October 12, 2011 at 4:25 pm

Anatomy of an iOS 5 Upgrade Fail

Apple rolled out the much-anticipated iOS 5 upgrade on Wednesday, bringing a bevy of helpful new features for music fans. However, the upgrade process is not going smoothly for everyone.

Here’s what happened the first two times I tried to update my iPhone 4 to Apple’s new iOS 5 operating system on Wednesday:

iphone ios 5 fail
The same thing is happening to at least five of my friends. Others report that they installed the update in minutes with no problem. At this point, there’s no way to know how widespread the problem is, although there certainly is one. (Please let me know if it’s happening to you.)

After the second fail, I followed each of Apple’s recommendations:

1. Yes, I have the latest version of iTunes (10.5).

2.  I updated a bunch of unrelated programs including iPhoto and Safari, on Apple’s recommendation, and restarted my computer as required.

3. I disconnected other USB devices. (During the first fail, I had an iPad plugged in.)

4. I don’t have any weird security settings, although my router was not made by Apple.

5. I restarted my computer (again).

Once again, the “Backing up ‘iPhone’” progress meter made scant progress, even after over twenty minutes:

ios 5 fail

Lo and behold, we encountered a third fail, even after exhausting Apple’s list of suggestions:

ios 5 fail

At least this time Apple gives us an error number, which yields the following suggestion:

If the steps listed in Error 3000-3999 do not resolve the issue, and you are using a Mac, you may be able to resolve an error 3004 by quitting iTunes and using the following command at the command line: dscacheutil -flushcache

Command line? I do remember encountering a similar cache flushing issue with a blogging tool at one point, but this is clearly not the “ready for primetime” experience we expect from Apple — and it’s even more frightening that the problem only seems to affect Macs.

We’re going to try that suggestion, and will keep updating this story as things progress. Even if it works, Apple’s iOS 5 upgrade process appears to be a pretty serious fail in some cases — one we have corroborated with multiple other iPhone users.

For now, my iPhone is bricked:

ios 5 failAnd my only option is to restore the iPhone to factory settings, losing all contacts. I have no choice but to trust that Apple will later be able to give me my contacts back… and right now, I don’t have a lot of trust in the process:

I bit the bullet and allowed Apple, which doesn’t have a lot of my trust right now, to delete everything on my phone. Then iTunes told me that Apple’s servers are down. This is bad.

ios 5 upgrade fail

Apple’s servers came back up, but error 3004 strikes again:

ios 5 failI tried the command line trick that Apple recommends for error 3004 for a second time:

ios 5 upgrade failMy iPhone is still bricked. I’ll let the following screenshots speak for themselves.


ios 5 fail


ios 5 fail

Caveat emptor.

Update: My iPhone became bricked — as in it couldn’t boot up, and iTunes couldn’t recognize it. If that happens to you too, follow the below directions from Apple, then keep trying to Restore your iPhone until you can then install iOS 5. I just tried it and while iTunes failed (for the umpteenth time) to restore my iPhone, at least it lets iTunes recognize your iPhone, which is a start. Here’s how to make iTunes recognize your iPhone again, so that you at least have a fighting chance of unbricking your iPhone (thanks for the suggestion, Josh Newman):

1. Disconnect the USB cable from the iPhone or iPod touch, but leave the other end of the cable connected to your computer’s USB port.
2. Turn off the device: Press and hold the Sleep/Wake button for a few seconds until the red slider appears, then slide the slider. Wait for the the iPhone or iPod touch to turn off.
▪ If you cannot turn off the device using the slider, press and hold the Sleep/Wake and Home buttons at the same time. When the device turns off, release the Sleep/Wake and Home buttons.
3. While pressing and holding the Home button, reconnect the USB cable to iPhone. When you reconnect the USB cable to iPhone, the device should power on.
 Note: If you see the screen pictured below, let the device charge for at least ten minutes to ensure the battery has some charge and then start with step 2 again.

