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Writings on technology and society from Wellington, New Zealand

Friday, August 20, 2010

iPhone: Getting back to 3

I’ve always kept my iPhone pretty much up to date with Apple software. After all, upgrades are free, and they often deliver exciting new stuff. Over the two years I’ve had my iPhone 3G, it has got more and more capable due to improving software.

Then Apple pushed iPhone OS 4 – or iOS4, as it’s now called – and the trouble began. Programs on my phone kept crashing, the sound kept getting interrupted and it became glacially slow. My phone went from being a thing of beauty and a joy to use to being a clunky machine to be endured and cursed. Using Wellington’s helpful text-to-park feature became nearly impossible because the parking machine would time out in the time it took me to send it a text message. And, in what was the last straw, it started ignoring incoming calls and going straight to voicemail.

This is the story of how I fixed all that by going back to iPhone OS 3.

Many others with the same phone model are complaining. I called Apple about it and they told me to reset the phone. I had tried that already, of course. I also updated it to 4.0.2, the very latest iOS, but to no avail. I tried all the tricks to improve the speed on a 3G that I could find on the Net including turning off Spotlight but it didn’t return my phone to a usable state. So I went back to the old iPhone OS.

Apple say that it is not possible to return an iPhone 3G that has been “upgraded” to iOS4 to the previous release of the iPhone software. There are many pages on the Web telling you how to do it, so I didn’t believe them. It is possible, as I have proved for myself, but it took a fair bit of time and some nail biting moments when the phone was all black.

Before I tell you what I did, please bear in mind that Apple claims this can’t be done and I’m certainly not offering you any guarantees. It worked for me, but if it fails for you, you are on your own with Google to figure out what to do next. Also, it should go without saying that you won’t have access to the iOS4-only features if you go back. For the iPhone 3G that includes threads in the email client and the ability to put programs into folders.

I started from this How to Guide by Taimur Asad. It covers downgrading your iPhone or iPod touch to iPhone OS 3. The guide provides instructions to get back to 3.1.2 or 3.1.3. I went back to 3.1.3 because I knew it worked well on my phone. If you are keen to do this, read the guide thoroughly a couple of times and be sure that you have one of the specific models it covers.

I use a Mac for the computer that my phone syncs with, and my phone is on Telecom’s XT network. Those things affect the instructions and you need to understand what to do differently if you use Windows or a different telco. That said, the guide looks as though it would work for a Windows computer, and carrier bundles are available for most mobile carriers.

I had several false starts when trying to follow the guide. Each was slightly scary because you have to put your phone into DFU mode (I think I know what that stands for!) which makes the phone black and unresponsive. Getting back from DFU mode involves a bit of (free) software such as RecBoot which you need to install on your computer before you start. Eventually the phone comes back to life. It’s all in the guide – thanks, Taimur.

Eventually I figured out that my false starts were because I was using a USB hub. I normally sync through a hub and it works just fine, but my computer wouldn’t recognise a phone in DFU mode unless it was connected directly to it with a single USB cable. Once I had sorted that out, the restore process followed the one set out in the guide.

The actual process was relatively quick once I’d figured it out. It took about half an hour. Then I had to do a restore and a sync of what was now an empty phone. That ran overnight.

There was a problem early in the restore process. iTunes refused to let me reload a recent backup saying that the backup had been made by more recent software than now existed on the phone, which it had. I wound up restoring from a very old backup. I’ve spent a chunk of today reloading configuration detail like my wireless passwords. It would be a good idea to identify the last backup you have (iTunes makes them when you sync) from iPhone OS 3 and restoring from that when the time comes. Do bear in mind, though, that you might lose information that is embedded in programs on your iPhone if you do this.

The final step for me was to reapply the carrier bundle for XT so my phone would do 3G data, texting and tethering again.

The result – one iPhone 3G functioning as well as it ever did, which is very well indeed. I only wish Apple hadn’t put me through so much grief to get it back that way.

posted by colin at 1:29 pm  

1 Comment

  1. I was just about to follow you when I read that Steve Jobs has announced in his own unique style, a fixed version of iOS is on the way: http://www.cultofmac.com/steve-jobs-software-update-to-fix-ios4-speed-problems-on-iphone-3g/55912

    Comment by Jay Daley — 24 August 2010 @ 10:56 am

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