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The trouble with troubleshooting iOS

Ted Landau | March 17, 2014
You know what the trouble with troubleshooting iOS is?

You know what the trouble with troubleshooting iOS is?

You can't do it. Because it doesn't exist.

Okay, I'm exaggerating a bit. There are a few basic things you can try when something goes wrong on your iPhone or iPad, such as force-quitting an app or restarting your device. You can also revert to some basic settings from Settings > General > Reset. If none of that helps, you can always erase and restore your iOS device from a backup. But really, that's about it. If none of those options work, your either have to wait for the relevant update from Apple or take your device to the Apple Store.

That state of affairs stands in stark contrast to Mac troubleshooting. I had occasion to reflect on this recently as I was writing up my latest Bugs & Fixes column. In the course of attempting to diagnose and remedy a problem with my Mac's camera, I employed Disk Utility to repair permissions, performed a Safe Boot, shifted to a separate login account, cleared cache files, checked Console error logs, killed a process via Activity Monitor, temporarily removed items from various Library folders and ran several Terminal commands.

Not one of these techniques is available for iOS troubleshooting. In theory, nearly all of them are technically  possible. After all, iOS is a variation of OS X and contains most of the same underlying capabilities. With a jailbroken iOS device, for example, you can run Terminal commands and access the various Library folders. But Apple provides few options for the non-jailbroken among us to do any of this — and none of them accessible to casual users.

All of which leads to the key question: Does the absence of troubleshooting tools in iOS matter? Is Mac-like troubleshooting even desirable on an iOS device?

The case against troubleshooting in iOS
From Apple's perspective, the answer is clearly no. Unlike the Mac, iOS devices have been designed from the ground up to be closed boxes. Rather than view this as a potential liability, Apple would argue it's an asset for these consumer-aimed devices. While it makes under-the-hood troubleshooting next to impossible, it also makes it far less likely that you will need to do so, the theory being that less can go wrong if everyone and everything is locked out.

The goal is for iOS devices to work as simply and reliably as most other current consumer electronics, from televisions to microwave ovens. For such devices, troubleshooting options are generally quite limited. What options do exist are typically found in the slim back pages of the device's manual, and if they're not sufficient, it's time to call the repairman — or head off to the store for a new model.

 

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