iOS and Backups

December 12th, 2012 by Allister Banks

If you’re like us, you’re a fan of our modern era, as we are (for the most part) better off than we previously were for managing iOS devices. One such example is bootstrapping, although we’re still a ways away from traditional ‘imaging’. You don’t need Xcode to update the OS in parallel, iPCU to generate configuration profiles, and iTunes for restoring backups anymore. Nowadays in our Apple Configurator world, you don’t interact with iTunes much at all (although it needs to be present for assisting in loading apps and takes a part in activation.)

So what are backups like now, what are the differences between a restore from, say, iCloud versus Apple Configurator? Well, as it was under the previous administration, iTunes has all our stuff, practically our entire base belongs to it. It knows about our Apple ID, it has the ‘firmware’ or OS itself cached, we can rearrange icons with our pointing human interface device… good times. Backups with iTunes are pretty close to imaging, as an IT admin would possibly define it. The new kids on the block(iCloud, Apple Configurator,) however, have a different approach.

iOS devices maintain a heavily structured and segmented environment. Configuration profiles are bolted on top(more on this in a future episode), ‘Userspace’ and many settings are closer to the surface, apps live further down towards the core, and the OS is the nougat-y center. Apple Configurator interacts with all these modularly, and backups take the stage after the OS and apps have been laid down. This means if your backup includes apps that Apple Configurator did not provide for you… the apps(and their corresponding sandboxed data) are no longer with us, the backup it makes cannot restore the apps or their placement on the home screen.

iCloud therefore stands head and shoulders above the rest(even if iTunes might be faster.) It’s proven to be a reliable repository of backups, while managing a cornucopia of other data – mail, contacts, calendars, etc. It’s a pretty sweet deal that all you need is to plug in to power for a backup to kick off, which makes testing devices by wiping them just about as easy as it can get. (Assuming the apps have the right iCloud-compatibility, so the saved games and other sandbox data can be backed up…) Could it be better? Of course. What’s your radar for restoring a single app? (At this point, that can be accomplished with iTunes and manual interaction only.) How about more control over frequency/retention? Never satisfied, these IT folk.

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