iOS 9 killed my iCloud back-ups. And starting fresh is not a solution

Apple reporting of late is even weirder than usual, and broadly appears to take one of three forms:

  • Apple is THE BEST and we love EVERYTHING it does
  • Apple is THE WORST and we hate EVERYTHING it does
  • Apple did something we brushed aside last year as trivial, but it’s fixed now, so we’re going to pretend we were FURIOUS at the time and that this minor change is more innovative than sliced bread, GPS and heart-rate monitors combined. (And, no, Heston, you cannot have that as a new menu item for your restaurants.)

This means we see relentless rumours, pro-Apple and anti-Apple opinions and reviews, but oddly little reporting when things go somewhat wrong for a bunch of people. That sort of thing doesn’t get enough clicks/eyeballs/ad impressions and so falls by the wayside. Hence, I suppose, why I’m writing about a problem here. And that problem is this:

With iOS 9, iCloud back-up is dead for some people.

Yeah, just imagine that as a headline. Your eyes would gloss over it, before settling on IPHONE 7 MIGHT BE MADE FROM BEES and IPHONE 6S LESS BENDY WHICH IS THE MOST AMAZING THING EVER. But this kind of stuff matters, because iCloud is supposed to be Apple’s future for storage, and robust enough to protect all of your data and memories.

I have three iOS devices. The second they were updated to iOS 9, iCloud stopped working. I’m sure some journo colleagues will merrily claim this is down to some tech halo of doom or other, given how often things appear to go wrong for me during updates; but this is no laughing matter, because iCloud back-up is critical. More to the point, a quick search online finds plenty of forum threads about this issue, including on some major Apple websites that have yet to report on the matter. (There are, pleasingly, exceptions.)

What actually happens varies somewhat by user, but mostly you’ll find the Storage section in Settings helpfully noting that you’ve ‘never’ backed-up, when you have. Your device’s next back-up size will be listed at a suspiciously low 0 bytes, with each app beneath listing ‘no data’. On attempting to make a back-up, it will crank on for a while, get towards the end and not complete. If Apple’s servers and software are feeling particularly mischievous, your iCloud storage will drop like a stone, even though none of the back-ups have taken. (At one point, my 50 GB of space was down to about 15 GB free, despite me, according to iOS 9, having no actual back-ups.)

People posting on forums have been offering solutions. Turning iCloud off and on again. Resetting network settings. Deleting the back-ups you have, and then attempting to back-up manually until it actually works. According to people posting on Apple’s forums, Apple support naturally notes it’s the “first we’ve heard of this” whenever people call, and depressingly goes to the old fallbacks for seemingly any iOS-related problem these days: either restore your device from a back-up (assuming you can make one—some users under iOS 9 are even having problems with iTunes), or set up your device as new.

The second of those is especially troubling. Setting up a device as new means you don’t have access to your old data. In my case, that would mean losing progress from all games, hundreds of hours of work in the likes of Korg Gadget, and more. Data loss is not an acceptable solution for what appears to be a nasty iCloud bug that Apple has yet to acknowledge. (And Apple helpfully blocked sideloading in May, which would have been a way to restore important data manually.) More to the point, people on Apple’s forums claim they’ve done these things and it makes no difference anyway.

From what I can see, the only solution to this is to wait and hope things will start working again (and, if you can, remember to make regular iTunes back-ups, like you’re living in the Stone Age). That’s some way from ‘it just works’. Perhaps if more publications would make a noise about this, there’d be more hope and less waiting. As it is, I have to wonder if a lot of people will just give up backing-up altogether, putting their data at risk, and leading to misery down the line when a device abruptly stops working.

September 29, 2015. Read more in: Apple

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Apple TV becomes Wii-lite, as Apple demands games support Siri Remote

Wiimote and Siri Remote

I was today pointed at Benjamin Mayo’s blog post Apple Now Requiring All Apple TV Games To Support Siri Remote Input. As the title suggests, Apple will enforce Siri Remote support for Apple TV games. This is a problem.

On Twitter, I’ve had people argue otherwise, suggesting everything is fine. Developers will just find new methods of control input that work nicely with the Siri Remote. This is more or less what happened on iPhone, when people (including yours truly) initially dismissed it as a games machine, due to its lack of non-traditional controls. In the event, devs worked past perceived limitations, and we ended up with amazing and intuitive titles like Zen Bound and Eliss (most recent versions linked to here — buy them both).

