How to Troubleshoot Your iOS Device

Our iPhones, iPads, and iPod touches are unquestionably magical devices and brought to us by The Future. Nevertheless, our wonderful iOS devices will inevitably encounter the occasional slow-downs, hangs and crashes. Even on the Starship Enterprise we see the crew's iPads misbehave on occasion.

Captain Jean-Luc Picard with his iPad on the bridge of the U.S.S. Enterprise.

Even Jean-Luc will fix 95% of his iPad's issues by engaging in proper iOS troubleshooting techniques.

After all, our little electronic assistants are not just cellphones, productivity tools, music players, game consoles and e-readers. They are computers. Computers of the most personal kind. But computers nonetheless, and computers – being extremely complex devices and programmed by humans – will suffer the occasional hiccup.

We can talk about mitigating problems on iOS devices in another article. For now, I offer you a guide that lists the actions you can take to successfully troubleshoot your device. You'll be happy to learn that these actions will fix about 95% of the problems you may encounter. This is because most problems are software related.

Apple recently recommended a number of actions for you to take prior to visiting the Genius Bar because of an issue with your device. Why do you suppose they did this? For the same reason I alluded to above: most issues can be resolved with a sequence of easy steps that you can take yourself. You save yourself the trip to the mall (always a good thing), and you help Apple focus more on retail sales and assisting customers with undisputed technical problems.

A child's toy set depicting a Genius Bar at the Apple Store.

The Apple Geniuses will use the same troubleshooting techniques discussed here.

Okay, let's shoot some trouble, shall we?

Note: The following information covers issues related to the routine use of apps as well as device responsiveness. While specific connectivity and telephony issues are not covered here, most of these procedures can be used universally to solve problems on un-jailbroken devices.

Before we start, at the risk of vexing my consultant colleagues, I present you with the top three, age-old general-purpose personal computer troubleshooting principles:

  1. Advance through specific troubleshooting steps in sequence, starting with the easy ones – the quick-and-easy steps that cause the least impact – and progressing through increasingly complex ones;
  2. This is really, really important: after each step, test to see if you can reproduce the problem;
  3. Keep detailed notes – and screen captures, if possible – in case you need to relay your troubleshooting steps to the Genius for further analysis. This makes the process go faster when at the Bar, and makes you look good, too.

Whenever you do any kind of troubleshooting, you should consider the state of your data. If you are able to, be sure to refresh your backups before you start. If you are not certain about this, you should seek advice from someone in-the-know.

Let's go through the iOS troubleshooting guide. This is a series of steps you progress through, in the order presented, until the issue is resolved.  Note that these steps apply to any sort of issue with your device – from crashing apps to unresponsiveness. Just so you know, there may be other factors to consider, such as specific misconfigured settings or external influences that are at the root of certain problems.

Step 0: Check the condition of your device. Is there any obvious damage to the device? Is it powered up? Is it recharging properly? Check the condition of the cable and charger. If in doubt, swap them out with known good ones. This step may seem obvious, but is often disregarded nevertheless.

Step 1: SUSPEND and relaunch the offending app. If an app "hangs" or "freezes," try to suspend it by clicking on the Home button to return to the home screen. If the app "crashes" or "unexpectedly quits," abruptly and unceremoniously returning you to the home screen, then relaunch the app.

This is a good time to verify that you have the latest version of the app. Oh, and by the way, if you are not up-to-date with your installed iOS version, perhaps you should consider updating that if it supports your device.

Step 2: FORCE-QUIT the offending app by first making sure you are on the Home screen. Then click the Home button twice. A bar listing "recently used" apps pops-up from the bottom. Don't confuse this list with the regular app Dock at the bottom of the Home screen.

