iDevice Restore Gotchas

Sometimes the best thing to do is to wipe it and start over. Unless…

iDevice_header2

I’ve said this before, but I’ve been in mobile devices since 1996. In fact, I cut my journalistic teeth on WindowsCE devices, getting started with a Casio E10 back in 1996. It’s been an interesting journey that got me involved with many members of the Windows Mobile MVP community.  Along the way, I also helped get pocketnow.com and Gear Diary, both of them mobile device sites (though Gear Diary is more of a mobile computing than mobile DEVICE site now-a-days) off the ground.  During that time, I got involved in custom Windows Mobile device ROM’s for a number of different devices. I was even able to make (albeit very basic) mods to some ROM’s so that when I hard reset a Windows Mobile device or PocketPC Phone, custom software would automatically install as part of the process.  During my brief romp in the Android world, I got very good at rooting Android phones with and without rooting tools.

I got my first iPhone in 2008, with the iPhone 3G. At that point, the device was still an AT&T exclusive, which for me was ok. As a Chicago resident, that metro area provided enough dense coverage that I didn’t think I’d have any call coverage issues.  As many found out, that was an incorrect assumption.  3G was still new at the time, and the iPhone 3G was plagued with both battery and call quality/ dropping issues due to radios and radio ROMS that would desperately try – come hell or high water – to keep or find a 3G signal.  As such, batteries would drain faster than you could say, “Bob’s your uncle;” and call quality tanked.  The fledgling iDevice had tower switching issues; and tended to drop more calls than it connected.  I had my iPhone 3G for less than 3 months before I sold it due to too many dropped calls.  I can remember speaking with a writing partner, and during one critical 20 minute call at my desk, my iPhone dropped the call 11 times.  At the end of the day, I had to ask myself if I would tolerate that level of performance from any OTHER mobile device I was using or reviewing, and the answer was a very quick and resounding, “no.”  So, out it went.

So, fast forward to present day…

I’m currently using an iPhone 5, on AT&T again (I left AT&T for T-Mobile, then came back with the release of the iPhone 5).  When it comes to mobile devices, I’ve somewhat changed my point of view and philosophy – I’m a little tired of the cuts and bruises one receives when living on the ragged, hairy, bleeding edge, so I’m very happy to be back inside Apple’s Walled Garden.  No jail breaking for me… I did jail break my iPhone 5 at one point and ventured outside of the walled garden for all of, like, 27 and a half minutes, and quickly ran back home.  Cydia… Oy!!  What a hot mess THAT is! Never again.

Anyway, the point to all of this rambling..?  Very simple – well, perhaps not THAT simple.  But there are a couple things that I wanted to say to everyone about their phones in general, and then wanted to point out something that SHOULD work, but absolutely doesn’t.  I’ll get to that in a sec…

  1. Do NOT Fear the Hard Reset
    I said this in a lengthy column back when I was writing for pocketnow, I think.  If you have a smartphone (back then, they were called PDA’s (personal digital assistants), and they didn’t have cellular connectivity), you’re going to put apps on it, and not all of them work and play well together.  Some developers just don’t produce quality code and don’t test well.  As a software quality professional with 25 years of experience, you have no idea how much that very common behavior just makes my teeth itch…As such, you’re likely going to wind up with a device that gets really screwed up at one point or another. When that happens, your best course of action is not to pull your hair out trying to fix things.  Most of your information is either backed up in your Google account on your Android phone, in OneDrive on your Windows Phone or in iCloud on your iPhone.  Don’t worry about it. Just hard reset the thing and rebuild the device from scratch and be done with it.If you’ve installed a lot of apps and had a good, functional back up of the device prior to things going south, you could also do a simple restore (which may save you time when rebuilding or reestablishing your device’s setup).  Unfortunately, depending on how diligent you are in backing up your device, you may or may not have a good, device back up available. Yes, you can try to trouble shoot the problems, but the likelihood of you pinpointing what combination of apps and/or settings that sent your device south is very slim.  The best thing to do is admit defeat, put on your big boy undies and wipe the device and rebuild. You may find that you’ll not only resolve the problem, but may see a huge performance boost. Your smartphone likes it when it’s clean.
  2. Make Sure you have a Solid Internet Connection
    Back during the jailbreak hay day, one of the things that Apple did to make certain you couldn’t jailbreak your device and to keep it running the way they wanted it to was to insure that it phoned home during a restore or reset operation.  This is fine when you have a decent Wi-Fi or wired Ethernet connection…and this is where things can get ugly – not so much when you’re using your iPhone as a hotspot.  iTunes puts the device in recovery mode before it verifies the ROM – AND, get this – it does it every single time you want to restore the phone to factory fresh.Dear Apple… STOP IT!This is the one thing that I mentioned above that absolutely should work, but doesn’t.  With iOS 8, though, you probably won’t need to do that anymore.  Apple has made it increasingly harder and harder for jail breakers to find an exploit so that they can actually create a jailbreak of iOS 7.x.  They’ve plugged nearly all the holes. I still think it’s important to verify that the restore file I am using isn’t corrupted or tampered with, but there HAS to be a better way to do this than by phoning home each and EVERY time I want or need to restore the device.  There has to be a way to do that ONCE and ONLY once per mobile OS version. Once that verification is done, I shouldn’t have to worry about what KIND of internet connection I have – Wi-Fi, wired or hotspot via my iPhone. I just wanna restore the thing and get it working again.I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to stop myself from performing a restore because I was out and about and was using my iPhone as a hotspot. In one instance during a recent move to a new geographic area, I had problems with my iPhone, started the restore and then realized I no longer had an internet connection when iTunes tried to verify the restore file.  I had to pack up my MacBook Pro, my iPhone and jump in the car and try to find a MacDonald’s or Starbucks so I could have my cell phone – my only connection to the people who were helping me move – back from the dead.Restoring your phone shouldn’t be so complicated…I’m just sayin’.
  3. Don’t Connect your Smartphone to your PC through a USB Hub
    Yeah… I know this one can be hard, especially if you’re connecting through a laptop and don’t have a docking station (can you say every Mac EVER made) and you hate plugging and chugging a bunch of cords in and out of your computer; but don’t do this if you can help it.  I can’t tell you how many different times I’ve had iPhones get stuck in recovery mode because the signal from the PC burps because it’s connected through a USB hub.  Some people have better luck when the USB hub has its own power source and isn’t drawing juice from the laptop to split your USB port. This isn’t always the case. I’ve found that it doesn’t matter if the hub is powered or not.  I’ve had to retry iOS restores many different times on both iPhones and iPads due to weak or poor USB signals when I use USB hubs.  After the second or third failure, I usually just plug and chug USB cables out of USB ports and plug my iDevice directly into the PC. It usually works first try after that.If you’ve got an Android device, don’t try to root it while connected through a USB hub.  Some Android devices don’t recover well if the rooting or flashing process burps.  Don’t turn your cool smartphone into a brick or paper weight. Connect to your PC directly.

I started out making this totally about Apple products, but found out as I went through the process that the gotchas that I’ve pointed out can occur with just about any and all makes, models and mobile OS’.  The iDevice Phone Home thing is all Apple, though; and it really just needs to stop.

Do you have any mobile device horror stories that you’d like to share? If so, I’d love to hear them.  Why don’t you join me in the comments section, below and tell me what happened to you.

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