Warning - iOS5 Update Restore Error - Wait to upgrade

I patiently waited for the actual release of iOS5 - since I can't get myself an iPhone 4S for a little while without paying a premium. When I saw that iOS5 was available, I decided to update my 32GB iPhone 4 to the latest and greatest.

First off, Apple wanted me to upgrade OS X to 10.7.2 and iTunes to 10.5. That took the better part of an hour in itself, between downloading a pretty hefty collection of bits, installing them and then running a subsequent back up, I was a full hour in before I could even begin to upgrade my iPhone.

Once that was out of the way I tried updating the iPhone 4. Here's where the fun began.

First, an error
After sitting there for a very long time—I didn't pay close attention—iTunes reported this little error. Not good. When I clicked OK (it's not really OK but that's the one to push), I pulled my iPhone off the USB connector and the phone itself seemed fine. Still running iOS 4.3, and all of my content was sitting there fine.

I Googled up the issue and there was a huge thread on the Apple discussion forums on this. Since several people reported that they were able to upgrade by just continuing to try, I decided to give that a go. Three attempts in, I got something different. It looked like my iPhone was being updated!

Then suddenly I got the error again. Oh well. The problem was my iPhone was now in a restore state and not being recognized by iTunes - it had the little "plug me in to iTunes" graphic on the screen of the iPhone.

This was not good. I tried to do a restore and it would spin and spin, however I now got a different error message:

Looks like the Apple servers were completely overwhelmed. This was not good. Especially now that my iPhone was essentially in brick mode. I kept retrying and the restore would get to varying degrees of success, then eventually fail out. Sometimes with the above error, other times with one of these:

After this error, I would then get the old "Hey, this iPhone is in recovery mode..." error:
I tried everything. Rebooted my Mac several times, tried unplugging all the USB devices, etc. and still no luck. I was panicking - while I was sure I could get my apps back somehow, I had a lot of video and photos on my iPhone that hadn't been pulled off. I thought about the videos I had taken of my mom over the last year, right before she passed away. If those were gone, I was not going to be happy. I knew iTunes was making backups for me, and that my Mac was in turn backed up, but the way this was going, my confidence was not very high.

Eventually the iPhone appeared to restore and started up again. Then it flipped into "restoring" mode for my apps and then music and videos:

This process took the better part of an hour. All in, the upgrade took me about 3 hours from start to finish, and I still have an iPad 1 to update.

I think I'm going to wait a week or so to upgrade the iPad. If you are considering upgrading your iPhone now to iOS5, be very patient; you may be without your phone for a number of hours and the way the Apple servers are performing right now under load, perhaps a very long time.

UPDATE: My iPhone was successfully updated to iOS5 - total upgrade time was a little over 3 hours and took about a dozen retries at various stages. All of my information (contacts, calendar, photos, etc.) were intact.

I decided late this evening (Oct 12, 2011) to try updating my iPad, just to see if it would actually go through. This time the upgrade went much more smoothly - not a single error. It did require about 1.5 hours to complete however.


Chris W. said…
My iPhone 4 updated fine but I'm currently going through a very similar loop as you describe with my iPad 2. I guess - in some way - it's good to know I'm not alone! Will just keep trying, I suppose. That's one of the negatives to the iOS devices becoming so popular - the servers can't keep up!
I've had the reverse of Chris W's situation; I updated my iPad 2 first and without any hiccups but the updating of my iPhone 4 just does not want to occur.
I guess there is some solace in not being alone at having issues, but it makes me wonder how long it will be before these are resolved.
David Alison said…
@Christopher Robin - my gut feeling is it's going to be a few days before this really shakes out. The irony here is Steve Jobs really let loose on the Mobile Me team after that launch did not go well. Guess they didn't learn.

BTW - nice Blogger profile pic. I did a cyclocross race last year - hardest race I've ever done. Makes me want to stick to pavement.
Chris W. said…
Well, for me it was tonight, thankfully! I just kept trying and - some 6 hours later - I'm all updated. Good luck to you guys!
Mark said…
Hi David! First, I am sorry to hear about your mom's passing. I hope all is well.

I upgraded my iPhone 3GS within the first 5 minutes of when iOS 5 became available for download, this afternoon. The download and installation went well, except at the end, when I got an error message saying my contacts could not be backed up. However, when I checked my iCloud account a minute later, my contacts were all there, intact and neatly tucked away for safekeeping.

I am going to get a 4S on Friday, but ironically, I think iOS 5 actually made my iPhone 3GS run faster. It's either that or the complete software re-install that did it. It almost made me think twice about getting the new phone, though.
David Alison said…
@Mark: Feel free to send your new 4S to me!

Glad to hear it went smoothly. Against my better judgement I'm trying to upgrade my iPad to iOS5 right now. It's late enough that I'm hoping most of the traffic problems will have died down.

It actually has gotten a LOT further along on the first try than my iPhone 4 did - just finished the final restart and is now restoring from backup.

Looks like Apple addressed their server issues.
Eytan said…
I think this is what we can expect when over 150,000,000 iOS users want to update on the same day (over 250,000,000 iOs devices in all, probably 200,000,000 iOs 5 capable [newer than iPod Touch 2, iPhone 3g], probably 3/4 of those people want to upgrade IMMEDIATELY. I am amazed it is working for people at all….
They should have given us Mac OS X 10/72 and the iCloud for Windows YESTERDAY, along with iPhoto, etc. JUST do the iOS today...
David Alison said…
@Eytan: I agree, given the sheer volume (though I'm confident the fraction of people actually upgrading yesterday was far from 100% of the installed base) the Apple servers held up fairly well.

My issue is that the upgrade process requires several touches to the Apple servers, each leaving the device to be upgraded in a different and possibly vulnerable state. These touches should have been architected better; at no time when I lose connectivity to the Apple servers should my device be rendered useless. This is basic transaction management and given the tenuous nature of network connectivity, should never happen.

That's the part I really hope Apple addresses. I'm perfectly fine with the servers being too busy to allow me to upgrade, but letting me get halfway through the process and THEN leaving me with a device that cannot be used is unacceptable.

And yes, I agree - they really should have staged these rollouts a little better.
Sam Wells said…
Greetings from sunny Oxfordshire. I tried 3 times yesterday to update my iPhone 4 but each time (and I know because I watched it) after the 50 min download - which appeared to go ok, I got a time out error when the update tried to connect to iTunes. I'm starting to think that it's my computer (it is quite old), or is this just a symptom of the queue of traffic on the Apple servers? I'm not saying that I'm desperate to get the latest update but right now my Nokia 3210 is feeling like a safe, reliable bet!
shilsenbeck said…
My iPhone 4 has apparently been updated, but now the needed set-up is causing problems -- Don't use the cloud? (no response and can't move to the next set-up page). I picked "use, but don't merge" and was allowed to move on. Don't use 'find my iPhone' (no response and can't move to the next page). That is as far as I've gotten. This process also crashed iTunes. Any suggestions? or just wait and hope it moves on and finishes before I have to go to work tomorrow?
Anonymous said…
Im a PC

Macs just work, ha, made the mistake of trying to upgrade to IOS 5 before going to bed, eyelids now held open with matchsticks waiting for the phone to restore and hopefully become useable!!!
Angels said…
I updated my ine without any problems..its strange, cause I always have problems:)
Josh said…
Hey David

Long time, no posts. Hope you're okay.

Best wishes from the UK

David Alison said…
@Josh: thanks for the concern my friend. I'm fine, life has kept me so busy lately I haven't had time to blog. Soon I hope...
I think, apple should pay you for their QA.

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