Will my virgin iTunes sync my iPhone correctly?
March 7, 2012 12:20 PM   Subscribe

I had to wipe my HDD & reinstall Windows. Will iTunes sync my iPhone 4 correctly, or decide to wipe its contents? It's synced to the cloud, and yet I am worried...

When I connect my iPhone, iTunes does recognize it, lists it correctly etc (tho the apps on the screenshots it shows me are "greyed out" or semitransparent, if you wish).
Obviously it doesn't have a (recognized) backup of the apps etc on the hard drive. So in my "something will go wrong" paranoia I am convinced that when I sync, it will decide to sync iTunes >> iPhone, rather than iPhone >> iTunes (as it certainly used to do pre-cloud when faced with an unknown iPhone), and thus neatly wipe all my apps, text messages, high scores, contacts etc. I know that the fact iTunes hasn't said "I don't know this device" so far is a good sign, but I am not convinced. I also have been reassured that even were it all wiped, it would still be in the cloud and I could restore from there before the next scheduled sync.

BUT I AM STILL WORRIED! Please someone tell me they have done exactly this and it is not an issue at all. (Alternatively, can I somehow trick iTunes into recognizing my old backups? I know previously you could do this by copying some sort of checksummy file over from the old install, but I stupidly forgot this when I formatted.) I thank you, kind Mefites!
posted by ClarissaWAM to Technology (5 answers total)
Best answer: I'd have thought one of the more diehard Apple folks would have responded to this by now. Since they haven't, I'll offer what I know, but I'll defer to anyone who has had more experience with this situation.

You have some right to be worried. Apple's procedure for connecting iOS machines to PCs is maddeningly opaque. (If you have two computers on the same network and want to switch sync from one to another, there appears to be a procedure. Try this.) There doesn't appear to be an easy way to transfer purchases between an old, erased OS install and a new one on the same machine.

But so long as you still have your Apple ID and password you should still be okay.

For starters, we can divide the data on your iOS machine into the OS, the Apps, and app data.

The OS is fine; iOS has fairly robust recovery options. The Apps, so long as you remember you Apple ID and password, are fine... EXCEPT.

Except, if you have any Apps on your device that are no longer available on the App store, I'm fairly sure those are now lost forever. It's a good idea to save backups of those files from iTunes' apps archive.

If you don't have any of those or don't care, then it doesn't matter if your iMachine gets wiped because you can download the most recent version of all your software from the App Store for free. This takes some time, and it's probably good to make a list of all the software on your device before you sync with iTunes so you can then go online and get it back. But you don't actually have to do that part from your computer; if your machine is running iOS 5 or later, you can go to the Purchases tab of the App Store and it'll list out everything you've bought, for fairly simple redownloading.

App data, unfortunately, to my knowledge is harder to recover. I don't think that iTunes backs that up in any form other than the device backups it makes periodically. What you might could do (I don't really know if this will work) is:
- Install iTunes on the new OS. Once it starts enter your Apple ID and password.
- Download all the apps that, on the iOS machine, have data that you care about.
- Since they are now in iTunes' App repository, they shouldn't be erased from the iOS device when you do the initial sync, thus hopefully preserving the app data.

If you were to do this with all the software on the iOS machine then I would guess you wouldn't lose any data, but I have no proof that this would happen.

Good luck with it. For all of iOS' vaunted ease of use, this edge case is immensely tiresome.
posted by JHarris at 4:18 PM on March 7, 2012

Response by poster: Thank you for your reply (I too was surprised there were no immediate answers, heh). Downloading the apps onto the PC is a good idea, I shall try that.
I do have a few apps that are no longer available, but I can live with that. Losing high scores would be a (biggish) nuisance, losing contacts and text message history would be a disaster :( I will make sure to save any app data I can prior to sync (files saved within apps etc).
Thank you!!
posted by ClarissaWAM at 5:40 PM on March 7, 2012

I am not aware of a way to get discontinued software off of an iOS machine in a form that can be reinstalled later, but that doesn't mean that there isn't one. Worst comes to worst, maybe you could jailbreak and pirate your own purchases? THIS is the kind of world we live in now Apple, thanks a HEAP.
posted by JHarris at 8:32 PM on March 7, 2012

Best answer: Lifehacker just posted an article on this kind of situation. It has a technique I wasn't aware of!
posted by JHarris at 10:09 PM on March 9, 2012

Response by poster: [weeks later] Oh cool, I shall have to get that iExplorer they mention!!! Thank you!
posted by ClarissaWAM at 9:50 AM on March 27, 2012

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