Q: I am planning to purchase a new iPhone 5, but my old phone is 3GS. How do I transfer my data over if I don’t have iCloud on the 3GS?
A: Although iCloud can provide the advantage of a mostly “PC free” transfer of data between iOS devices, the older tried-and-true method of synchronizing via iTunes continues to be supported even with iOS 6 and the iPhone 5. In fact, even for iCloud users, the iTunes-based method is generally faster, since you’re transferring data from your computer using a direct USB connection rather than downloading it from the Internet. Further, iCloud will only restore your settings, data and applications onto your iOS device—media content such as music and videos will still need to be loaded back on via iTunes (unless you’ve also subscribed to iTunes Match for your music).
The basic process for migrating between iOS devices is relatively straightforward, particularly if you already have all of your media and apps stored in your iTunes library. Right before you setup your new iPhone 5, simply connect your old iPhone to your computer and back it up using iTunes. A backup should be performed automatically each time you sync your iPhone with iTunes, but you can also force a manual backup at any time simply by right-clicking on your iPhone in the Devices listing in iTunes and choosing “Back Up” from the context menu that appears.
This backup will include all of your application data and device settings, along with a list of the applications and media content stored on your iPhone; in order to save space and transfer time, the backup does not include the actual apps and media content, since this is presumably available in your iTunes library and can be copied back from there.
You can then connect your iPhone 5 to iTunes when prompted during the initial setup process and restore the backup from there. The first time you connect your new iPhone, iTunes will offer you an opportunity to restore from a previous backup; simply choose the backup you just made from your iPhone 3GS.
This will restore all of your data and settings after which your iPhone will reboot and begin resyncing your applications and media content (e.g. music, videos, podcasts, etc) from your iTunes library. Once this process has completed, your iPhone 5 should basically have all of the same settings, apps and data from your original iPhone 3GS, although you may need to re-enter some of your passwords for things like e-mail accounts due to the secure, hardware-specific way in which this data is stored on iOS devices.
Note that if you have not been keeping your media content or apps in iTunes, you will need to copy these items into your library separately from your old iPhone, since as discussed above the standard iTunes backups do not include this content—the backup process expects that the originals can simply be retransferred from your library. For apps and media purchased from the iTunes Store, you can do this using the “Transfer Purchases” feature found on the File menu in iTunes; music from other sources that’s not in your iTunes library will need to be copied back using third-party utilities. See our article on Copying Content from your iPod to your Computer for more information on how to go about doing this.