With a few exceptions, these apps are in a sort of suspended state and "in the background." This is what constitutes the controversial Multitasking feature that Apple introduced with iOS 4. Locate the offending app by swiping the list left or right, then tap-and-hold on the app until it begins to tremble uncontrollably. This condition is called the "Jiggle Mode." You know… it's kind of like the apps get nervous and tremble in fear because something's about to happen. Tap the red minus sign on the app's icon. The app disappears from the list indicating that it has force-quit. Press the Home button to exit Jiggle mode. You may now restart the app.

An iPhone screen shows the standard app Dock raising to reveal the list of

Tap on the little red minus sign on the app you want to force-quit.

Step 3: RESTART the device. This is a "soft-reboot" - similar to a Mac restart. Press-and-hold the Sleep/Wake button (top button) for a few seconds until the red "slide to power off" slider appears, and then go ahead and slide the slider to power off. Once the shut-down spinning gear goes away, restart your device by press-and-holding the Sleep/Wake button for a couple of seconds until the Apple logo appears. Wait for the device to start up completely.


If you change your mind, press the Cancel button at the bottom of the screen.

Step 4: RESET the device. This is a "hard-reboot" - sort of like doing a Mac Shutdown followed by a restart. Do this by press-and-holding the Sleep/Wake button and the Home Button together for at least ten seconds, until the Apple logo appears. Wait for the device to start up completely.

Step 5: FORCE-QUIT all apps. First, as detailed in step 2, bring the list of recently used apps back and put them in Jiggle mode. Go through all the apps in the list and tap on the red minus sign on the app icons to force quit each one. Because of the Auto-Save feature in iOS, your data should be fine. Note: if you see a red X, then you are in the "App Deletion Mode." If so, exit by clicking the Home button. This gets you out of Jiggle mode. Start over, making sure to follow this step closely.

An app in Deletion Mode will show an X in the corner.

Be careful that you don't tap an icon with an "X" badge if all you want to do is force-quit an app.

Step 6: Delete and reinstall the offending app, even if you are certain that you have the latest version. First, locate the app on your device, and put it into Jiggle mode. To delete the app, it's OK now to tap the "X" in the corner of its icon. In the warning dialog that appears, tap Delete to remove the application and all of its data from your device.

Step 7: Contact the App's developer. If there are no other issues with the device other than a misbehaving app, consider contacting the developer to discuss the issues. Be sure you have documented details of the problems seen, and the troubleshooting steps you have taken.

Step 8: DECISION POINT. Things get a bit more complicated and time consuming at this point. You can choose to either: (a) visit the Genius Bar at your local Apple Store, or call AppleCare if your device is still under warranty and getting to an Apple Store is not possible, or (b) continue escalating the troubleshooting steps yourself as described below.

Step 9: RESTORE the device. You can restore all your device's software, data and settings by connecting it to your computer and opening iTunes. If the device appears in iTunes, select and click Restore on the Summary pane. Be sure to read any help screens for more information. If you're device has been backing up regularly to iCloud and/or iTunes on your computer, your data should be fine.

Step 10: Put the device into RECOVERY MODE. Finally, if nothing else works, and you faithfully completed every step to this point, the last thing to do, short of physically replacing the device's components (not likely) or getting the device replaced (more likely), is putting your device into Recovery Mode. This means that the device is returned to it's out-of-the-box, factory-fresh configuration. The process is not complicated but can be time-consuming. Once done, you treat your device as if you had just purchased it. You proceed through the same set-up/activation/installation process you performed when you brought your shiny new bauble home the first time.

For details on putting the device into Recovery Mode, I refer you to Apple's KnowledgeBase article HT1808, "Unable to Update or Restore." You can search for it on Apple's support site at Read it carefully.

The set-up screen on a new iPhone.

Putting an iOS device into recovery mode returns it to it's original out-of-the-box state.

If you follow all the troubleshooting steps in the order presented, I expect that most of you will successfully resolve whatever issue you had, within the first five steps. However, if you've reached this point without resolution, then force a final backup if you can, grab your device, along with it's sync cable and charger for good measure, and make the trip to the Apple Genius Bar. Don't forget to take your list of issues observed as well as all the troubleshooting steps you have completed.