Apple now blocks iOS app backups, but you can do something about it

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If it hasn't happened to you already, then some day you're going to lose an iOS app that's been taken off the app store, and Apple's choices along the way may stop you from getting it back. Maybe we'll someday have to learn to live with it but for now, AppleInsider shows what you can do.

Choosing between iTunes and iCloud backup


Try looking on the bright side for a moment. For years everyone has been telling you to back up your iPhone to your Mac and you've never bothered. Now you don't have to -- but that's because as of macOS Mojave, there's just no point.




It's true that plugging our phones into iTunes has been inconvenient. So let's take a moment to applaud how Apple has made iCloud backups better over the years.

And now rage about how what's really happened is that the iTunes backup has been reduced. There is no longer any discernible difference between the two and that's because Apple has removed the single greatest reason to back up to your Mac.

Previously you were able to make backups of your iOS apps: plug your phone into iTunes on your Mac and it backed up your apps.

It also let you pick one of those apps and drag files to it via your Mac. We don't miss that because it was slow and fiddly, at least compared to the ease we now have of doing the same thing automatically with iCloud Drive. Still, we used it and it was sometimes the handiest solution.

It's the backups we miss. The backups. Say you delete an app and then change your mind. Or perhaps you have to dump a pile of apps to get enough room on your iPhone to install an iOS update. Once an app is off your iPhone, you are risking never being able to get it back.

Now, granted, that's a worst case but we'd rather be pessimistic than take Apple's optimistic view. The company believes that you can delete your apps and always be able to restore them simply by re-downloading what you need from the App Store.

Download past purchases on iPad


You can see their logic. Any of us can search the App Store and when we find an app we've previously bought, it's shown to us with an iCloud download icon instead of the price or a Get button. Click on that and the app redownloads.

Don't be on the road, though. The App Store will not let you download anything bigger than 150MB over cellular, regardless of how good your plan is.

Whereas before, if you backed up to iTunes on a MacBook, you could have that with you on the road and just restore the app directly from there to your iPhone.

Still, most people do either go to the App Store or maybe schlep though their previous purchase list. To get that you just have to open the App Store app on your phone, tap Updates, then tap on your profile photo, next tap on Purchased, then My Purchases, wait for the long list to load and then finally search for the app.

You can mock the number of steps you have to go to if what you want is to scroll through your previous purchases to find an app whose name you've forgotten. However, the facility is there and every app is available to you immediately -- except it isn't and never has been.

Lost apps

Apple removes apps from the App Store. Permanently. We wouldn't dream of complaining when those apps are discovered to be stealing our data as naturally any kind of malicious app needs to be removed. Come on, we're not Android users.

Sometimes the decision is more controversial, such as last month when Apple dropped Alex Jones's Infowars app as well as the commentator's podcasts from iTunes.

Surprisingly often, there's nothing wrong with the app and they haven't transgressed Apple's rules -- but they have contravened local regulations. Such as when in August 2018, Apple removed thousands of gambling apps in the China version of the App Store. Or a year before when Apple removed VPN apps from the same store.

Or one more example: Apple removed messaging app Telegram after pressure from the Russian government -- but then restored it.

Ultimately Apple has control over what is in its App Store and generally we're fine with that because it's part of the whole process that means we get far fewer problematic apps than are in the Google Play store. We can imagine losing an app this way that we'd rather keep but there's more of an issue with who has, well, penultimate control.

Detail from a developer's iTunes Connect account page


Developers can remove their own apps at any point by changing the rights and territories details in their iTunes Connect account.

Usually that means they remove it from sale and the app remains available for download by anyone who's purchased it. However, that's never been guaranteed: we had an app we only installed every time a client needed us to and one day we couldn't get it back.

It was a terrible app and we didn't miss it but we learned that day to trust our iTunes Mac backups instead of the App Store.

That was one app for one AppleInsider staffer in the years since the App Store opened and your heart is bleeding for us. Only, if we're aware of it happening to us just once, still it happens often enough to people that up until this month, Apple has provided a solution.

While it didn't promote this, if you needed to backup or manage apps on your Mac then you could download a special version of iTunes. Shortly after the rest of us got version 12.7, you could elect to instead download iTunes 12.6.3. It was made to help business customers who might be managing multiple devices and apps for many staff but it worked for individual consumers just as well.

Even though it had an earlier version number than 12.7, Apple made your Mac regard 12.6.3 as the newer one so that it would install. It was also updated: it wasn't the same iTunes as previously released, it now supported then then-new iOS 11.