 4. Continue holding the Home button until you see the “Connect to iTunes” screen. When this screen appears you can release the Home button:

5. If necessary, open iTunes. You should see the following “recovery mode” alert:

 6. Use iTunes to restore the device.

However, be forewarned — just because iTunes can recognize your iPhone is no guarantee that Apple’s servers will be up to the task of upgrading your iPhone. Even after following these instructions, I ended up here once again:

ios 5 upgrade repair instructionsUpdate 7:30pm ET: Apple’s iOS 5 servers are still down or too busy to serve the update. My iPhone remains in limbo:

7:54pm ET: Restore is finally in progress. I started this process about six hours ago:

8:11pm ET: It’s alive. Sort of.

8:14pm ET: It’s restoring my apps. I had over 250:

8:31pm ET: The iPhone is usable again, and iCloud is installing (there wasn’t enough storage in the free 5GB iCloud to back up my 32GB iPhone 4 for free, but that’s a different story):

9:08pm ET: Apps almost restored (it finished shortly thereafter):

Now for the iPad.

10:40pm ET:

11:56pm ET:

ios 5 ipad update8:34am ET: The iPad update seems to be going a lot smoother this morning. The install didn’t happen last night, but the iOS 5 installer for iPad downloaded in about ten minutes this morning. It’s restoring the apps:

Our iPad upgrade failed too, although not as badly: See part two of this 22-hour saga.

  • Jmspicer

    I had the exact problem; after doing the command-line entry with no success, I performed a SMC reset as described in one of the 3000-level error messages and restarted. Appears to be updating normally now.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=38420402 Adam Sisenwein

    been having trouble updating my ipod touch. checked the software update and there’s a few things I’m behind on. will attempt to download those and try again. need my ipod for my commute home!!!!

  • Glenn Steers

    Having the same problem with my iPad 1. I completely erased it from the Settings memory (likewise trusting in backups) and am in process with my iPhone 4. Maybe Steve Jobs ghost in the machine??

  • Jasoncallister

    Also having this problem. I receive the error when trying to restore the phone. I get up to ‘restoring iphone firmware’ and then receive the error.

    after 4th attempt to restore it actually looks as if it’s worked. Will post again my findings

  • Rebday24

    same issue :( been going back and forth for 2 hours now.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1576063152 Laura Keating

    Same problem. I’ve tried updating about a half dozen times even after troubleshooting. No luck!

  • Jason

    worked, keep trying dudes

  • Sp1z

    Just had pretty much the same experience.  After running a ping to gs.apple.com at the same time as the upgrade, i realise that at some critical points it fails to contact the server, giving the error.  I’m on my 6th attempt now, and it looks like it has got past the “just past the apple logo” bit where it hung before.

    Not sure if it helps but i restarted my router before this.  Can’t see how this would help, but there we go.

    I suppose my advice is “keep on trying”.

  • Acacioli

    same problem here.  just on with apple tech.  said they are getting a new call every 2 seconds..no solution for me.  phone is dead.

  • Brian

    Same thing happend to my iPhone 3Gs – flushed the dns cache and tried a few more times. That did the trick :-/ Must me overloaded I guess. Just be patient.

    Good luck

  • Rick Kaseguma

    Same thing here – though I manged to get into an even worse state. I apparently half succeeded in upgrading on my ~10th attempt and now the phone has little spinning circle thing for a minute then reboots. And it won’t show up in iTunes anymore!

  • nursebbL

    MIne did all of the above.. i tried one more time to just simply restore, and its finally worked. Now itunes says “Restoring iPhone Apps” but my phone, still plugged to macbook, is on the normal lock screen but I’m afraid to unlock it and use it until itunes says its ok… ? hah. 

  • Eric

    Worked for me as well. I had to restart iTunes after running command line and the iPad finally restored on IOS5.

  • Musojon74

    3 in a row “can’t contact update server”.   Wonder if it’s a: fallen over or b: they are currently pulling the update or something.  Still bricked as it stands. I was having the 3004 error initially.

  • Fredsax

    I, too am having the same problem after trying all the things listed above.

  • fddjmu

    I’m having similar results.  This is a real mess!!!

  • Musojon74

    OK this time we’ve got back to the verifying iphone restore with apple.  Server back up (kindof)

  • Musojon74

    Oo – er – “The iphone “iphone” could not be restored.  THe device cannot be found.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_WD6ILKCY3AMQ6Y3XHG7WVQNS7Y morwen

    I didn’t get bricked, but immediately I got the bottom screen shot error when trying to upgrade either my iPad2 or my iPhone4.

