If you’ve ever had to restore an iOS device from its iTunes backup—for example, if you’ve upgraded to a new phone, or if Apple has replaced an iPhone that was having problems—there’s a good chance you’ve come across one of the most frustrating bugs in the iTunes/iOS 4 system: Much of your painstakingly created Home-screen organization is wiped out. Specifically, most of your third-party apps are no longer on the screens where you placed them, and while a few of your folders may remain, even those are missing most of their original contents (which are instead scattered across various screens).
As someone whose job involves quite a bit of app testing and iOS-device restoring, I’ve been hit by this bug more times than I can remember. In my experience, you’re especially likely to experience this bug if your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch is chock full of apps, but I've seen it happen with devices with only a couple dozen third-party apps. For me, the latest instance happened this weekend, and I decided I was going to figure out if there's a reliable way to preserve app organization when restoring.
On Friday night, I connected my iPhone 4 to a charger, and when I picked up the phone Saturday morning, all my folders were gone. Somehow, the phone had “reset” its app layout overnight. I have no idea why or how this happened—it’s not a bug I’ve seen, or even heard about, before. The important thing, for the purposes of this exercise, is that I now had several hundred apps randomly scattered across innumerable Home screens instead of neatly arranged, many within folders, across five screens. (Yes, I use a lot of apps, and I download and test a lot of apps. It’s part of my job. That’s my excuse, at least—I may have an app problem.) I wanted my app organization back, and I was hoping a restore could help.
My most-recent iPhone backup was from five days earlier, so I knew things wouldn’t be perfect—I’d done a bunch of on-iPhone app organization during that work week. But that bit of cleanup would be a lot less work than trying to reorganize everything from scratch, either on the phone or from within iTunes. So I connected my iPhone to my Mac, clicked the Restore button in iTunes’ Summary view, and waited for iTunes to wipe the phone and install a new copy of iOS. When prompted, I instructed iTunes to restore the phone’s contents and settings using the most-recent backup.
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