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iPhone upgrades - a one-way control-freak street

Destroying the past for your own damn good

Seven Steps to Software Security

Comment For over 30 years, your personal computer has been, well, your personal computer. You could install whatever software you liked - provided it was compatible. After installing an app or an operating system, if you then decided you preferred the previous version, you were free to uninstall the new and revert to the old.

But nowadays, that's not entirely true. You can't revert software on your iPhone. Why? Because Apple doesn't trust you.

Last month, after Apple unveiled the new iPhone 3.1 OS, more than a few Reg readers asked how - or, indeed, if - they could revert their iPhone operating systems back to version 3.0 when they experienced battery, WiFi, and other problems after upgrading to version 3.1.

The answer is they can't. At least not officially. And much the same goes for iPhone applications.

After our recent story about Rogue Amoeba - the iPhone App developer who was snuffed for too much Appleness - one reader pointed out the simple truth: "If an update [to an iPhone app] introduces a bug, then you're screwed until the developer fixes it and the fix is approved by Apple (say 3 weeks). In contrast on any other platform you could just revert to the previous version immediately."

What does Apple say about this? Very little, of course.

Focusing first on the ability to revert to a previous version of the iPhone's OS, we contacted Apple with three quick questions:

1. What is Apple's official position on reverting from a current iPhone Software version to a previous one?
2. If such a reversion is not supported by Apple, does doing so void any existing and current iPhone warranty?
3. If such a reversion is supported by Apple, does Apple offer any tools/advice/support for such a reversion?

Simple and straightforward, don't you think? But nothing is ever simple and straightforward when dealing with Apple.

After over a week of back-and-forth exchanges with an Apple spokeswoman who wanted to know why we were asking, what kind of a story we were planning, and the like, we finally received a one-line response: "Apple always recommends that iPhone customers keep current with software updates for the best user experience."

Now, we have no personal beef with any Apple spokesfolks. They do their jobs, and we do ours. And their prime directive is to not deviate from the oh-so-carefully controlled company line. If anything, we look upon their daily deflection duties with sympathy.

To be honest, we didn't expect much help from Apple, so while we were waiting for the spokeswoman's non-response response we conducted a series of tests that led us to suggest a one-word edit to her statement: "Apple always requires that iPhone customers keep current with software updates for the best user experience."

Operating-system reversion can, indeed, be accomplished - but no thanks to Apple. In fact, in our experience Apple makes it as difficult as possible to install a previous version of your iPhone's OS then restore the iPhone's iTunes backup of apps and data.

Our test iPhone was a 3G model running iPhone Software version 3.1.2. We first backed up the phone using iTunes 9, then followed instructions published on BenM.at to revert the iPhone from 3.1.2 to 3.0.

Doing so was not rocket science - the most difficult part was timing the button dance needed to slip the phone into DFU (device firmware update) mode.

But whether performing this relatively simply hack is easy or not isn't the point. What is the point is that it's not supported by Apple - and that for the vast majority of iPhone users, using the command-line Terminal utility to run iRecovery is an unfamiliar, not to say daunting, task.

Why doesn't Apple make it easy to switch back to a previous version of the OS if you're dissatisfied with an upgrade? Because "Apple always recommends that iPhone customers keep current with software updates for the best user experience."

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

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