To backup delete all your data first

Originally published in 2010

My dislike of iTunes reached new heights when I first synced my iPad. Prior to updating the content of the iPad, the existing data get backed up by iTunes. The very first time that took just a few seconds. After a couple of days, it took half an hour. You can cancel the backup process by clicking the close button. I started doing that routinely, figuring out that an iTunes update to fix this issue would be released pretty soon. After all, there are dozens of discussions on the web about this very problem that occurs with the iPhone and iPod Touch as well.

Things changed when Apple released iOS 3.2.2. It fixes a pretty bad security leak in the PDF engine. Since reading PDF files is one of my main iPad activities, upgrading seemed the prudent thing to do. Unfortunately, the upgrader insists on first updating the backup. Since I hadn’t done that in a while, the process was excruciatingly slow. I lost my patience after about two hours. After a bit of googling I tried all the tricks posted in various forum threads:

  • Make sure you are running the latest release of iTunes. That is version 9.2 at this point in time.
  • Restart the iPad by pressing down the sleep button until a red slider appears to shut down the system.
  • Run iTunes as administrator on a 64-bit Windows 7 machine.
  • Use the original iPad USB cable, not that of an iPod.
  • Delete the existing backup because it might be corrupted.
  • Disconnect the network cable of your system and the wireless connection of the iPad

None of these tips helped. There is one trick that I did not try: a ton of threads on the Apple support forums and elsewhere blame slow back-ups on iPad applications that store loads of data. If you delete your comic book reader, Zinio and/or GoodReader, it should magically speed up the backup process. For me, that was simply unacceptable. Deleting data so that you can make a backup? No way!

So yesterday evening I once again started a sync operation and let it run overnight. Nine hours later the backup is almost halfway there. It will probably take another 12 hours to finish the process. That means that today we won’t be able to use the iPad: no newspaper for me, no zombies for my daughter, no surfing for anyone. The only advantage is that it leaves me with more time to write about how I hate iTunes. Ranting is good. It lowers the blood pressure and gets you a little high. The adrenaline rush of being able to spill my guts is kicking in. I feel better already. Maybe I’ll back up the iPad once more, just for the fun of it.

[UPDATE] The backup took 18 hours, after which a message appeared that the iPad needed to be restored. That operation failed with some obscure error message. I restarted iTunes and tried again. This time Windows 7 crashed with a blue screen of death – something that I had up to then only seen once in almost a year of daily use. I rebooted the machine, reran the restore operation in iTunes and after a mere 30 minutes of agonized waiting once again had a fully working iPad.

[UPDATE 2] Monday 22 November 2010 Apple released iOS 4.2.1 for the iPad. It solves this problem, reducing the time needed to back-up 16 GB from 24 hours to less than 10 minutes. I installed the free Backoff tool which can disable the iTunes back-up step when syncing the iPad. After upgrading the iPad I used the same tool to enable backups again. All in all the upgrade to 4.2.1 took about half an hour. It brings tons of other advantages such as multitasking, remote printing and folder support. Fantastic!