My iOS 4 update experience

Early on Tuesday morning, Apple released the iOS 4 update for iPhone and iPod touch users. I got up slightly less early on Tuesday morning, excited at the prospect of playing around with the few iOS 4 features afforded to us iPhone 3G owners. However, my excitement didn’t last long as my experience updating to iOS 4 quickly became one of pain, frustration and misery.

My experience updating to iOS 4 started the night before with some preparation. Up until Monday night, I had two iTunes Libraries. One — which lived on my Mac mini — contained apps, videos and podcasts; the other — which lived on my PowerBook G4 — contained all of my music and nothing else. Up until Monday night, my iPhone was synced with my Mac mini’s library, which meant it had apps, videos and podcasts but no music. I’ve wanted to merge the two libraries for some time so that I could have all my media on my iPhone.

I rather foolishly decided that the night before the release of iOS 4 was the best time to make the move.

Why did I think the night before the release of iOS 4 was the best time to merge my libraries? Earlier in the week, I heard that the iPod app had a few enhancements that I was keen to try out, Playlist Folder support in particular. Naturally, I needed some music and playlists on my iPhone so I thought I would sync all my music and playlists.

Why did I have two iTunes libraries in the first place? I’ll leave that for another time. But, why was it foolish? With the help of Home Sharing, I quickly transferred the media that I wanted from my Mac mini to my PowerBook, so all I had to do was sync my iPhone and I was ready for iOS 4.

What I didn’t take into account was syncing over 2000 songs to my iPhone — plus re-syncing all my apps, videos and podcasts — would take a long time. I started syncing at about quarter past eight and didn’t finish until sometime after midnight. No big deal really, but the full folly of my decision didn’t sink in until the next morning.

I woke up at 7:00 on Tuesday morning, rolled over to my PowerBook on the bedside table — with iPhone still attached — and attempted to click the "Update" button in iTunes while only being able to see unfocused blobs of colour. I was successful, and after clicking through several dialog boxes and waiting a few minutes, iOS 4 had been downloaded and began installing.

It was about this time that I realised I had made a mistake the night before. During the install process, I quickly became concerned that my iPhone was not updating, but restoring. I later found out that it was supposed to do this but at the time I was under the impression that I had clicked the wrong button.

I hadn’t clicked the wrong button. Clicking the “Update” button to install iOS 4 triggers a full backup, erase and restore process, presumably so Apple has fewer support calls from iPhone and iPod touch users complaining about things not working properly. While this strategy suits Apple and some of the more paranoid among us, it was most inconvenient for people like me, especially me as I would have to go through the entire four-hour sync that I had gone through the night befor

I didn’t have four hours to spend re-syncing my iPhone, so instead of letting iTunes restore my iPhone, I tried to cancel the restore and change the sync settings in order to get myself up and running a lot quicker. Cancelling the restore didn't go smoothly, as I accidentally clicked the wrong button when iTunes asked if I really wanted to stop restoring my iPhone. iTunes wouldn't allow me to cancel the restore a second time, so I restarted my iPhone. Once my iPhone had restarted and reappeared in the iTunes source list, I changed the sync settings to only sync one playlist with 25 songs, one episode of Top Gear, one podcast and a selection of my most-used apps.

With the new settings, I expected my iPhone to be ready to use in about 15 minutes. It ended up being a lot longer than that because iTunes decided that it didn't want to sync the 25 songs I told it to — it wanted to sync 375 songs instead. No matter what I did, iTunes still wanted to sync those 375 songs. I stopped and started the sync several times, to no avail. When I unchecked all my music except for the 25 songs I wanted, iTunes complained that it couldn't find the songs it was looking for.

I cannot truly convey my frustration at this point, but I was prepared to throw my iPhone in a bin. I was prepared to throw my iPhone 3G into a bin, never retrieve it and never buy a replacement. I was prepared to give up on the iPhone forever. Instead, I punched my PowerBook's trackpad and force-restarted both my PowerBook and my iPhone.

One restart later and I decided to give my iPhone a last chance to redeem itself. This time, when iTunes started syncing, it informed me that it was trying to restore my iPhone from a corrupt backup. Restarting my iPhone during the restore process probably didn't do it any good and the corrupt backup was the cause of all the trouble. I deleted the backup and the sync went ahead without any problems. The 25 songs were successfully synced along with the videos and apps.

Finally, after two hours of wrestling with iTunes, I had my iPhone in a usable state. A lot of my lousy experience was my fault. Before updating I thought it would be a fantastic idea to sync all my media to my iPhone. I didn't anticipate any problems because previous iOS updates have been pretty straightforward. I don't recall last year's 3.0 update requiring a full backup, erase and restore. I also don't recall Apple warning me that iOS 4 would require a full backup, erase and restore.

Then again I didn't read any of those dialog boxes I hastily clicked through before downloading iOS 4. Maybe it was mentioned in there somewhere, maybe it wasn't.

I can see why Apple decided that a full backup, erase and restore was the best way to install iOS 4. For many years, the best way to install Mac OS X was to backup your data completely to an external drive, erase your startup disk and perform a clean install. This ensures you don't run into any compatibility problems with the new OS.

Remember the Blue Screens of Death many users got when upgrading to Leopard a few years ago? Those were caused by Unsanity's haxies, unsupported modifications to OS X that provided — to some — welcome enhancements to their computer.

Perhaps the full backup, erase and restore strategy employed by Apple had something to do with jailbroken iPhones. Remember when Apple "bricked" jailbroken iPhones with an early OS update? Perhaps Apple wanted to avoid the support calls and bad press that came with "bricking" iPhones.

I don't know the real reason for Apple's decision but I do know that it complicated the iOS 4 update for some people — some more than others and especially me.

So what have I learnt? I've learnt that if I want to rush into these things, I need to do some real preparation. Next year, I'll erase my iPhone myself and set it up with the bare minimum of stuff to try out new features. Then when Apple erases my iPhone, the restore process won't be such a pain.

How did your iOS upgrade go? Any problems?

Discuss it with me at MacTheForum!


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