Downloading a special legacy edition of iTunes


Don't get excited by Apple's support page about how to use this special version of iTunes. While the Windows edition is still available from that page, Apple originally removed the Mac one last month and then returned it on October 2 -- without adding Mojave support.

Right from when Apple first released this legacy iTunes edition to help customers, the company has stressed that it does not support it. Now even though it has just updated this version to 12.6.5, it states that this is not compatible with macOS Mojave.

Mind you, Apple hasn't bothered to update the app's release notes to say that -- the Read Me still says macOS 10.10.5 or higher.

So whether you get it now or you already downloaded it, this version of iTunes is no use to you. It's not that it's a little incompatible, it isn't that there are some bugs, it's that it won't even launch under the new macOS.

The legacy version of iTunes won't install on Mojave


Apple says you don't need it. You can use an app called Apple Configurator 2 for Mac instead.

Give us strength

This free Configurator app is aimed at corporate IT users who have to prepare, install and maintain anywhere up to thousands upon thousands of iOS devices. Fortunately, it also works with one.

Launch screen of Apple Configurator 2


Unfortunately, it only works very, very badly. It is confusing and also somehow inconsistent in what it achieves.

If you launch it and plug in your iPhone, you can restore apps to your iOS device fro your Mac. By default it expects you to be getting them from your previous purchase history on the App Store. If that's right then it re-downloads them for you before going on to install them directly onto your device.

However, you can also elect to restore apps stored on your Mac. Click on Choose from my Mac and navigate to the right folder. Your apps are stored in /Music/iTunes/Mobile Applications and they are the app name with an extension of .ipa.

Apple Configurator 2 has a bug that means it sometimes displays a placeholder instead of an app


You're faster off going to that folder in the Finder to see if an app is there: Apple Configurator 2 is that slow. It will also sometimes just display a blank icon and the name Placeholder instead of the app's actual title. If you get a lot of those then there's no way to know which is the one you want.

However, if you get just one Placeholder then it is your correct search result and you can install it.

The single most useful thing Apple Configurator 2 did for us was to show how incredibly often apps have been removed. We have some 900 old apps stored in Mobile Applications and over and over we'd learn that app was gone from the store.

That doesn't matter, though, because we've got them and we can install directly from Apple Configurator 2 to our iOS device.

Or so you'd think

Pick an app and Apple Configurator 2 will install it to your iOS device. You can see it. It's there. Except sometimes the icon will be slightly dim and nothing happens when you tap on it. Other times the same app will launch when you tap on it, but you get an error message saying the developer must update it to work with iOS 12.

Then sometimes the app will open just fine -- for now. Go back to your iPhone after a few minutes and an app that Apple Configurator 2 finished downloading will have its status changed to Downloading or Waiting.

Later, it will change back again. Without you or Apple Configurator 2 having done anything.

Apps can download but then revert to downloading status


You thought iTunes was bloated but at least it worked. And what's more, it did one further thing that neither Apple Configurator 2 nor any other Apple app can do.

Save new apps

Next time you buy an app from the App Store, you have no Apple-provided way to save it to your Mac. You can't back it up to that Mobile Applications folder, you can't physically copy it anywhere.

Apple Configurator 2 will backup your iOS device -- but it ignores the apps.

There is a solution: third-party app iMazing will let you manage your new and old apps on your Mac. We looked at a version almost a year ago, and we'll be doing so again shortly.

It's intended for managing backups of music, photos and more but the app handling is the reason to buy it. For an individual user, iMazing costs $44.99 to use on one computer. It's also available on Setapp.

With Apple first shutting off apps in iTunes 12.7, then giving but taking away again the legacy iTunes 12.6.5, you have to wonder what's next. It doesn't seem possible that Apple will take any further steps to remove the ability for software to handle apps, however.

For developers must be able to create .ipa files before uploading them to the App Store. And while apps are .ipa files, those files must be copied and stored and managed somehow.

About that iTunes backup

There were other differences between backing up to iCloud and backing up to iTunes.

Apple maintains a support page on these differences but grows progressively shorter by the month. Today it more lists what they each don't do.

So right now neither iTunes backup nor iCloud ones will copy anything from iTunes, App or Apple Books Stores. Neither of them will copy Touch ID, Face ID or Apple Pay information.

Still, iCloud also won't backup Messages, Contacts, Calendars, Notes, iCloud Photos or text messages. That information is already on your Mac via iCloud but Apple's page says it's backed up and we're not clear whether this is semantics or a separate backup. Either way, so long as you get to save your data, we're happy.

