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Maintain app organization when restoring iOS devices

Dan Frakes, | May 17, 2011
iPhone or iPad folders gone after a restore? Try restoring twice

It turns out that iTunes actually offers two kinds of restores. The first is the one described above, accessed by clicking the Restore button in iTunes’ Summary view for your iOS device. The other one is less obvious—you access it by right-clicking (Control-clicking) your iOS device in iTunes’ sidebar and choosing Restore from Backup. As the dialog that appears explains, the latter procedure restores only your data and settings, not the iPhone’s firmware or OS. What the dialog doesn’t note is that your third-party apps apparently remain on the phone, as well. In other words, it gives iTunes that “second pass” at restoring your Home-screen app organization.

Choosing iTunes' settings-only restore in the sidebar (left); choosing a backup to use for the restore (right)

The trick, of course—and what I neglected to do during all those restores on Saturday—is to let iTunes finish syncing your apps on its first restore/sync. Then you can do the second, non-firmware restore to let iTunes tidy up.


The process

Let’s put this into step-by-step format:

  1. Restore your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch by connecting it to your Mac, selecting the device in the Devices section of iTunes’ sidebar, switching to iTunes’ Summary view, and then clicking Restore. (If you’ve got a brand-new iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch that you want to set up based on your latest backup, skip to the next step.)
  2. When prompted by the Restore From Backup dialog (which, unless this is a brand-new device, can take ten to 15 minutes), choose your most-recent backup and click Restore.
  3. Wait for the restore process to finish, and then let the phone begin its standard sync process. (If you click the Apps view for your device in iTunes during this sync, chances are you’ll see all of your selected apps strewn across many screens, no longer organized as you had them.)
  4. Once iTunes has finished syncing your apps to the device, you can either click the stop button (the small X) in iTunes’ faux-LCD-display area to stop the sync, or you can let iTunes finish syncing your music, movies, TV shows, and so on. As long as you let iTunes finish syncing your apps, you’re fine—everything else will eventually sync fully.
  5. Right-click (control-click) the device in iTunes’ sidebar, and then choose Restore From Backup from the menu that appears.
  6. In the Restore From Backup dialog, choose the same backup you chose in Step 2; click Restore.
  7. Wait for the sync to finish; if you interrupted the previous sync after only apps were copied, iTunes will first reorganize your apps and then finish syncing all your other media.


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