Q: My girlfriend bought an iPad 2 running iOS 4.x. She loves it but she does’t have a computer to synch with which creates some problems. She cannot update the iOS version and she has no backup for the content (mostly photos, email and songs). She has her own iTunes account. I am happy to have her use my MacBook running the latest version of iTunes, but I am worried that if I connect her to my Mac it will overwrite her data and substitute mine. Is there a way to sync her iPad and retain her data?
A: You can definitely backup and update her iPad on your computer, and in fact it’s not nearly as scary or difficult as it sounds. When you plug any iPad (or iPod or iPhone) into a different library, iTunes defaults to essentially doing nothing; if the device has never before been connected to any computer, you will see the initial setup assistant appear the first time you connect it, but you can proceed to de-select all of the sync options and iTunes will basically leave any content on the device alone.
Note that if you have any iOS device backups on your MacBook, you will first be prompted to either restore a backup or set it up as a new device; simply choose the “Set up as new…” option which will take you to the initial setup screen shown above.
If the device is not already configured to make backups to iCloud, then iTunes will make an initial backup automatically as soon as you complete the setup assistant. If the device normally backs up to iCloud but you want to also make a local backup, you force one manually simply by right-clicking on it in the Devices section in iTunes and choosing the Back Up option.
Since you’re planning a major iOS update, it’s probably a good idea to make this additional manual backup even if your girlfriend is also backing up her device to iCloud. iOS updates are normally non-destructive, but there are never any guarantees of this, so a recent backup should be considered a must.
Note that this backup only includes application data and the device’s settings, so you’ll want to ensure that your girlfriend’s apps and media content are also backed up to your iTunes library before proceeding. Apps and purchased media content can be transferred into your library using the Transfer Purchases option found on the File menu in iTunes, but you’ll need to ensure that your MacBook has been authorized for your girlfriend’s iTunes Store account first. This can be done by selecting Authorize This Computer from the Store menu in iTunes.
Since your girlfriend has never synced her iPad with an iTunes library, it’s a safe assumption that she has no music or other media content from anywhere other than the iTunes Store, so iTunes’ own Transfer Purchases feature should suffice in this case. Content stored within third-party applications is already handled as part of the standard iTunes/iCloud backups or by the apps’ own third-party cloud services.
Keep in mind, however, that this process will transfer all of your girlfriend’s content into your iTunes library by default, and should you need to restore and re-sync her device after the update, you’ll end up needing to sort out which items are hers out of the newly combined iTunes library. A better alternative might be to create a new iTunes library just for her apps and content. You can easily do this simply by holding down the OPT key when starting iTunes on your MacBook and choosing the “Create Library” option to create an entirely new library.
Note that your preferences and device backups will still be shared, but the actual content, including apps, will be stored in a separate database. The actual files will get mixed into the same iTunes Media folder on your hard drive, but this shouldn’t be a major concern and if you don’t want to keep them around when you’re done, you can simply delete them from the second library and choose to remove the underlying files at the same time when prompted.
If you want to keep your girlfriend’s content in an entirely isolated library, the other option is simply to setup another user account on your MacBook. Each OS X user account gets its own distinct iTunes library, including preferences, device backups and media content folders.
For more information, check out our Guide to Transferring your Content to a new iPhone, iPad or iPod touch. While the focus of this article is on transitioning between devices, the backup procedures outlined in the first part are applicable to any situation where you want to make sure that an iOS device is properly backed up.