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.