We'd like app control and backup returned to us in some way but we'd also like to see some consistency. Right now iCloud backups are automatically encrypted and iTunes ones are not. You have to positively choose to make an iTunes backup be encrypted and that only takes a single click in a tick box.

However, unless you know to do that, your backups are not encrypted -- and that has an extra impact. Unencrypted iTunes backups will not contain the activity, health or keychain data from your iOS device until you switch on encryption.

So until you know that, your iCloud backup is actually better than the iTunes one.

We've come a long way from when we used to all plug our phones into our Macs every day. And if it's genuine progress, it's not all genuine progress.



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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 27
    cpsrocpsro Posts: 2,475member
    Apple is locking down macOS like it has locked down iOS. I've read that Mojave users can no longer download installers for prior versions of macOS, even to run in virtual machines. Need to see if developers are denied this, too.
    I'll bet the People's Republic of China is happy about these changes... and perhaps knew they were coming.
    edited October 2018 igohmmm
  • Reply 2 of 27
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 4,789administrator
    cpsro said:
    Apple is locking down macOS like it has locked down iOS. I've read that Mojave users can no longer download installers for prior versions of macOS, even to run in virtual machines. Need to see if developers are denied this, too.
    I'll bet the People's Republic of China is happy about these changes... and perhaps knew they were coming.
    Works fine here.
    dysamoriaigohmmmnetmage
  • Reply 3 of 27
    ...yet another reason to stick with older or refurbed hardware and High Sierra... I view any cloud dependence as an uneccessary vulnerability.

    12.6.5 download page did not even specify MacOS compatibility, or the version one is downloading (guess please) although it has been working well on High Sierra so far for me, now warning at least of Mojave incompatibilty:

    support.apple.com/en-us/HT208079 (12.6.5)

    forums.macrumors.com/threads/itunes-12-6-5-not-working-in-mojave.2142646/

    I have not even looked at Mojave, and hope it warns installers being forced to iTunes 12.9. Is this yet another frog boiling story...? Is iCloud now essentially mandatory?

    No thanks. Never knowingly in this camp.

    For consideration from one who knows more than me:

    macperformanceguide.com/AppleCoreRot-intro.html

    edited October 2018
  • Reply 4 of 27
    By coincidence, a few hours before this piece was posted, I bought iMazing, and immediately used it to load five discontinued apps — of which I had, courtesy of iTunes 12.6.3. backups — onto my iPhone X, which iTunes 12.6.3 wouldn't talk to. (The newest device I have that it will talk to is last year's iPad Pro.) This done, I've upgraded to the brave new, iTunes 12.7, world of Mojave. I do hope that iMazing keeps performing for me …
    space2001
  • Reply 5 of 27
    emoelleremoeller Posts: 453member
    I've used PhoneView for years.  It has recently been updated and I'm running it this morning with my iPhone Xs to see if it still archives everything as it has in the past.  I'll update when that process completes....
    MaxLe0p0ld
  • Reply 6 of 27
    MaxLe0p0ldMaxLe0p0ld Posts: 5unconfirmed, member
    I am also using PhoneView ( https://www.ecamm.com/mac/phoneview/ ) which is also cheaper ( $29.95 ) than iMazing & comes with a Lifetime Update. And I also find PhoneView more intuitive to use... I still hope that Apple reverts back the Decisions it has made with 12.7 and rolls them back once 12.8 or v13 gets released. As noted already Apple Configurator is not very Apple like and requires some love / rewrite!
  • Reply 7 of 27
    Company goes down. I have hardware that is used with that app remotely. Why Apple would want me to lose app? Sorry but that is some reason to: stick to old iOS, or jailbreak device, or move to other platform that does not do this thing. As long as it works on iOS on particular device I do not care what their policy is as I need to use it. I got license from app creator - not from Apple. If there are logistics problems due to iCloud then that is Apple problem and it does not need to be mine.
    viclauyycigohmmm
  • Reply 8 of 27
    This, as well as automated wireless backups and other conveniences is why I also bought iMazing a while back. Much better backup system than iTunes and I can manage all of my family's backups from one account instead of having to hop between user accounts to do backups. You have to be a masochist to keep using iTunes at this point.
  • Reply 9 of 27
    majorslmajorsl Posts: 119unconfirmed, member
    I have an older AirPlay speaker that I keep an older iPod touch around just in case I need to reconfigure its settings.  It still works great in my den with modern stuff, but the company and app are long gone and the App from the App Store is lost per the article, so I can't put it on my iPad.