  • Musojon74

    3004 again.

  • Trialtech1965

    Exact same thing is happening to me! this sucks. I thought this would painless. whoops?!?! Epic Fail so far!!!

  • Riony

    Same thing happening to me. Now my iPhone is an expensive paper weight! Yaaaay!


  • Eoghantansey

    my iphone 4 is stuck in a never ending loop of apple logo and spinning wheel, any solutions, ????? help

  • Foster Hagey

    Same thing for me.  Must have tried 5 or 6 times.  Errors every time.

  • Pantelis Goudis

    Hello from Greece, 

    Same thing here, i am mad as hell! 

  • Eoghantansey

    i guess there is no hope tonite, all apple support tel lines in the eu are closed for the night nd nothing to be found online

  • Tcormier

    I don’t want to jinx it but I think mine is progressing after the fourth attempt and being bricked on the third. Fingers crossed.

  • Pantelis Goudis

    Ok latest news from thenextweb is that the servers are down and handling only half of the requests. Some people reported success after the 10th time. Guys have a coffee (or a drink depending on the timezone..)

  • Ran

    same here using windows and iphone 4
    dame apple

  • Netregger

    Same here. Tried with 2 macs. First downloaded the update for about an hour, second one took 7mins.

  • Eoghantansey

    well, if my phone is stuck and wont restore what can i do???? itunes wont even acknowledge my phone

  • http://evolver.fm Eliot Van Buskirk

    Rick, that’s where I am too. It looks like I’ll be getting in line with the rest of the unfortunate upgraders at the Apple store tomorrow.

  • Bremel

    Same problem here.
    iPhone doesn’t do anything at the moment!

  • peter

    same here – but got a full backup done before it.

    so more than likely lost the whole lot.  note to self: never update immediately

  • Joao Gabriel Goms

    Greetings from Brazil! the exactly same thing here! even the same stages…

  • http://twitter.com/johandewit Johan de Wit

    Same here!?!!?!?

  • Peanutcrunch

    Same here!  Same everything.  Sucks… what to do???

  • Eoghantansey

    oh well everyone has the problem, not seeing any solutions hee or by apple, on the phone now to apple usa, its ringing but nobodies answering

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Hengsi-Qin/1015019379 Hengsi Qin

    Hi there, here is another victim of error 3004. Now my iPhone becomes iBrick! 

  • Anonymous

    I had the same problem. Ive tried over 20 times. Done the exact same as you. As im reading this blog of yours, its restoring it for me. Its to do with there servers. Everyone is doing it. Dont worry. :) mine is restoring the software perfectly now. Just keep trying! 

  • jrozcan

    same thing happened to me!!!

  • http://twitter.com/johandewit Johan de Wit

    iPhone 4 now only show Apple Logo, then some turning of the “busy” icon… No solution yet… anybody?

  • Sgyblee

    just keep trying the restore. mine finally worked after 7~9th try lol. it seems like apple server is overwhelmed right now…

  • Jbc

    so is this just a connection problem…. i’ve tried several times and it stops when restoring firmware :( (ipad2)

  • Anonymous

    i may have spoke too soon… it got right to the end of the update.. my iphone had the installer bar on it… and then it crashed again.. same error message. :( will keep trying.

  • http://twitter.com/johandewit Johan de Wit

    But is you guy’s phone visible in iTunes? Or what do you guys see on the iPhone screen? Mine won’t even “buzz” if I link the USB to my MacBook now…

  • JOHNNY_5

    snap I’m getting this & have been trying for an hour now & tried all the tricks above!

  • Anonymous

    you need to restart your iphone. Hold down the main home button and the off button until it resets. You’ll see the apple logo appear and then the device appear in iTunes. :) 

  • Tcormier

    All better… yeah

  • http://twitter.com/vanaman Sean Vanaman

    did you figure this out or know how to stop it? mine is in this loop and not sure how it happened (was just getting the 3004 error and then iPhone 4 would go into restore mode. now i’m in the infinite apple logo/spinning wheel loop.)