How Apple support failed me twice and how I fixed the iPhone restore issue anyway


So, the phone situation was dire.
In fact, it was one of the situations where I really thought Apple had failed me. I did not have that often, but it happens.

I had wiped my old phone and the iCloud restore for my new phone stalled. And there was another thing that pissed me off: the photos I had taken at the launch event to show all that madness, and the unboxing photos I had painstakingly made just before wiping my iPhone 6 had for some reason not synced to iCloud. Yes, I should have checked before wiping my phone, but what the heck?! At least the ones from the launch event which were taken hours before should have synced.

I was wondering whether photos that were not synced to iCloud would be part of a backup, but this became really less important as I desperately tried to figure out what to do.

And I could not figure it out.
So I did what I normally not do: I chatted with Apple Support. Matthew was there to help (chat excerpts are edited for typos and streamlined a bit):

Leo: Hey Matthew. I have a problem restoring my iCloud backup. I got the new 6s yesterday. I’ve made an iCloud backup from my old 6, but when restoring it to the 6s the process stops when it comes to the apps. The first batch stops installing midway and everything is stuck. And: I’ve stupidly wiped my 6 already and I cannot restore from iTunes because I never use iTunes to backup.
Matthew: I can imagine that would slow you down since you need apps to load so you can use them for data management, and I will help you fix that quickly no worries at all!

First thing when you talk to a support agent, they ensure you see they understand your problem and why it is important to you. That’s cute, but it makes it look as if they are talking to a kid, like: “Oh, you cannot find your mommy? That must be horrible for you. Let’s look together – we’ll find her.”

Matthew: Please install the iOS 9.0.1 update that helps with restore issues like this.
Leo: You sure that works?
Matthew: It helped me haha!

Ha, ha – that’s great.
Okay. That seemed to be easier than I thought. I did not want to install iOS 9.01 because I was not sure whether this would potentially break even more. But okay. Off I went to set up the phone as new phone and install 9.01.

Matthew: However if issues remain we can make or use another backup if possible, or even use another source like iTunes too. Do you still have your old iPhone?

This is when I started thinking that Matthew might be just pulling stuff out of his ass here. You might notice another thing: while they are writing painfully long sentences to demonstrate they understood your problem, they obviously do not read properly – I had told him already that iTunes was not an option because there was no backup. And I had told him that I had already wiped my iPhone 6.

We ended the chat before I knew his advice worked. But I had one more question:

Leo: I had taken a few photos on my 6 which do not seem to have been uploaded into iCloud before I wiped the phone (but before I did the backup). Are these lost or should the backup restore also photos which were not yet uploaded to iCloud?
Matthew: They should be restored, but make sure to check that backup and any other you have as they all may have the photo and it is worth a try to check since I know they are priceless.

Again: pretending he understood, but he still scores low on read and understand.
Anyway – I did not worry too much about these particular photos. I could redo the unboxing photos and the ones from the launch were not even that important (the one you see in the previous entry about this was sent to Lamia via WhatsApp – this is how I could still share something).

One iOS 9.01 was installed I restarted the whole process.

Same problem. Aargh!

I admit, I did not expect this to be successful, but it still angered me to have wasted time on the chat for bullshit advice.
So I went back to support and tried again, this time a little more pushy.

I did not save the transcript of this support chat, but in short, it was as helpful as the one with Matthew: again the reassurance that they understand my problem and then the demonstration that they actually didn’t. The difference this time was that I had come across this little note on Daring Fireball:

App slicing is currently unavailable for iOS 9 apps due to an issue affecting iCloud backups created from iOS 9 where some apps from the App Store would only restore to the same model of iOS device.

So I was talking to the second guy in the support chat and he was telling me I should check the speed of my internet connection on my 6s. I was telling him that I do not see why I have to check the internet connection in the first place, why it has to be on the 6s (and not on any other device) and why this would take a while because at this stage my 6s was wiped again and I would need to set it up as new phone, install an app to check the speed… I mean: this request was screaming that it’s stupid.

All the while, I restored the backup to my iPhone 6.
As the chat support was insisting that the internet speed would have to be checked on the 6s, I could see how the initial installation steps went through fine on the 6 and… the apps were installing as they should! YES! This was good, because now I could make a backup to iTunes (which seemed to be the workaround for the app slicing issue as Dan Moren had reported).

At this stage I told the support agent the solution to the problem.
He was of course very happy for me. But I thought: wow! Two Apple support chats and both utterly useless and showing a concerning cluelessness how to fix a problem that in the end must be quite common! This is even more frustrating if you consider that the solution to the problem was available within Apple: if they know that an iCloud backup run under iOS 9 can lead to restore problems on a different phone model. And if this bubbles up in the week when they are selling their new flagship device – why the f@#$&*! isn’t their support team aware of this, so they can give useful guidance to their users?!

Not so cool.

Anyway, long story short: my backup installed fine on my iPhone 6. I even got two apps back that I had “lost” in previous restores (does not really speak for Apple’s longterm cloud acumen, does it?). From there I created an encrypted iTunes backup, did it several times until I liked the time stamp it showed on the “last backup” information and then restored to my new 6s (with not wiping my 6 – I am learning).

And it worked! Naturally, I did not get back the photos I had been missing all along. That’s annoying and I think when backing up Apple should detect photos that are not synced to iCloud and either back these up separately or force them into the cloud.

Anyway. It’s done and I can finally enjoy the phone.
It’s pretty awesome, you know, when it works. I love 3D touch, the camera remains great, the grip is better due to a change of aluminum, Live Photos is a cute feature… but: all of the excitement and joy has been considerably dampened by the mediocre Singtel launch day experience and even more so by the iCloud restore problems I had.

Over time this will be fading and what remains is just a great phone.
But I expect better from Apple and I cannot accept that they do not have their act together when it comes to fundamental cloud services like backup and restore.

Update Sep 28:
In the “Upgrade” podcast #56 there is a nice discussion about the fact that Apple needs to do a better job when migrating from one phone to the other. While I mostly disagree with the issues these guys describe and which by and large I’d consider as non-issues (e.g. setting up TouchID again, keying in all your Apple ID passwords and your iCloud password), I agree that the migration experience has become very convoluted over the years. My experience with both the 6 and the 6s have not been great. Also agree that it’s ridiculous that in this process the Apple Watch has to be wiped and restored from its iPhone backup versus simply telling it that there’s a new phone and that’s where it should link to now.

Update Sep 30:
iOS 9.02 was released today, which apparently fixes the backup/restore problem I have experienced. Not sure this is the case, but now it does not matter to me anyway.

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