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The trouble with troubleshooting iOS

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

This usually works out, because these devices typically function for years without requiring any significant troubleshooting. And even if something does go wrong, most users would hardly welcome having to deal with the equivalent of Disk Utility, Console logs, Library folders, and Terminal commands. The average consumer electronics user has enough trouble figuring out how to juggle home theater remote controls or program a digital alarm clock. If they were expected to master Mac-like troubleshooting for each device, they would probably throw up their hands in despair.

It's true that iPhones and Macs are different than most other digital devices, due to their complexity and available options. This increases the probability of running into problems. Regardless, iOS devices come remarkably close to matching the trouble-free standards of other "simpler" household digital devices. In my case, despite having a half-dozen iOS devices in active use in our home, it's very rare that something goes wrong with any of them that has me wishing I could access their Library folders or run Terminal.

The case for troubleshooting in iOS
Still, from my perspective, when things go wrong with a Mac, it helps that numerous troubleshooting options exist and are easily accessible. This way, people who are familiar with these tools can not only do their own troubleshooting but can also offer assistance to the less-skilled of their acquaintance — thereby avoiding the hassle of a trip to the Apple Store or the cost of a service call. For that matter, without these tools, even the people at the Apple Store would have a harder time diagnosing and solving Mac problems.

For the same reasons, I believe it would be preferable if Mac-like troubleshooting tools were freely available for iOS. Sure, you can argue that this might encourage potentially dangerous experimentation by beginning users — experimentation that could on occasion lead to the user making things worse. However, I don't worry too much about that; for one thing, I'm unaware of pervasive problems caused by troubleshooting gone astray on Macs. Most Mac users probably aren't aware of the existence of tools such as Terminal, much less have ever launched them. I wouldn't expect things to be any different with iOS devices. In any case, with a backed-up iOS device, you could almost always recover from whatever harm was done — with much less effort than on a Mac.

The future of troubleshooting
Despite my preferences, I know that a broadened suite of iOS troubleshooting options is not likely to happen. I see no sign that Apple is planning to provide end-user access to iOS Library folders or offer Terminal in the App Store. For one thing, it would largely defeat the purpose of sandboxing and App Store restrictions, allowing third-party modifications to iOS that, for various reasons, Apple wants to prohibit. For reasons I've already cited, I've gradually come to accept the viability of Apple's position. I see how infrequently these troubleshooting tools are needed in iOS and as time goes on I expect iOS devices to become even more bulletproof.


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