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iPhone upgrades - a one-way control-freak street

Destroying the past for your own damn good

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Whose phone is it, anyway?

Our annoyance with Apple's heavy-handedness increased when we tried to restore our backed-up apps and data onto the now-3.0-equipped iPhone 3G. When we connected it back to iTunes 9, we were curtly informed that our iPhone OS wouldn't work with that version of iTunes, and should upgrade to 3.1.2.

Fair enough, we thought - although irritating. If you revert one aspect of a sync system, needing to revert the rest of that system might be a reasonable request. So we downloaded a copy of iTunes 8, and attempted to install it. No dice - we were told that was a no-no since we already had iTunes 9.

"Apple always recommends that iPhone customers keep current with software updates for the best user experience."

So we tried to install iTunes 8 on a different volume. No can do - iTunes must be installed on the boot volume. Okay, so we booted from an external FireWire drive and installed iTunes 8 on that volume. Success - but our backup was on the original boot volume, tied to iTunes 9.

After numerous frustrating and eventually futile attempts to associate the iTunes 9 backup with iTunes 8, we gave up. Possibly that feat is, indeed, possible, but we couldn't crack the code.

And we're willing to bet that your Average Joe can't, as well. Which is just the way Apple likes it. After all, "Apple always recommends that iPhone customers keep current with software updates for the best user experience."

This is ridiculous - and the ridiculousness extends to the inability to revert to previous versions of iPhone apps as well. Once an app has been upgraded on the iTunes App Store, its previous version is gone, extinct, kaput.

We asked a few iPhone devs if they knew of any way in which an iPhone app could be saved and then restored to the phone through the standard syncing process, and they each threw up their hands in defeat.

As John Muchow, founder of iPhoneDeveloperTips.com told us: "Working within the standard app delivery method provided by Apple, I don't believe there is any means to install a previous version of an application." He added, however, that "a release could be submitted to the App Store that roles back to a previous version."

But, of course, that version would have to pass muster with the App Store police - and we all know how time-consuming and uncertain that process can be.

Paul Kafasis of Rogue Ameoba fame knows exactly how unpredictable the App Store police's decision-making can be, but he doesn't know how a user can revert to an older version of an iPhone app. He does suggest one possible work-around, but one that requires a close working relationship with the app's vendor: Ad Hoc app delivery.

Apple allows developers to distribute apps outside of the App Store for beta-testing purposes. This so-called Ad Hoc process is a wonky one, but it does - in most cases - work.

"With Ad Hoc," Kafasis told The Reg, "developers could [distribute an old version] on a one-off basis. Basically, if the user gets an Ad Hoc build, it can be any version, and it comes from outside the store. Developers are limited to 100 Ad-Hoc users, however, and the process is clunky." Promising, maybe, in extreme cases, but as Kafasis admitted, "This really isn't a viable solution."

Muchow agrees. "A developer could create an earlier version and provide that to users as an Ad Hoc release, yet the limitation here is that there is a finite number of devices on which an Ad Hoc build will run."

Neither Muchow and Kafasis claimed to be absolutely 100 per cent positive that there is no way to revert to a previous iPhone app version. But that proves our point. If there is such a mechanism, it's not immediately apparent - and Apple isn't helping.

One more time: "Apple always recommends that iPhone customers keep current with software updates for the best user experience."

The key to Apple's official position is that they use phrase "iPhone customers." Not "iPhone owners."

We're being told that such control is for our own good. As Apple's marketing veep Phil Schiller recently told BusinessWeek, "We review the applications to make sure they work as the customers expect them to work when they download them."

That's kind of you, Phil, but there are many of us who would prefer the freedom to take our own chances. Feel free to keep close tabs on the apps that you choose to sell to run on your company's smartphones, but let us yank 'em and replace them with previous versions as we see fit, and add - and subtract - any others without having to jump through jailbreaking hoops.

After all, it's my iPhone, isn't it? Or is it? ®

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