We’ve now seen four generations of iPhones, have witnessed iterations of the iPod Touch, and seen the birth of the largest iOS device, the iPad. And, of course, we’ve seen numerous versions of iTunes supporting the various iOS releases, with app management advances such as folders and the ability to import files like PDFs from iTunes itself. But yet somehow, despite all these advances, we’re still without core app management functionality like off-device data backup.
In other words, when we install an app on one of our iDevices, we can backup related data when we sync the iDevice with iTunes. In the even that our iDevice gets lost, breaks, or has some sort of iOS upgrade problem, we can always restore from our backup to not only get our apps back, but the respective data for those apps also. This means we don’t lose our app configurations, game backups, et al.
However, if we delete a particular app from our iDevice, even if we’ve synced the iDevice with iTunes in the past, any data associated with the deleted app is not only removed from the iDevice, but from iTunes as well. Thus, if we delete, say, a game, we lose all our associated achievements, and if we ever reinstall that game onto an iDevice in the future, we have to start from scratch. How is this good design?
One of two things should happen when one deletes an app from an iDevice:
If the iDevice was not synced with that app on it before, the user should be prompted with a message saying that deleting the app means losing all associated data too, unless the user first syncs the iDevice to iTunes before deleting the app.
The user should be prompted as to whether they wish to delete the app and its associated data, or just the app. If the latter is chosen, the next time the iDevice syncs with iTunes, it off-loads deleted app data that is still resident, and only deletes it once it’s been copied to iTunes.
Users should then be able to manage associated app data from within iTunes. This doesn’t mean they should be permitted to edit that data, but choose whether to keep it or simply delete it (assuming they never want to use the app again, else start with a fresh install).
Right now, too many issues still present themselves with iDevices not to have app data persistent somewhere, regardless of whether an app is maintained on a given iDevice. Just this past weekend, when we had to bring in our iPhone 3GS because it entered a restore-cycle, and ultimately handed a new iPhone 3GS, we were advised to set up the iPhone as a new device, and not restore from a previous backup. Getting our mail, calendars, and contacts back were a non-issue thanks to Mobile Me, but everything else was a hassle. We can deal with moving icons around to once again set up our iPhone interface like we want it, but getting every app set up again is a pain, and in the case of apps that don’t themselves backup to the cloud (like games), losing all associated data is unacceptable. Do we really need to wait much longer for this problem to be properly addressed by Apple?