iOS download for Apple iPhone & iPad breaks activation

Apple pulls and patches iOS 9.3 (I told you so). The nasty bug is triggered when you get your password wrong on older devices, leaving you with a bricked iPhone or iPad.

Apple iOS 9.3 13e236 Cannot activate because the activation server is temporarily not available
Apple, Inc.

Updated: iOS 9.3 has this horrible bug -- possibly two bugs -- but don't be shocked, because something like this happens almost every update nowadays. Many users of (ahem) 'legacy' iPhones or iPads now own a shiny brick, so Apple has had to work fast to solve this activation issue.

Developing story. Updated 8:22 am, 2:22 pm, 2:59 am, and 1:16 pm PT with more comment, clarification, conspiracy and catechism.

However, the hurried patch seems to actually lessen security. That's a big concern -- and frankly it's ironic, given Apple's security PR of late. And now we hear it may not solve all the activation problems. WWSJD?

Yep, this is the fix for the "Cannot activate because the activation server is temporarily not available" bug. But there are more problems waiting to be fixed, we hear. 

So you'd think this is iOS 9.3.1, right? Umm, no such sense from Cupertino, sadly. Apple seems to have uploaded a new iOS build without actually increasing the version number!

In IT Blogwatchyour humble blogwatcher marvels at this magical triumph of marketing over engineering, while curating these bloggy bits for your entertainment. Not to mention: analog synths

What’s the craic? Chance Miller takes it and runs—Apple releases new build of iOS 9.3:

Apple...confirmed issues relating to iOS 9.3 on the iPad 2 [and] released a new build of the operating system. ... This new 13E236, while the version released earlier this week was...13E233 on iPad.

Apple earlier today confirmed that users of older iOS devices were affected. ... It’s unclear at this point if the new build is for all affected devices or just the iPad 2.

My my: marvellous. Mariella Moon makes merry—Apple issues new iOS 9.3:

The iOS 9.3 bug...prevented some people with older iPhones and iPads from installing the update. [It] bricked older devices if users forgot or mistyped their Apple ID passwords. ... Their devices were locked in an activation loop.

Apple addressed the issue quickly. ... The patched-up version...doesn't require users to key in their passwords.

Wait, what? Can we just pause a moment to consider the irony?

The issue is that a device breaks when you try to authenticate yourself during the update. So Apple's solution is to remove the authentication step???

Excuse me, but how is that a good idea? Especially when Apple crows on about how it's so concerned about security? Or should we interpret this as Apple only caring about your security, if you buy a new phone and tablet every year?

But hopefully that's temporary. iOS 9.3.1 will be along soon. As Matt Swider quips, there's a fix for that:

This authentication issue isn't the only [problem] with the new operating system. ... Expect an iOS 9.3.1...with more patches rolled into it. ... Reduced battery life and all-out software freezes are among the problems...heard from users.

So, chalk this up to poor QA? Aldrin Calimlim says Apple needs to be even more careful next time:

Initially, it was thought that the issue arose simply because Apple’s activation servers were struggling under the load. ... But the company acknowledged the issue as a bug. 

The issue is not as serious as the one that caused iOS 8.0.1 to cripple [your] iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. [But it] underscores the importance of rigorous testing.

Update 1: Of course, the danger is that people will be put off installing security fixes. Jennifer Nguyen illustrates, with some bad advice:

There isn't really a reason to upgrade...on older devices. New features...only work on 64-bit models...and CarPlay is an iPhone-only feature. ... iOS 9.0 in general hasn't been that kind to the iPad 2 or iPhone 4s since its release.

Update 2: Apparently, the situation's worse than we thought. Not one activation bug, but two activation bugs. Roll me over, Juli Clover—:

There has been some confusion over the...update, because there is a second separate activation bug affecting many older devices. [It] prevents older device owners from activating their iPhones and iPads if they can't remember the Apple ID and password originally used to set up the device.

[The] update fixes the first activation issue, it does not address the second [which] affects many more devices. ... Apple has said it is working on a fix...which will be the next few days.

There are no words. Oh, wait, yes there are. MacDevil7334 is "Sad that Apple has let things get this bad":

So we had the 8.0.1 update that completely killed cellular [on] the iPhone 6...the 9.2 update that bricked iPhones with replaced Touch ID sensors, and now [this]. What is going on?

Apple's software quality control...has gone absolutely down the toilet since they fired Forstall. ... The craziest thing is that iOS 9 has had a public beta program...and has still managed to have several of these large bugs.

It used to be that I would install the latest iOS update. ... Now, I make sure it's not going to brick my phone.

Can't anyone give us a family anecdote? Here's xoFoxtail:

I think the majority of people...know what their Apple ID and password is. People like my mom who has no tech knowledge didn’t...and ended up bricking her iPhone...because of it.

Update 3: Of course, for some, the glass is half-full. For example, for mech986:

I suppose its better than no updates at all. Android 6.0 was Oct. 2015 [but] Samsung is already at 5+ months late in getting the...updates out.

And if you have a midrange unit, keep dreaming. ... The vast majority of Android phones either are running 1...or more generations behind...and some will NEVER be able to update to even Lollipop.

But it does sound like some Apple geniuses aren't following the script. Here's the experience of Mark_14:

My iPhone is totally useless. [It] never gets past activation. I've spent 5 hours with Apple technical support and time with...Apple store technicians who all say they've never seen this...problem before. ... One support tech did say they are getting many calls about...the 4s.

The store technician diagnosed that for some reason...instead of just going to the Apple activation also going to a second activation server, which it is not supposed to do. ... They are in agreement that it is software problem/bug in the 9.3 upgrade.

I had to do many power down resets, remove...the SIM card, [we] even tried a new SIM card, completely erase...and go through the recovery steps...multiple times – none of which has worked. ... The 9.3 upgrade changed something in the iPhone that even a [factory reset] will not undo.

Update 4: From time to time, readers write your humble blogwatcher. Here's Rick Rockhold, who wishes to register a complaint:

Before you can install the update, you still need your device PIN code. Always have, always will.

What’s changed is that you aren’t required to enter your iCloud password before installing the update. You still need to provide your iCloud password before accessing your iCloud data. ... With your device PIN, you can access (and update) your device. With your iCloud password, you can get to your cloud data (such as calendars, contacts, etc).

It is common practice in the software industry to change the version number only when new functionality is provided. Most software companies won’t change the version number to fix installer problems. Once successfully installed, there’s no functional difference between 9.3 and the patched 9.3, so why distinguish them beyond the build number?

And Finally…

I dunno about you, but I love the sound of analog synths

You have been reading IT Blogwatch by Richi Jennings, who curates the best bloggy bits, finest forums, and weirdest websites… so you don’t have to. Catch the key commentary from around the Web every morning. Hatemail may be directed to @RiCHi or
Opinions expressed may not represent those of Computerworld. Ask your doctor before reading. Your mileage may vary. E&OE.


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