My bumpy road to iOS5

It’s funny when you get an error message and you start to Google it and see the undercurrent of comments and posts about how other people have been having similar errors. It’s almost like an underground movement of fellow victims, trying to help each other out. Anyway, when I tried to update my iPhone 3GS and iPad (v.1) to iOS5, I quickly encountered an error during the backup step of the upgrade (when iTunes backs up all your info and media so that it can restore it after it’s wiped out your device and put on the new OS).

An error occured while backing up this iPad (-5000).  Would you like to continue to update this iPad? Continuing will result in the loss of all contents on this iPad.

Don’t you just love those scary parts at the end? “Oh, BTW, you can click continue if you like, but you’ll mostly likely be screwed if you do. Don’t say we didn’t warn you!” So, I didn’t click. I started to Google instead. Apparently this problem has been around for a while, going back to several updates, and has happened with iPhones, iPod Touch, etc. Since it was happening with both my devices, I figured that it wasn’t my device’s fault, but something more general.

The help on the boards was not great. There were people who found that retrying the process did the trick (but others tried it over 30 times with no joy). Some people said that turning off their Microsoft antivirus did the trick (which was useless for me, as I had no Microsoft anything). There was also some suggestion that just using the Restore to factory default would give you iOS5 as well and you could just use one of your backups to restore the rest afterward. Some people found that to be the solution, however there was a whole conversation string devoted to people complaining how backup errors wipe out your previous backups so there is no way to restore once you encounter the backup error.

Hilariously, there are often people on these boards who have too much time on their hands and like to deride others with real problems. One guy complained at having lost all his years of tweaking and customization done to his iPhone. I totally get that as my number one priority was not to lose my Angry Birds progress! So another guy responded to the first post by expressing disbelief at the amount of tweaking the first guy had done, suggesting that he’s just being a whiner. Have some sympathy, man! Don’t kick us when we’re down. We have the right to have all our tweaks (no matter how trivial) preserved if they can be.

Finally, after weeks without any luck (even waited for 5.0.1 to see if that version was any better), my plan was to do normal backups (which I could do for some reason) and copy the backups out of the backup folder (\Library\Application Support\MobileSync\Backups) into another folder. Then when the upgrade process wiped out my backup I could still copy them back after I clicked the Continue button to install iOS5, wiping out my device. Then I could restore my files and tweaks from a backup of the backup. However, in the process of backing up the backups, I discovered that the backup folders were protected (at least for me). I could only copy them, not move. And even after copying, I had to log in as administrator to rename them. This turned a light on in my brain. [Cue flashback dissolve effect] When I got my new MBP and restored my folders from Carbonite online backup, I unwittingly changed the name of my admin account from my previous iMac and so the folders that I copied over were protected in this odd way. I needed to log in to make changes to them.

Realizing the problem, I didn’t need this backup of my backup anymore. I decided to try an experiment and I renamed the original backup folders in the original location, and made a new folder called “Backups” in the same location (new folders are not protected in the same way as the other ones were). Then I went to run the update in iTunes, and voila! It worked!

Now I am happily using Notifications, enjoying the multi-touch gestures on my iPad, and trying to manage the confusion that is iCloud. Plus, ironically, I’ll be able to do future updates through the cloud, and avoid these same problems. (I wrote this post not because it’s likely that any casual reader would be having this problem, but since I found no one out there posting this exact same solution to their -5000 problem, I wanted to put my story into the ether and hopefully in future if someone else does, they will Google my blog and find this solution. Here’s to you, future backup error sufferers!)

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