Meg writes: I recently got the new iOS 5 download onto my iPhone 4 and it’s working great so far. The only thing I am having trouble with is manually backing up with iCloud. How do I know if iCloud is backing anything up and why isn’t it manually backing up?

Hi Meg! The typical way to use iCloud Backup is to simply let it back up your iPhone (or iPad, or iPod Touch) overnight, while it’s locked, plugged in and charging. But as you note, you can also start a manual iCloud backup at any time by tapping Settings, iCloud, Storage & Backup, and pressing the “Back Up Now” button.

Now, here’s the thing about backing up with iCloud. The initial backup, which includes your settings, messages, Camera Roll photos, and application data, can add up to a pretty large file—as in hundreds and hundreds of megabytes, or even a few gigabytes, depending on how much data (particularly photos) you’ve got stored on your iPhone.

How do I know if iCloud is backing anything up? (reader mail)

You can check the status of your latest iCloud backup by tapping “Manage Storage” in your iCloud settings.

That said, subsequent backups should go much faster (think minutes rather than hours), since only changes and additions to your backup data get uploaded to iCloud.

Now, I’ve tried a few manual backups to iCloud on my own iPhone, and they’ve gone smoothly—but those were just backups to an existing iCloud backup file. To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure how long the initial 500MB-plus iCloud backup for my iPhone took, because it happened while I was asleep.

So Meg, it’s possible that your manual backup isn’t working because you haven’t completed an initial (and quite lengthy, probably) iCloud backup yet.

How can you tell? Easy. Just look at the bottom of the “Back Up Now” button; you should see the time of your last successful backup.

If it reads “Never,” then you still need to complete your first iCloud Backup—and that I’d recommend doing overnight, while your iPhone is plugged into a power outlet. (There’s no need to tap “Back Up Now” before putting your iPhone to sleep, by the way; iCloud Backup should work automatically in the middle of the night.)

Let’s say, though, that your iPhone tells you that there is a backup sitting on iCloud—how can you tell for sure?

Under the iCloud Storage & Backup settings and just about the “Back Up Now” button, there’s an option that reads “Manage Storage.” Tap it, and you should see your phone listed under a heading labelled “Backups.” Tap the button with your phone on it, and you’ll get more details, including the time of your latest backup, the size of the backup file, the size of the next backup, and settings for what gets backed up on your iPhone and what doesn’t.

Hope this helps, Meg. Give it a try, and let us know how it goes. Good luck!

Update: All is well now, Meg reports.