iPhone backup shootout: iTunes vs. rsync

iTunes’ iPhone backup is absolutely horrid. I’ve just about decided to completely replace it with rsync, so I figured I’d give it one last go. It’s been 2 hours since I plugged my phone in and iTunes auto-synced. It’s been over a week since my last rsync backup. How do they compare?


iTunes backup — Crashed after 1.5 hours. Resulted in corrupted backup, will not be able to restore from it.

rsync — 5 minutes, 32 seconds.


iTunes backup — Plug in via dock connector/USB.

rsync — Wi-fi.


iTunes backup — USB 2.0 theoretical maximum: 480 Mbits/second. Actual speed: approx 2.3 Mbits/sec.

rsync — Actual transfer speed: 440 Mbits/sec.

Data transferred

iTunes backup — ~16 Gb

rsync — ~155 Mb

Data availability

iTunes backup — Stored in a single compressed image. Not available.

rsync — Stored in a standard folder on my data drive. Very available.

Revision availability

iTunes backup — Last backup. available only as a complete reimage, assuming the last backup didn’t crash. If last backup crashed (about 66% probability, in my experience), not available at all. Ever.

rsync — Thanks to the magic of Time Machine, every single sync is backed up. Every change. Every revision. These backups can be restored piecemeal, as needed.

Ease of restoration

iTunes backup — Plug in phone. Hope iTunes has a valid backup image. Curse.

rsync — Run the reverse rsync command, go about your merry way. Can restore a single app or folder, or the entire iPhone.


iTunes backup — Plug phone into computer, manual sync.

rsync — cron jobs, folder actions, bluetooth proximity, IP address availability, manual sync.

Approximate wait after plugging phone into computer before I can do anything with my phone other than looking a pretty “syncing” screen

iTunes backup — 1.5 hours

rsync — 0 seconds

Final score

iTunes backup - 0. rsync - 10.