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iPad recovery mode problem caused by bad backup


2012/03/11

My iPad died Thursday night. Well, that's not true: applications began crashing a few seconds after loading. Sometimes they'd last a few minutes,sometimes not; it seemed quite random.

Safari was in the worst shape - it could barely start displaying a page before crashing out. I tried the usual things - removing everything from memory, rebooting, powering off, powering off and leaving it off for half an hour.. nothing helped.

I checked and found that an IOS update (5.1) had come out just the day before. Settings was able to stay running long enough to let me download and install that, but it didn't help either. i had the same crashing and Safari was still completely unusable.

Recovery mode

iTunes sees iPad in Recovery Mode

Recovery mode for an iPhone, iPod or iPad are all done the same way. There is "Recovery" and "DFU (Device Firmware Update) Recovery" but they both end up with your device reset to a pristine state. You then restore your most recent backup and all is good.

Except that it was not. My iCloud restore would start, say that it was estimating time, run for four or five minutes, and then crash. I tried again with an older backup, but that crashed in the same way.

It was now 10:00 PM and I'd had enough. I was convinced this was a hardware issue. All the symptoms pointed to that - the application crashing had become worse over a period of a few hours, and it couldn't do restores without crashing. It simply had to be hardware, so I went on line and made a morning appointment at the nearest Genius Bar.

My iPad was almost two years old, but in an uncharacteristic moment I had purchased it with an extra year of AppleCare, so it would still be under warranty for almost another two months. I scheduled my appointment for 10:30 the next morning and went to bed.

Genius Bar

I make fun of Apple for calling this the "Genius Bar", but really it is a great concept. You can talk to them about any weird problem and they'll try to fix it - for free if at all possible. There are not many places you can get expert help for free; Apple's Genius Bar is very unusual in that regard.

When I walked into the store at 10:15, it was jam packed. That's hardly unusual - it was crowds at my very first visit to an Apple store in 2003 that caused me to start buying their stock - a decision I certainly have not regretted!

I was greeted immediately and directed to find the employee managing the Genius Bar queue - he apologized and said things were running a bit behind. I was in no hurry and simply watched dozens of shoppers examine Apple products.

Eventually my turn came. I explained everything I had done, but of course my Genius wanted to see for himself, so he tried recovery mode and watched with me as the backup restore crashed. He then tried DFU and again watched it crash. He gave up and pulled a new iPad out for exchange.

Well, not a new iPad, of course. The same model as mine, but new to me. It might have been refurbished, of course, but it would carry a 90 day warranty, which was more than I had left on my AppleCare plan. Its battery would probably have less cycles on it, too, so I'd actually be gaining with this exchange. I'd really like not to have to buy a new iPad for a few more years and this just might make that possible, so I was not upset about the exchange.

While he packed up the old one for return to Apple, I tried restoring my backup to the new iPad.

It crashed.

I guess it's not hardware?

Oops. It's not hardware. It's an app in the backup.. or a bad backup, I suppose, but I had tried older ones, so that seems less likely.

So what now? I expected him to take back the "new" iPad, but he expressed no interest in that (perhaps because all the paperwork was already filled out and it was already sealed up in a shipping box). He suggested that I go home, do yet another Recovery, but not try restoring any backups. Instead, I'd use the App Store app (in the "Purchased" section) to bring back each app one by one until I found the one that was causing the problem.

iTunes Purchased list

While in there, you can hide apps that you don't want to see again by left-swiping on them. I had quite a few.. otherwise, tap on the cloud to download it to your device again.

So, that's what I did, but I have not yet found the culprit. I've restored every app that I regularly use and have not yet encountered any problem. There is some annoyance to this approach - application data is lost, so I had to setup passwords and connections again, as well as all my bookmarks. However, it was also a chance to start fresh: I deleted a great many apps that I have never used since initial download. I have only one app screen now and that isn't even full.

Most important, it is not crashing and, with a little luck, by the time this becomes unusable, there will be some fantastic replacement options from Apple, Android or maybe even those idiots up in Redmond. Samsung is supposedly poised to introduce foldable screens this year, so in two or three years we might just have the kind of device I really want (or closer to it, anyway).



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-> -> It sure looked like hardware. I was convinced the iPad was defective and so was the guy at the Apple Genius bar. But it was not hardware.

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© Anthony Lawrence







Mon Mar 12 20:09:11 2012: 10729   rbailin

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For the benefit of us non-Apple users, does this mean that there's no local data stored on your iPad other than a few bookmarks and program settings? Or is data backup separate from system recovery backup?

--Bob



Mon Mar 12 20:13:34 2012: 10730   TonyLawrence

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No, there is local data but they give you 5GB of Cloud backup free - my backups are way under that..

The apps themselves don't get backed up because there is no reason to - the ownership is established, so they can be re-downloaded.

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