list of apps you own by going to Updates, tapping your avatar, and then tapping Purchased.
Use iMazing to save some data before you restore
The biggest downside of starting fresh is losing any messages or photos you aren’t backing up with iCloud. If you want to save those before you restore back to iOS 11 and wipe your phone in the process, get a handy app for your Mac or PC called iMazing.
iMazing can back up your device running the iOS 12 beta and then extract the data you want from the backup. This lets you save all the messages in Messages, including their attachments, all your photos, voice memos, anything you really want to hold onto. iMazing can transfer all of that to your computer for safekeeping.
The free trial limits how much you can save (50 photos, 10 messages, 1 voicemail, etc.) before you have to buy a $40 license, but that’s a small price to pay for all the photos you forgot to back up. Mac users can also access the full version of iMazing through Setapp, a $10/month bundle of Mac apps that has a free 7-day trial.