Backup/Restore on iOS - not always what you'd expect

Yesterday I had an interesting experience with the backup/restore function in iTunes 10.7 while migrating all my data from my old iPhone 4S to the new iPhone 5. Due to my previous unsatisfactory experience with backup/restore from iCloud when migrating from an iPad 2 to iPad 3 this spring, I decided to use iTunes on my MacPro to make a local backup this time. Furthermore, I wanted to make sure not to run into any iOS 5 -> 6 upgrade issues, so I had already upgraded my iPhone 4S to iOS 6 in the previous week to make this switch more efficient - or so I thought! When it was time to make the move, I connected the 4S, waited for the sync operation to finish, and then right-clicked the phone in iTunes and selected backup.

After the backup process completed, I turned off the old phone, connected the new phone, and selected "Restore" to restore the phone from the backup I just had created. After I waited through a reboot and confirmed a few more dialogs, I thought I would now have everything on the new device exactly the same way as I had on the old phone. But that was not the case…

When you do a backup of your PC or Mac and then lose your hard drive you would expect the machine to be exactly the same after you buy a new disk and run a restore operation, right? Especially you'd expect all settings and configurations to be restored.

Apparently not so with iOS. To my great disappointment I found that for a lot of my applications the restore function only restored the app itself, but not any of its settings, especially not any login information. In particular, I had to manually reenter my account information into all of the following apps on my new phone:

  • Evernote
  • Dropbox
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • WSJ
  • Kindle
  • iCloud, iMessage, FaceTime, Find my friends
  • Netflix
  • Hulu+
  • Yelp
  • OpenTable
  • MLB At Bat
  • Disk Decipher
  • and many more…
In addition, I found that all of the soft-token apps for secure 2-factor authentication to various services were not getting restored with their settings, and so they each generated a new unique device idea and did not allow any easy restoration, transfer, or migration from one device to the next. In fact, with the Google Authenticator that I use for Google Apps and Dropbox as well as with thr Symantec VIP Access app I use for some banking sites my only choice was to log into these web sites, request deactivation of the old soft-token, and then add the new soft-token. In most cases this required having access to the old soft-token to enter a valid code. So I had to turn the old phone back on and migrate every single service authentication to the new token app on the new phone one by one.

Now, in all fairness, I should say that in iOS at least there is a Backup/Restore function, which is completely missing in Android (unless you want to be adventurous and root your device). But I found it very surprising to be lacking in so many ways, especially with regards to app configurations, settings, and logins.

Luckily I don't have to complain about any actual data loss. With my calendar, contacts, and email all in Google Apps, none of those got lost. So this was more of a nuisance that cost me about an hour or two before I had my phone reconfigured to my exact specs and resetting all my soft-token apps.

But it would have been much harder to do, had I actually lost my phone or had it been damage, because removing 2-factor authentication from an account when you don't have the soft-token anymore is rather difficult and often only possible with lengthy tech support calls. It would make much more sense to allow full backup/restore functionality of your phone onto your computer - especially since you can encrypt your backups nicely with iTunes, so the information therein is rather secure.

Bottom-line: plan a couple of hours for your upgrade - especially if you use many apps…