    I shouldn't have to buy a new item because Apple can't figure out how I can keep an App that is 28k in size.

    I'm going to try some of the options you all have posted, thank you!
  • Reply 10 of 27
    cpsrocpsro Posts: 2,475member
    cpsro said:
    Apple is locking down macOS like it has locked down iOS. I've read that Mojave users can no longer download installers for prior versions of macOS, even to run in virtual machines. Need to see if developers are denied this, too.
    I'll bet the People's Republic of China is happy about these changes... and perhaps knew they were coming.
    Works fine here.
    In the App Store, it doesn't work for me to obtain High Sierra or El Capitan.
    Older installers are available on developer.apple.com
    edited October 2018 igohmmm
  • Reply 11 of 27
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 4,789administrator
    cpsro said:
    cpsro said:
    Apple is locking down macOS like it has locked down iOS. I've read that Mojave users can no longer download installers for prior versions of macOS, even to run in virtual machines. Need to see if developers are denied this, too.
    I'll bet the People's Republic of China is happy about these changes... and perhaps knew they were coming.
    Works fine here.
    In the App Store, it doesn't work for me to obtain High Sierra or El Capitan.
    Older installers are available on developer.apple.com
    I'm aware of the latter.

    I'm staring right at listings in my purchased section for Sierra and El Capitan. I'll make some calls.
    edited October 2018 igohmmm
  • Reply 12 of 27
    cpsrocpsro Posts: 2,475member
    cpsro said:
    cpsro said:
    Apple is locking down macOS like it has locked down iOS. I've read that Mojave users can no longer download installers for prior versions of macOS, even to run in virtual machines. Need to see if developers are denied this, too.
    I'll bet the People's Republic of China is happy about these changes... and perhaps knew they were coming.
    Works fine here.
    In the App Store, it doesn't work for me to obtain High Sierra or El Capitan.
    Older installers are available on developer.apple.com
    I'm aware of the latter.

    I'm staring right at listings in my purchased section for Sierra and El Capitan. I'll make some calls.
    I've looked in my purchased section, too, and didn't see any macOS installers.
    Furthermore, the macOS postings on developer.apple.com are only delta and combo updaters, no full installer for any past release.
    edited October 2018 igohmmm
  • Reply 13 of 27
    StrangeDaysStrangeDays Posts: 8,298member

    Why Apple would want me to lose app? Sorry but that is some reason to: stick to old iOS, or jailbreak device, or move to other platform that does not do this thing. 
    Sure. When are you switching? Does that mean we won't be able to look forward to your posts about Apple anymore?
    fastasleepmacguinetmage
  • Reply 14 of 27
    Meh, if an app is no longer on the AppStore then who cares? Do we really have to use ancient crap apps? I mean 99% of the 18 years I spent working in IT this attitude was the bane of my existence. I was basically keeping old crappy software running on new machines and frankly I’m glad I’m out of the game. Hell one project I worked on in 2005 was installing Win2K on brand spanking new HPs. FFS Win2K had been 10 years out of support by that time and it was all because “the software they were using just worked”.

    Never become so reliant on a piece of software that can’t be done by other software because things happen to developers and companies. Hell, remember when Microsoft ruled the world? Hahahahahahahaha. 😁
    fastasleep
  • Reply 15 of 27
    dysamoriadysamoria Posts: 2,270member
    Meh, if an app is no longer on the AppStore then who cares? Do we really have to use ancient crap apps? I mean 99% of the 18 years I spent working in IT this attitude was the bane of my existence. I was basically keeping old crappy software running on new machines and frankly I’m glad I’m out of the game. Hell one project I worked on in 2005 was installing Win2K on brand spanking new HPs. FFS Win2K had been 10 years out of support by that time and it was all because “the software they were using just worked”.

    Never become so reliant on a piece of software that can’t be done by other software because things happen to developers and companies. Hell, remember when Microsoft ruled the world? Hahahahahahahaha. 😁
    What kinds of work do these users do?

    You’re an IT person, for whom the mere operation of computers is your primary work task. For your clients, getting very specific work tasks done probably requires using specific software tools that they know and like. If it works, don’t change it, you know?

    You might not be reliant on any one specific tool because your work tasks don’t require such unique products. Your clients aren’t the same as you. Remember that when you’re complaining about what they want from you.
    viclauyycgrifmx
  • Reply 16 of 27
    cpsrocpsro Posts: 2,475member
    Meh, if an app is no longer on the AppStore then who cares?
    Chinese dissidents probably care, if not the general populous. Hopefully we don't care any time soon for the same reasons they might.