There is a difference, though. iPhone was a blank slate, and developers took — and continue to take — full advantage. The Siri Remote is by design a more conventional input, because you use it to control something on a screen across the room. There isn’t really any comparison between the two, and I fear the Siri Remote’s comparatively basic input options will lead to a glut of iOS games becoming less innovative as a result.

The other angle people are taking is that Apple’s keener on Wii-like gestural input, since the Siri Remote has an accelerometer. Cynics will point out the Wii is a console from 2006 and therefore nearly a decade old, but many of its games are still fun, and gestural input is intuitive. The thing is, Apple’s remote is significantly more restrictive and looks to be more awkward for games than Nintendo’s.

In the initial Apple TV promo video Apple ran at its recent event, someone was shown playing racer Asphalt 8 with said remote (held between two hands), and it looked faintly ridiculous and a little painful. Crossy Road was also demoed, using the remote’s small touchpad as a directional controller. That looked OK, but showcased the kind of title likely to find traction on Apple TV (i.e. very basic casual games), and it still had me thinking of cramp.

But even Wii comparisons don’t really hold up. Nintendo’s controller works fine for browsing menus and app UIs, but flip it on its side and it’s a fairly capable, if slightly basic, games controller. By contrast, flip Apple’s on its side and you see the difference. Buttons are crammed towards the centre, and there’s no physical directional controller. The latter issue can be readily dismissed if you’re not desperate for it to be 1987 all over again, but the former means you’re largely limited to tilt/tap or swiping with your left thumb.

The concern is Apple’s rules will severely limit even remotely complex fare on Apple TV from a control standpoint, or those games will have to figure out an extremely dumbed-down mode specifically designed for the Siri Remote. This will affect more games than you might realise. Games that rely on twin-stick/two-thumb input (commonplace on iOS) will have to revert to single-thumb input, with auto-aim for shooters. Platform games could be very tricky to implement. Flick up to jump? Urgh. And anything requiring directional control and action buttons could be a problem. When your new controller may have trouble supporting games that need anything beyond tilt-and-tap or directional controls alone, that should send alarm bells ringing.

As Andrew Bryant remarked to me on Twitter, it won’t be a surprise if Apple changes tack, on realising a AAA title it wants to bang on about at a keynote cannot come to Apple TV with these restrictions. Additionally, I know plenty of game devs, and they’re often keen to rise to a challenge. I suspect we’ll, despite Apple’s decisions, see at least a reasonable number of innovative titles on Apple TV. Here’s hoping on both counts, because as I recently wrote for Stuff, it would be a crying shame if a piece of hardware that could be broadly transformative for gaming ends up as yet another also-ran.

September 16, 2015. Read more in: Apple, Gaming

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Warning: iOS 8.3 blocks sideloading of app and game save data

I wish I’d heard about this a lot earlier, but it turns out Apple’s essentially blocked access to app folders in iOS 8.3. This means that unless a developer has specifically enabled file sharing, utilities such as iExplorer, iMazing and Phone View can no longer access the Documents and Library folders of any app you’ve installed on your device. And that means no saving game data and/or sideloading it across devices.

Right now, the only advice is to stick with (or downgrade back to) iOS 8.2, use a jailbroken device, or cross your fingers and hope one of the devs manages to work around this issue. Oh, and if you’re a game dev, now would be a really good time to consider iCloud game saves and/or allowing file sharing access to game-save data.

April 21, 2015. Read more in: Apple


Apple and balance/motion accessibility — yelling into the wind

As a writer, even in an age of social media, it’s hard to tell whether anything you pen affects people in any serious way. In truth, much of what I write is opinion-based: thought pieces and reviews that might briefly help and/or entertain a certain section of a site’s or magazine’s readership, but that relationship between words and results is typically fleeting.

One major exception in my writing career centres around accessibility. When Apple’s iOS 7 for iPad and iPhone arrived, it made a lot of people sick. Aggressive animations became motion-sickness triggers for a surprisingly large range of people. I was fortunate enough to write about the subject for Stuff and twice for The Guardian. Apple rumbled into gear. Changes were eventually to iOS made via the introduction of Reduce Motion, which switched slides and zooms for cross-fades. I have it on good authority that what I and others wrote did have an impact on Apple’s decision-making.

