iOS upgrade failure wipes out iPad

Once upon a time, I owned a first generation iPad. Now, thanks to a bug in iTunes, I'm the first kid on my block to have an iPad paper weight. 

My paperweight started out in life as a 16GB iPad model A1219. It was purchased from Apple, refurbished, back in March 2011. There were no problems with it at all, but since iOS 6 is on the horizon, I felt it was time to upgrade from iOS 4 to 5 on the theory that it's never good to fall too far behind the curve. Plus iOS 5 has been out for a while, so there was little reason to expect a problem. 


On a Windows XP laptop, the first thing I did was upgrade the installed copy of iTunes to version, which was the latest at the time (end of July). Then I did a sync/backup to copy my apps and data to the computer. 

The process of upgrading from iOS 4 to 5 seems to involve wiping the iPad, installing a new, fresh, clean copy of iOS 5 and then restoring the last backup. 

The restore part, however, failed. As a result, the iPad seems to be in factory fresh state running iOS 5.1.1. It's not my iPad any more. 

iTunes issued a couple errors, but I don't think they come anywhere near the actual problem. 

One of the errors was a minus 50. Negative error numbers are never a good sign.  


The other error was "iTunes could not restore the iPad "myipadname" because the backup could not be saved on the computer". 


You'd expect a restore operation to copy data from the computer to the iPad. I'm at a loss to explain what iTunes is trying to save to the computer. It had already downloaded iOS 5 and installed it onto the iPad.    

But the heart of the problem is that iTunes consumed all the free space on the computer. The C disk was 100% full (it didn't seem interested in the E disk partition). 

How does this happen? Two reasons. 

The main reason is that some programmer at Apple is lazy and/or stupid. I know that's harsh, but I spent many years programming and have little tolerance of amateur work. I'm sure iTunes can determine how much space it needs for the upgrade process. It knows how full the iPad is, it can tell how full the C disk is, it should know how big the download of iOS 5 is, etc. Then, it should check that the necessary space is available. Duh.  

The other reason has to do with the computer being used.

The only thing I did with iTunes was backup the iPad. Originally, I had installed iTunes on an old netbook, but it ran painfully slow, so I installed another copy on a ThinkPad X61 running Windows XP.

That machine just happened to be the first one that I ever upgraded from a spinning platter hard drive to an SSD. The upgrade was a while back, when SSDs were significantly more expensive, so the machine makes do with a grand total of 40GB, partitioned into a 23GB C disk and a 15GB E disk. I'm not sure how much free space there was in the C partition, but it was probably about 8GB or so (I keep XP lean and mean). 

So now, there is no free space on the laptop, while the iPad is almost totally empty (the screen shot below is from iTunes).


While I obviously didn't use the best computer for the job, I also didn't do anything wrong. 

  • I didn't click a wrong button 
  • I didn't answer a question wrong
  • I was using the latest software 
  • There were no other devices plugged into any USB ports 
  • There was no security software running or installed on the XP machine
  • I'm not Mat Honan, I made a backup 
  • I didn't tug on Superman's cape 
  • I didn't spit into the wind 
  • I didn't pull the mask off that old Lone Ranger 
  • I didn't mess around with Jim 

And yet, I got screwed. 

If you're thinking that Apple-developed software running on Windows is a bad neighborhood to be living in - point taken. It's probably fair to say that developing software for Windows is not a core competence at Apple. 

Poking around the laptop, iTunes seems to have stashed a lot of data in the 

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

folder. The two big sub-folders there are MobileSyn and iTunes. Hopefully, a visit to the Apple store can get my apps back onto the iPad. 


Ironically, when you make a Genius Bar reservation online, Apple suggests that you first update your software. Check. They also suggest that you back up your data. That didn't help me. 

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