    As a developer, I also care about testing software compatibility with older Mac platforms and, with Mojave, Apple seems to be stifling this activity, too--installers for older releases of macOS are no longer available.
  • Reply 17 of 27
    I lost an app and its data, never to get them back. I had a flashcard app, into which I'd been inputting years of words that I need to periodically review/relearn. One day I woke up to find my iPhone stuck on the Apple logo. Had to reset it and reload from scratch. But this one app was no longer in the app store and I couldn't get it back. I begged Apple to please let me have a copy of the app so I could install it. They just said that an app developer can remove their app at any time, and too bad. I lost years worth of work.
  • Reply 18 of 27
    dysamoria said:
    Meh, if an app is no longer on the AppStore then who cares? Do we really have to use ancient crap apps? I mean 99% of the 18 years I spent working in IT this attitude was the bane of my existence. I was basically keeping old crappy software running on new machines and frankly I’m glad I’m out of the game. Hell one project I worked on in 2005 was installing Win2K on brand spanking new HPs. FFS Win2K had been 10 years out of support by that time and it was all because “the software they were using just worked”.

    Never become so reliant on a piece of software that can’t be done by other software because things happen to developers and companies. Hell, remember when Microsoft ruled the world? Hahahahahahahaha. 😁
    What kinds of work do these users do?

    You’re an IT person, for whom the mere operation of computers is your primary work task. For your clients, getting very specific work tasks done probably requires using specific software tools that they know and like. If it works, don’t change it, you know?

    You might not be reliant on any one specific tool because your work tasks don’t require such unique products. Your clients aren’t the same as you. Remember that when you’re complaining about what they want from you.
    There has to be limits. Keeping 30 year old software running “because it works” does not in any case make good business sense. Sooner or later it won’t work no matter what you do and the cost of upgrading will always be more than if you had done it earlier.

    Case in point was a Gas production company I worked in their IT department for. They were running software that at the time I was working for them was 20 years old. I told them they should upgrade. The hardware was old, it was already getting difficult to keep the software running and it was a nightmare to install. At the time it would have cost them about $1 mil New Zealand to upgrade. I left the company but returned about ten years later as a contractor and they were finally phasing our the software because it would not run at all on Win7 but it was costing them ten times as much to upgrade then than if they had listened to me and they would have had ten years more productivity as well.

    Yes my role was to look after the customer’s systems but that doesn’t mean the customer always makes the right decisions. Case in point, same company was spending $6 mil a year trying to get JD Edwards OneWorld running to the required standards. They had been trying for two years before I left and it was nowhere close. They chose this software because the person selling was sleeping with the person buying. If this is how you make purchasing decisions then they’d be much better just giving me the $6 mil for nothing. They’d still not have a working product but I’d have been nicely compensated for their idiotic decisions.
    razorpit
  • Reply 19 of 27
    fastasleepfastasleep Posts: 3,108member
    ...yet another reason to stick with older or refurbed hardware and High Sierra... I view any cloud dependence as an uneccessary vulnerability.

    12.6.5 download page did not even specify MacOS compatibility, or the version one is downloading (guess please) although it has been working well on High Sierra so far for me, now warning at least of Mojave incompatibilty:

    support.apple.com/en-us/HT208079 (12.6.5)

    forums.macrumors.com/threads/itunes-12-6-5-not-working-in-mojave.2142646/

    I have not even looked at Mojave, and hope it warns installers being forced to iTunes 12.9. Is this yet another frog boiling story...? Is iCloud now essentially mandatory?

    No thanks. Never knowingly in this camp.

    For consideration from one who knows more than me:

    macperformanceguide.com/AppleCoreRot-intro.html

    There is nothing in this article that states you *must* use iCloud for anything. You can still backup your iPhone locally to iTunes. 
  • Reply 20 of 27
    fastasleepfastasleep Posts: 3,108member
    Company goes down. I have hardware that is used with that app remotely. Why Apple would want me to lose app? Sorry but that is some reason to: stick to old iOS, or jailbreak device, or move to other platform that does not do this thing. As long as it works on iOS on particular device I do not care what their policy is as I need to use it. I got license from app creator - not from Apple. If there are logistics problems due to iCloud then that is Apple problem and it does not need to be mine.
    "I got license from app creator - not from Apple" — so, like, a provisioning profile or TestFlight install or enterprise program app? How is this Apple's problem or "logistics problem due to iCloud", whatever that means?
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