Get rid of those iPhone backup woes

by Milind Alvares

Get rid of those iPhone backup woes

by Milind Alvares on September 11, 2008

With the release of the iPhone 2.0 software, the time taken for each backup on every sync has been increased so much that docking that iPhone seems like a scary proposition these days. In my own experience, it takes only about fifteen odd minutes. However, there have been some widespread reports of it taking 6-8 hours for each backup for a lot of people.

Here’s a little background info: With the very first release of the iPhone software (v1.0.0), the backup used to copy over just the SMS, bookmarks, and small amounts of data from here and there. It was an incremental backup and usually didn’t take more than a few seconds. With the 2.0 software update, however, if there is any change in any application or service, iTunes will make a full image of the iPhone file system (excluding music and other media). This amounts to around 250MB for the iPhone file system plus whatever other applications you might have installed. Why is this not an incremental backup? I don’t know. What I do know is how you can get rid of the pesky process.

The simplest way is to hit the ‘X’ button in the iTunes sync window. It will cancel the backup and continue with the sync process. This is the same on Mac as well as Windows. You should know, however, that this will corrupt your previous completed backup, so if your iPhone does tank out, you won’t be able to restore your iPhone to any of its previous states. 

Another way is to disable the iTunes backup completely. It involves a Terminal hack, so be careful as it might potentially damage your Mac and your iPhone. Quit iTunes and launch the Terminal (and if you do not know how to, you probably shouldn’t be attempting these sorts of things). Now just copy the code below, paste it into the Terminal window, and hit return:

defaults write com.apple.iTunes DeviceBackupsDisabled -bool true

The backup process should now be completely bypassed and you won’t be troubled anymore. If you do need to backup again, use that same string of text with the value set to ‘false’ instead of ‘true’. I have tested this and it works, but several reports claim that the iPhone got corrupted and had to be restored at an Apple Store. 

Backup disabler application for iTunes MacNow, a crafty developer at Twelve Pin has wrapped that little bit of Terminal trickery into a GUI application simply called Backup Disabler. It sports just one single button, to Enable or Disable the backup, and is exactly the right tool for the job at hand. It also locks the previous iPhone backup so it won’t accidentally get corrupted. I have tested this and it works as advertised (and if you’ve been following diligently so far, you must have realised that nothing ever goes wrong in my life).

For Windows users, we have a similar application called iPhone Backup Switch. I haven’t tested this one it doesn’t seem to be giving any problems to anyone. It works with XP and Vista and also comes with an uninstaller (isn’t it nice when developers thoughtfully include that).

One last thing I should mention about these painful backups is that you should stop using any kind of USB hub. Using a hub can make the backup take 4-6 hours to complete, without which it usually finishes within 10 minutes or so. This includes plugging the iPhone in your monitor USB ports as well as any ports on your keyboard, basically any non-standard USB port.

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