iCloud iNightmareOctober 15, 2012
It has taken days of anguish bordering on despair to resolve an iCloud crisis which has seriously soured the arrival of my wife’s new iPhone 5 and at times threatened to raise the spectre of divorce. Contacts disappearing time after time, replaced on each occasion by someone else’s, text messages going to the wrong person …. all guaranteed to stress everyone out. I cannot deny it was my own error that triggered the panic, but the horrors endured in righting it reflect very poorly on the way Apple have implemented Apple IDs in general and the iCloud in particular.
For some months, my mother in law (Pauline) had been using my eldest son’s old iPhone 3GS, with an O2 PAYG SIM. He had wisely carried out a factory reset before handing it over to her and I had (in hindsight unwisely) hooked it up to the long-standing Apple ID which had been set up for iTunes purchases on the family desktop PC years ago, certainly long before the advent of the iPhone. My wife (Naomi) was using the same Apple ID with her own iPhone 4 but there was no real conflict as Pauline does not buy music and only downloads a few free apps.
I knew I should really have set Pauline up with her own Apple ID but that meant having her go through the full Apple ID creation process including entering payment card details and all the rest of it. It seemed an excessive bother given she does not have her own computer and does not actually buy anything off the Apple ecosystem.
The extent of my folly started to come to light when Naomi’s new iPhone 5 arrived. Her existing iPhone 4 (which had very recently been upgraded to iOS 6, complete with iCloud) had been promised to Pauline. As the family tech-savvy person it fell to me to deal with the handover practicalities, even though I am not an iPhone user myself. My first task was to obtain a new micro SIM for the iPhone 4 and arrange for O2 to port her existing phone number across, since the SIM she had been using with the 3GS was the wrong size. That part of it went fine.
The next step was to move her contacts across. In practice these were all on her (first generation) iPad and I used the bump app to “bump” the contacts over from iPad to iPhone 4. I had foolishly not first carried out a factory reset of the latter, so all of Naomi’s contacts were still on the phone. Naomi manually deleted most of those before handing her mother the phone.
Everyone was then happy … at least until the next morning when all of Naomi’s contacts disappeared off her new iPhone 5 to be replaced with her mother’s. She was at work and some key colleagues’ numbers were now not available. I will leave it to you to imagine how delighted she was and who she decided was to blame, in fairness quite rightly. I made the most convincing reassuring noises I could think of and that evening restored Naomi’s contacts off a backup of the iPhone 4 made just before the iPhone 5 arrived. Smiles all round … until the next morning when again all Naomi’s contacts were replaced by her mother’s. The annoyance factor was starting to take on alarming proportions, and aggravated because the restore had unset Naomi’s pairings on our car bluetooth systems and she had to set up all her speed dials from scratch. My popularity rating was very much on the decline.
I had been puzzled about how Pauline’s contacts had ever found their way to the iPhone 5 when the latter had not been involved in the transfer of contacts in the first place. All I could think of was that maybe iCloud (which I was aware of but had little concrete knowledge of) might be implicated. It looked like Naomi’s iCloud now held Pauline’s contacts and regarded them as more up to date than the backup I had used. So I looked in the iPhone 5′s settings, found the iCloud settings and disabled iCloud contact sync. I felt sure that would put an end to the disappearing contacts. I was still left having to reinstate Naomi’s contacts from backup with the loss of bluetooth pairings and all the rest of it. My marriage had not been under such strain in some while.
To be on the safe side, I brought Pauline over to my home and at last arranged for her to have her own Apple ID. I switched her Apple Store and iCloud settings to work with the new ID. I now felt sure that the unwanted links between iPhone 4 and iPhone 5 had been broken.
I was still puzzling over how to reactivate iCloud on Naomi’s new phone without losing her contacts when another bombshell struck. Our daughter who is away at University sent Naomi a text message from her iPhone and Pauline unexpectedly received the message too. There was nothing secret or private about the message, but there might have been and when Naomi found out she started to panic. She had lost all trust in her new phone and more so in my tech skills.
It turned out that the text in question was an iMessage, because all three iPhones involved were on wifis. All I could think was that Pauline’s phone was still linked to the original Apple ID at least for iMessage. I could try to track down and fix that setting, but how many more hooks to that ID might still be left in place? In desperation I carried out a factory reset on Pauline’s phone – I had to explain the situation to her and, bless her, she was very understanding and patient. This cost her all her contacts, but no way was I going to risk a backup and possibly reinstate some links to the Apple ID used by Naomi. I just used bump again with the iPad and all was well.
Finally the cord had been severed. And finally I was able reactivate Naomi’s iCloud contact sync in a way which merged her contacts with the ones on her iCloud, and she was able to pare them down to the ones she wanted after that.
Crisis and marriage were saved but I was left thinking that I had suffered disproportionately for the simple innocent shortcut I had taken with Apple IDs. The issue for me is that iPhones appear to have lots of distinct connection points to Apple IDs such that one phone can use different Apple IDs for different purposes; music/video purchases, iCloud, iMessage and maybe more. My own phone is on Android where everything works off my identity expressed as my gmail account. There is no need for explicit backups or restores. When I get a new phone I enter my gmail account once and it becomes my phone in every sense, with all my contacts, apps, calendar and everything else there for me. No confusion, no ambiguity.
I was surprised that there was no way to enforce the “direction of syncing” with the iCloud. Clearly we had a situation where the contacts in the iCloud were wrong but still took precedence over the contacts from the backup because they had a later time-stamp. There should have been some way to “tell” iCloud to respect the data from the backup, rather than just keep overwriting it. Another frustration was that restoring is itself an all or nothing process. It would have been handy to be able to restore just Pauline’s contacts from a backup if I could be sure I would not also be restoring any settings. I was desperate to avoid any action which might reinstate links between Pauline’s phone and Naomi’s iCloud.
Of course it would all have been different if I had gone to the trouble of ensuring Pauline had her own Apple ID from the outset and factory reset Naomi’s iPhone 4 before handing it over, but Apple’s implementation of ID and iCloud turned a mere drama into a full blown crisis. I thought that Apple’s guiding principle was that things were supposed to “just work”. If even a reasonably technical minded person can fall into that trap then I fear for the less geeky among us.