The great iPhone wipe

The problem: your phone is running out of battery constantly and there’s no way to troubleshoot it. The running joke: that can only be because you are using your device with an iCloud backup. PC people say you need to format your computer when something breaks. Do a clean install. If our smartphones are modern-day computers, surely they can also be formatted, right?

It takes something big to break a habit that you and many other iPhone users since 2011 have been relying on. Our pocket companions live a spiritual life independent from earthly matters. You can bend them, break them. The glass shatters. The body dies. The spirit remains in the clouds. All those documents, pictures, apps and bunch of preferences carefully set over the years are backed up automatically to iCloud and ready for reincarnation in a new device. We don’t really know how it’s done but that’s not the point: it works. If you are upgrading to a new iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, you can switch it on, restore your configuration from the cloud and you are ready to go. Should you?

The issue here is that we have no insight on what that backup really is. That iCloud backup blessing that is going to save you when you lose your phone is a curse of errors over errors. In nerd circles it will be the culprit to inexplicable behaviours that don’t have an explanation unless you ask “Did you restore from iCloud?”.

The unexpected improvements

When Mike Hurley from Relay.fm finally decided to set up his new phone as a new phone, it definitely helped me to grow some balls to wipe my iPhone and do a clean install too. As @achoi02 points out, there is nothing to lose as you can always go back and restore from your backup. I’m going to explain how I did it and some tips to avoid annoying bits I encountered in the way, but let me say it now: it’s definitely worth it.

I don’t have the knowledge to measure battery usage so you can take all this with a pinch of salt. My impressions after two weeks of usage are very positive. There are associated benefits that make the forced spring cleaning absolutely worth it. I’m talking about the app decluttering and resetting the keyboard dictionary full of typos and expressions learn over seven years of clumsy typing. You need to try this.

First things first. There may be data on my iPhone that I don’t want to lose but I’m still not aware of it. Before I delete everything, let’s force one last iCloud backup going to Settings → iCloud → Backup → Backup now. I also want to keep a local copy on my Mac, but instead of using iTunes I will try a third-party app that allows you to access individual parts of the system (such as your iMessage history). You can use iExplorer, iMazing or any similar app.

Erase all

You can choose to wipe your phone with or without the assistance of a computer. For both methods you will need to download the latest build of iOS, so plan this step ahead. I originally tried this with my laptop, but after the huge download failed, I decided to do it from the iPhone itself. You can find this option on the Settings app → General → Reset → Erase all. After the phone does what it has to do — again, it can take a while — you are ready for a fresh start.

I rushed to download 1Password first to help me setting up all my accounts, but you should give spend ten minutes going through the phone Settings before anything else.

It’s not the time to go to Poolga to get a stylish background yet. There’s important stuff you won’t remember later, so add those custom keyboard shortcuts, alarm to wake up in the morning and adjust your notification settings before anything else. I also discovered I can limit Spotlight searches to installed apps, so that makes for a simple app launcher right there. When setting up your email accounts, remember you may have app-specific passwords or 2nd-step verification in place to login to your Gmail, for example. It’s handy to have access to a computer when you do it.

Now you have a working phone completely naked, you are going to be tempted to install all your apps. If you are trying this, I propose a different method. Instead of jumping to the App Store to recover all your purchased apps, wait until you really need them to download them. You will discover that you can go one week without the YouTube app because, well, you don’t use it that much. Instead of playing with the way the app icons look on the homescreen, let’s enforce this new law of usage priority. The app stays in the spot where it landed when it was first installed. If it’s not used regularly, it should go to the back.

For all the built-in apps you cannot delete, you can hide them properly in iOS 8 using this nesting trick I learnt from Macmixing. Say goodbye to the folder of Apple junk apps tucking it in a second page of a folder you actually need.

Setting up Reeder's iOS background app refresh

After months of hard work in silence my preferred feed reading app Reeder just got some great updates. What didn't take long was for developer Silvio Rizzi to receive some amazing feedback for the brand new Mac app on the App Store — reading the user reviews you can feel how much this meant for some people. The development cycle for the Reeder suite is not the fastest, but its comeback is huge for the reading app ecosystem. If you sync your RSS feeds using Feedbin, Feedly, Feed Wrangler, Fever or Readability, you will agree it's a great time to be a Reeder customer.

Today, however, I will be focusing on the latest update for the iOS app released two weeks ago. It's something big — it has taken the developer almost a year to implement an iOS 7 feature called background app refresh. This means that any app can fetch information from the web intelligently without having to be launched by the user, refreshing automatically in the background. For an app like Reeder, which lives from downloading text articles from the feeds on your RSS client, this is a game changer. The idea is that the next time you launch the app your content will be there waiting without having to wait for it to download.

Give it time to learn

Before I begin, let me get this out of the way: you need to enable the backgrounding option on the app settings and allow some time to understand your usage. Now, the reason for writing this article two weeks after everyone else is that the background app refresh in iOS needs time to learn your habits. Apple explains it on a support page:

iOS learns patterns based on your use of the device and tries to predict when an app should be updated in the background. It also learns when the device is typically inactive, such as during the night, to reduce update frequency when the device is not in use

With an app like Reeder, the system will realise you are launching the app in the mornings to read along with your breakfast and in the evening after dinner. This is highly efficient as iOS also attempts to fit the refreshes when your device is charging or connected to a Wi-Fi network — preventing battery drain and cellular data charges respectively. Since the rest of the process is too obscure for the end user, I decided to wait and see how long it would take Reeder to learn my reading habits.

How to enable background refresh

If you are sold on the idea, let's make sure background app refresh is activated on your account (it comes disabled by default). We will need to check this option both in the app and in the iPhone's own settings.

Inside the Reeder app, swipe to the right to close any open page until you get to one that says Accounts. Now tap on the cog icon to access the settings. You only need to follow the route Settings → Accounts (select the service) → Syncing → Sync Background refresh. Remember this is enabled by account, so if you have a Feed Wrangler and a Feedbin on the same device, you will have to enabled both using the same method.

At this stage we should also check the app is allowed to use the feature on the iPhone's general settings. Tap on the Settings icon and select General → Background App Refresh → Scroll down to enable Reeder. Since you are at it, check other apps that might be using this feature. Allyson Kazmucha of iMore recommends checking all of them to preserve battery life.

That's all you need to do to enjoy the latest addition to Reeder for iOS. If the automatic background app refresh didn't work for you, ensure both options are enabled and you give it some time to learn.