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Maintain app organization when restoring iOS devices

Dan Frakes, Macworld.com | May 17, 2011
iPhone or iPad folders gone after a restore? Try restoring twice

Once that restore was complete and iTunes started syncing apps and media to the phone, I switched to iTunes’ Apps view…only to find that while iTunes was syncing my hundreds of apps, it wasn’t restoring my folders and app positions.

I remembered being told, a year or so ago, that restoring twice would sometimes restore app organization, and I seemed to remember the process working for me in the past. (I also wondered if this was the iOS equivalent of repairing permissions in Mac OS X—a frequently recommended procedure that that rarely solves the problems it’s prescribed for—but I figured it was worth a try.) I stopped the current sync, clicked the Restore button, and waited. When the iOS restore was complete, I chose my most-recent backup for restoring the iPhone's contents.

No dice. I was again left with a mess of apps across innumerable screens. It was a Saturday, and I had stuff to do around the house, so I figured I’d give it another try. And another. And another. And another. I even chose an older backup as the restore source, just in case my most-recent backup was in some way problematic. Nothing worked.

 

The solution

After seven or eight tries—never let it be said that I’m not persistent—I sat there wondering how Apple could have possibly let this bug exist for so long. Surely there are people working on iTunes and iOS who have enough apps that it’s a massive hassle to reorganize them after a restore? (Or do they all use Spotlight for everything?)

Then I put on my troubleshooting cap and started thinking about why this might be happening—and why sometimes a double-restore works. What if iTunes “restores” your folders before installing your third-party apps? That would mean that when iTunes tries to fill those folders with their original contents, only Apple’s stock apps are actually on the phone. (This would explain why, after an initial restore, the only apps inside folders are the iPhone’s stock apps.) This theory seemed to fit what I was seeing in iTunes during the restore and sync processes. So maybe a second restore would be like giving iTunes a second pass at restoring my folders and app organization?

The problem here is that whenever you click the Restore button in iTunes’ Summary view for your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch, iTunes wipes your device clean, installs a new copy of the iOS software, and then restores your media and settings from your backup. In other words, you’re forcing a first pass each time.

 

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