Episode #84: When Good iPhones Go Bad...

Let me begin with this: I think the iPhone is the coolest and most useful piece of tech gear I've used in this decade. Nothing has stirred my geeky juices the way the iPhone has since... well, since my first Mac in 1985. And, just as it was with that first Mac, I'm doing everything in my power to spend as much hands-on time with my iPhones as possible.

Yes, I said iPhones with an "s." At the moment I have two iPhone 3Gs myself -- one an Apple review unit, the second my personal phone, which I just picked up last Friday. And, since my wife and both kids also have iPhones, I'm the tech support guy for five of 'em these days. And much as I love them, I've seen (and fixed) more than my share of iPhone issues over the past year. But until last Saturday I hadn't lost my temper or my faith even once.

That all changed Saturday afternoon when my 1-day old iPhone 3G had a catastrophic failure and froze at the Apple startup screen. I tried every trick in the book to no avail before swallowing my pride and heading to my local Apple Store at The Domain in Austin, TX.

But before I relate that story, allow me to digress for a moment. Late last year the SuperDrive on my MacBook Pro bit the dust. Since it was still under warranty, I took it down to the Apple Store at The Domain, thinking I could just drop it off to be fixed. Instead, I was told that the next available appointment was in two days. I explained that I didn't really need an appointment, I merely needed to drop off my MacBook Pro for a SuperDrive replacement. But no dice. Since I didn't want to be without my optical drive any longer than necessary, I asked the Apple guy, only half kidding, how much would it cost me to get the repair started today. Much to my surprise he replied, "just $99." I thought he was putting me on but he explained that I could purchase a ProCare membership for $99, and that would allow me to drop off my computer right now and probably have it back in a day or two. Needless to say, I paid for a ProCare membership on the spot.

Now, fast-forward to Saturday night... I'm pretty angry that my one-day old iPhone has died, but I'm not getting stressed because I am a ProCare member. I expect to walk into the store, flash my elegant black ProCare card, and hand over my iPhone to be repaired or replaced. But that was not how it turned out. The guy at the Apple store was totally sympathetic as he informed me that the first available appointment was on Monday at 2:30PM. I showed him my ProCare card again and asked if I could just give him the dead phone. He replied that he just couldn't do that and I would have to sign up for the next available appointment, which was on Monday at 2:30PM.

I was not a happy camper but I booked the appointment and went on home. I thought perhaps I misunderstood how ProCare worked, so I surfed to the Apple ProCare Web page to check it out. Here's what it says:

If you have a quick technical question or need to drop off a repair, just flash your ProCare card. You'll skip right to the head of the line at the Genius Bar -- and we'll take care of the rest.

In other words, I thought I paid $99 for the privilege of skipping to the head of the line to drop off my repair. But instead, I paid $99 for the privilege of waiting two days before skipping back to the Apple Store for the first available appointment.

Now I was pissed. I resolved to speak to the manager about it when I returned on Monday for my appointment. But since I wasn't even going to have my phone looked at until Monday, I decided to spend a few hours searching for a fix online.

Before I reveal the magical technique that brought my iPhone back from the dead, let me tell you a few of the things I tried first.

I started with the Apple iPhone Troubleshooting Assistant and its six "R's."

    1. Recharging didn't help.

    2. Restarting didn't help.

    3. Resetting (by pressing the Home and Sleep/Wake buttons simultaneously for 10 seconds) didn't help.

    4. The fourth "R" stands for "Remove content." But since I couldn't get past the Apple startup screen, I couldn't even try it.

      Trust me, it wasn't for lack of trying. I connected the iPhone to my Mac. I swapped USB cables. I tried a different USB port. I launched iTunes manually. I rebooted my Mac. I tried connecting my iPhone to my wife's iMac. No matter what I did, the iPhone would freeze as soon as the Apple logo screen appeared.

    5. The fifth "R" is "Reset settings." Again, since I couldn't get past the Apple logo I couldn't tap the Settings icon or tap General --> Reset --> Reset All Settings.

    6. And the sixth "R" is for "Restore," which again requires iTunes to recognize your iPhone. So that was a no-go, too.

Moving right along, I tried removing the SIM card, inspecting it for dust, dirt, or damage (there was none) and then reinserting it to no avail.

And, though I held out little hope it would work, I even downloaded a fresh copy of iTunes and reinstalled it, which as I expected, did nothing.

Then I Googled and Googled, scoured the Apple support pages, and read Apple User Discussion board threads. And guess what? Early Sunday morning that was where I found the solution. I'm a bit embarrassed to admit that it's a relatively simple procedure and one I used last year to revive a recalcitrant first generation iPhone. But, as often happens when you get to be my age, I had completely forgotten about it.

So I smacked myself in the head and wondered why I hadn't thought to search the User Discussions first instead of last? If I had only done that, I would have saved countless hours!

Note to self: Next time you encounter a vexing problem, start with the User Discussions instead of ending with them...

Anyway, you can read the whole thread here. Or, if you'd rather just cut to the chase and see how I revived my "stuck-at-the-Apple-logo" iPhone, here is the post:

Re: My iPhone has frozen on the startup screen! What to do!
Posted: Jul 12, 2008 6:16 AM in response to: chgriffiths

I had a similar problem, and the only way to fix it was to put the phone into recovery mode and have it completely wiped and reset.

To do this, turn it off... if it is stuck on the Apple screen hold the Sleep/Wake button and Home button... make sure to let go of the Sleep/Wake button first when it turns off, then the Home button, or else it will try to turn back on.

Then hold the Home button and connect the iPhone to your computer. After a few seconds of the Apple logo, it should change to the Connect to iTunes screen and iTunes should prompt with a message about recovery mode.

This worked for me, but since I fixed it, I have had the issue occur yet again. Seems like there is some major issue with some application I have downloaded (possibly DRM related) and it seems to make my issues reoccur. Hopefully, though, this can help some others.

I'd like to thank sculver04 from Louisiana for posting this message. If not for you, kind sir or madam, I might still be in iPhone-less misery. You are a true gentleman (or gentlewoman), scholar, and savior; may all of your iPhones work flawlessly forever.

There is one last thing: It has been a little over two days and my iPhone is still working flawlessly (knock on wood) and hasn't crashed, had an application quit unexpectedly, spontaneously rebooted, or frozen even once since it was revived.

And that's all he wrote. . .