Although motion/balance accessibility remains poorly understood, and third-party developers remain largely ignorant of these issues, merrily peppering apps with animated interface components, I and others are now broadly safe when using iOS. The same is not true for OS X. It’s been three years since I first wrote about the subject on this blog, and I’ve penned articles elsewhere, including for major tech publications. It’s hard to believe that Apple’s listening. The company, despite making great strides in vision/hearing/motor accessibility, appears either ignorant of or uncaring about motion/balance problems.

That might seem like an extreme statement, but I think it’s entirely fair. Major triggers, such as full-screen slides/morphing transitions, and also slide transitions within Preview and Safari, arrived in OS X Lion, and we’ve since seen three major updates to OS X without a single setting for overriding these animations. There’s no Reduce Motion in OS X, despite Mac screens being larger than iOS ones, which means the transitions displayed are more — not less — likely to cause problems.

Today, I fired up the new OS X Photos app. Within five minutes, I felt ill. I shouldn’t have been surprised that a motion/balance trigger is built right into the interface, with the main pane zooming while it crossfades. Presumably, someone at Apple thought this looked pretty. There’s no way to turn it off. For anyone who finds this animation problematic, their choices are to avoid Photos entirely or remember to close their eyes every single time they click a tab.

This is just not good enough. Apple is a company that prides itself on making its technology accessible. Given that a somewhat throwaway setting in a third-party utility can override or entirely disable the majority of full-screen animations, it’s hard to believe Apple couldn’t fit a Reduce Motion system into OS X if it wanted to. If developers could hook into that, most motion/balance issues would disappear in an instant, without affecting the majority of users, who could happily continue watching interface components zoom about before their eyes.

As I wrote today in an email to, I’m sick of the current situation, figuratively and — in a fortunately fairly mild way — literally. Highly animated interfaces may be the ‘in thing’ right now, and sometimes have potential benefits in providing a sense of place; but that doesn’t mean Apple should overlook people for which these often aesthetic additions cause major usability, accessibility and health problems. I’ve no confidence anything will change. Every email sent feels like yelling into the wind, but I’ll be delighted to see and experience a change in direction should that happen in OS X Yosemite’s successor.

April 9, 2015. Read more in: Apple, Opinions, Technology

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Apple Watch is the worst thing ever, and here’s why

Yeah, sorry about that link-bait title, but I figured I’d best get in on the current wave of tech stupid before my tech journo credentials are snatched away from me. Mind you, perhaps escaping would be a smart move while the majority of the industry loses its collective mind.

I mentioned tech writers tending towards bile last week, but the latest stick to smack Apple with appears to be the accusation that the company has lost focus and no longer understands the value of simplicity.

Jason Hiner’s piece for ZDNet is fairly typical of this latest raft of Apple Watch moanery, calling it “too ambitious” and “a bit of a mess”. He argues:

the fact that Apple released the product in its current form says something. In fact, it says a lot about Apple under the new leadership regime because it’s the first new product category of the Cook-Ive era. And as far as innovation and discipline goes, this is a wobbly start.

His core complaint seemingly revolves around a belief that all Apple products start out simple and then layer greater functionality as they evolve. He’s right that Apple builds on products (notably software, adding richer features) over time, but what is simple?

For Apple Watch, Hiner complains that the device tries to do too much and that there are a load of new functions for a user to figure out, which are

unlike any other Apple or tech product so they aren’t naturally intuitive.

But what is intuitive? What is fully natural? My dad recently admitted to me he’d never used copy and paste, and he’s been using Macs for well over a decade. He’d just been dragging selections around, muddling through. With Watch, you imagine quite a few people will do something similar, perhaps chancing across functionality. Others will dig deeper. But the point is that many pieces of functionality that tech pundits consider simple and natural are only so to them because they use these things every day.

Consider the mouse and the original Mac. Back then, the windows/icons/mouse/pointer interface wasn’t unique, but it certainly wasn’t commonplace. Then there’s the iPhone, with its gestural interface that had a fair number of elements that felt natural, but also elements users had to learn, in order to access all of the device’s functionality.

Of course, people slammed those things too, saying they’d fail, because that’s what you do with Apple. And perhaps Apple Watch will be a faceplant, but I think the tech industry would be a better place if writers actually started to spend a bit of time with kit before deciding that it was a waste of time, a mess, or too ambitious. (And you can bet that had Apple released a much more locked-down Watch, with a razor-sharp focus and far fewer functions, ZDNet would have been whining about Apple’s closed nature, and how the device was a rip-off for the few things it enabled you to do.)

March 16, 2015. Read more in: Apple, Opinions, Technology


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