Four words that make you cringe but they don't have to

By Laura Haight

I hadn't intended to spend all day messing around with my iPhone. It just happened. One small technical issue turned into a daylong project when the Apple Tech on the phone spoke those four little words: "We have to restore."

In the same way a marriage can become so comfortable that you begin to take each other for granted, your relationship with your smartphone carries the same joys and risks. You are always there for me, you take care of me, I don't have to worry about you. 

Of course, I had a backup. But some problems are deep in the core and restoring from backups can simply bring back the problem you were trying to correct. Reinstalling a clean OS demands that you bring over clean versions of your applications and reconnect them to the cloud service or start all over again. 

I thought I had it all covered, no worries. Still it took me all day to get my phone back to where I wanted it. And some things I thought I had covered that I didn't.

Here are some pitfalls you can avoid. These are iPhone specific, but will apply generally to other mobile devices as well.

Clean out the cobwebs: I had 158 apps on my phone yesterday; today I have 50. I transferred all my app store purchases to iTunes before restoring, so everything was there and I could pick and choose the apps to bring back. I was stunned by the amount of junk I've been lugging around. OK, it wasn't junk to start with. Because smartphones make it so easy to get an app the second you need it, you download a lot that you may only need once. Like the app that can read the paint on your lawyer's conference room wall and tell you what the Benjamin Moore paint color would be. There were a lot like that.

Save important content: Although you may have only used an app once or twice, you may find - as I did - that the information you captured with it was important. Most apps have a way of exporting the photos, documents, notes, audio, video, etc. This is a good quick maintenance chore that will save you some sadness the next time you hear: "We have to restore."

Protect your photos: I can't speak for other phone types, but Apple makes it really easy to get careless about your photos. Before I restored the OS, the Apple tech reminded me to upload all my photos to iPhoto (or Flickr, or SmugMug...). We orchard-livers may think Photostream is saving all those pictures for us. Not so. Just a month's worth or 1,000 pictures, whichever comes first. So make it a habit to regularly upload your camera's photos to your photo storage/sharing service. Or, as the phone goes, so go all those priceless moments like when your dog ate the window blinds. Oh, wait, that was my priceless moment.

Save backup codes: I am a huge proponent of two-factor authentication to protect your online accounts. But I learned something yesterday: It is really important to have backup codes. Most two-factor systems provide the ability to a set of text backup codes to use if you don't have access to your phone or your personal computer, or if you have to reset your account. Google Authenticator, for example, had to be reinstalled from scratch. So I had to set up new two-factor authentication codes from each of the services I used. Which meant signing into them, which I couldn't do without the authenticator code. Well, you see the problem. Get the backup codes. Save the image of the barcode you scanned and the email with any recovery codes the service might send you. Evernote is great for keeping things like this. This is not a reason NOT to use 2FA; it is a reason to save and secure the necessary info to get into your account.

It took the better part of the day and was at times a frustrating and irritating process. But today I feel great. My iPhone is a lean, mean, business-doing machine unencumbered by outdated versions of single-function apps or games I never was any good at. I am thinking of going through the same process with my iPad. This time, I'll plan for it. Not just waiting for those four little words: "We have to restore"!