Apple Genius disavows iTunes on Windows


On Friday, August 17th at 10:40am, I walked into the Apple store on Fifth Avenue, in the heart of New York City, for my first Genius Bar experience.

As I described recently, the appointment resulted from a bug in iTunes which caused an iPad upgrade from iOS 4 to 5 to fail. The iPad was left in a factory fresh state; all the apps and data were gone.

The iTunes bug had to do with hard drive free space. Simply put, iTunes fails to check, ahead of time, that there is sufficient space for the OS upgrade. The Windows XP computer where iTunes was running had somewhere around 10 - 15 gigabytes of free space when the upgrade started. After the C disk filled, iTunes couldn't function. 

So, I entered the store with an iPad paperweight. Sadly, that's  what I left with too.  



Knowing that important facts can be omitted or mis-understood when an end user explains a problem to a techie, I came prepared. I had typed up a hard copy cheat sheet of the steps I took and the resultant errors.

I think it's fair to say that anyone reading or listening to the problem description could easily comprehend that iTunes had filled the C disk completely and couldn't function any more. Nonetheless, my assigned genius started out by running the iTunes sync/restore again. No surprise, it failed.

How does it happen that a tech support person fails to grasp the problem details?

My own experience has been that end users with a problem frequently do a poor job describing things. A picture is indeed worth a thousand words when it comes to computer support. Perhaps after helping hundreds and hundreds of users, a support person learns to tune them out.

Then too, if a bug in Apple software is rare, their geniuses won't be on the lookout for it. 

After iTunes failed, my assigned genius felt that the problem was on the iPad.

So, he attached my iPad to his laptop (my Windows XP laptop would not connect to the Wi-Fi network in the store) and reset it back to factory fresh state. He never looked at the iPad which, to me, seemed to be in a factory fresh state when I walked into the store.

Resetting the iPad didn't help, the restore failed again.

When I initially had the problem there were multiple error messages along the way. In the store, there was only one, the -50 error that I wrote about previously.

My assigned genius said this was a known problem and showed me Apple Knowledge Base article TS3694, iTunes: Specific update-and-restore error messages and advanced troubleshooting which has a section describing five different errors, one of which is a -50.

At this point we were, effectively, done. It was up to me to read TS3694 and deal with it. 

As is typical of a software company (iTunes is the issue here) the KB article first blames the hardware. Then, no surprise, it blames third party software. It also suggests that the problem might be with the TcpWindowSize.

That iTunes filled the C disk completely because it fails to insure sufficient space before starting an iOS upgrade, was not in the list of possible explanations.

My assigned genius said that the errors were in Windows and Apple does not support Windows.

Arguing that they were either iTunes issues or iPad issues was a waste of time. There was no one in Apple's Fifth Avenue store that would help with Windows. Walking to the Grand Central store would be a waste of time too, I was told that no Apple store deals with Windows. My only recourse was to call for support, which would cost $50. 

The Defensive Computing lesson here is brutally clear: run all iTunes backups functions on OS X rather than on Windows. 


Eleven days after my Genius Bar experience, Gizmodo got hold of the training manual for Apple's geniuses. They wrote that "... almost the entire volume is dedicated to empathizing, consoling, cheering up, and correcting various Genius Bar confrontations." I didn't get any of that.

I'm certainly not alone in having issues with iTunes. Jon Honeyball, of PC Pro, recently wrote that " ... iTunes on Windows is a howling dog. It’s slow, unstable, doesn’t follow Windows UI style guides, and is a festering boil on the backside of the whole iPhone and iPad experience." 

The only thing I used iTunes for, was to backup my iPad. That's why it was running on a rarely used, fairly old PC; which got me into this mess in the first place. 

Still, how does iTunes fail to check for sufficient space up-front? Perhaps because it's tasked with doing too many things. Honeyball writes

Take a look at what iTunes does. At heart it’s still a music player, a heritage product that Apple bought in just over a decade ago for the Macintosh. Since then it’s gained video playback, the App Store for iOS software, and the hugely important iTunes U university support. And let’s not forget ebook support. And podcasts. And film and TV purchase, download and rental streaming. And a full credit card and account management system. And sync tools over wire, and now over wireless too. And DRM capabilities. It’s enough to make your head spin.

As long as this list is, it omits the task of upgrading iOS from version 4 to 5.


Since my iPad was wiped clean, I've been living happily with a 7 inch Android tablet. I really miss Zite though. On iOS it's a great app, often turning up interesting articles that I never would have run across otherwise. The Android version is nothing special. 

I'm not sure of my next step. Some of the comments on the previous blog appear to be helpful. I have to research them a bit. All is probably not lost, the 

C:\Documents and Settings\<userid>\Application Data\Apple Computer

folder has 14.4GB of stuff, roughly half in the  MobileSync sub-folder and half in the iTunes sub-folder. 

The laptop has a data-only partition which I may wipe out, then expand the C disk partition, in the hope that with sufficient space iTunes can restore my stuff. Then too, Tekserve, here in New York City, has a very good reputation.

If iTunes proves useless, there is always the App Store. It has all my apps so perhaps I could download them again.

The day I went to the Genius Bar, Apple's stock price rose by $11.77, which pushed their market capitalization over $600 billion. Michael and Goliath didn't end well. If only I knew someone named David. 

Update: September 27, 2012: Marco Arment blogged about another iPad that was wiped clean. His 80-something grandparents went to the Genius Bar with instructions to setup iCloud to backup their iPad 2. But, the iPad was running iOS 4 and iCloud requires iOS 5 or 6. Long story short, the Apple employee did not backup their data before clobbering it.  

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