Some early experiences with the Apple iPad – perhaps not as productive as I thought!

Written by Gary on September 28th, 2010

I bought an Apple iPad 64Gb 3G model last week for my wife to take on our trip to Europe.

Initial problems with iTunes syncing with no MicroSim card:

Initial sync with the latest version of iTunes running on Windows Vista refused to work until I installed a MicroSim card so it could “download updates for the carrier” – luckily I had a Micro Sim card for my iPhone 4 and this resolved this issue nicely, although it did require rebooting the computer and the iPad.

The one iTunes per device issue:

As most would be aware, you can only sync a iPad/iPhone/iPod with ONE iTunes version on a computer, so although I use my laptop iTunes to sync with my iPhone, I decided it best to use the desktop computer running MS Vista to sync the iPad so my wife could maybe one day gain control over it (not much chance of that happening – iTunes is far too temperamental!).

You can connect the iPad to another computer or user account with iTunes installed and you can add files to any apps installed with File Sharing capabilities BUT you cannot attempt to sync apps, music, photos, etc as it warns you that trying to do so will ERASE and REPLACE all such files from your iPad with those on the current iTunes.

Configuring the iPad does take time:

I had spent much of the week setting it up for my wife so it would sync with Google calendars (using the SaiSuke app), her Outlook contacts, and mail, loaded some of her music playlists, purchased and installed a number of iPad apps and configured them ready for her use without having to understand all the settings.

iTunes settings were set to manually manage music and not to encrypt the backup – so backup should work fast.

All seemed to be working well …. until last night.

The saga of the extremely long backup preventing iTune syncing:

Despite having the latest version of iTunes installed, and only 4Gb space used on the iPad, iTunes inexpicably started taking a LOOOONG time to even get a little way through the initial backup stage – after a couple of hours with the progress bar seemingly stuck on about 5% done.

I decided to reboot everything, delete the last backup (iTunes:Preferences:Devices), and reset sync history, as well as removing the MyPictures:IPod Photo Cache folder which has been reported to be an issue with iTunes sync problems.

The computer is running with 4Gb RAM, 92Gb free hard disk space – should be no problems for backing up 4Gb data!

Unfortunately, there does not seem to be a way of setting iTunes NOT to automatically back up the iPad during the sync process.

Installed latest version of iTunes (v10.01), rebooted everything again, tried to sync iPad and left it overnight running – after 10 hours, still in Backup phase but progress bar had made it to about 40% – NOT GOOD – so time to call Apple Support whose first priority was to try to sell me extended warranty (Apple Care for $A129 as I already had bought it for the iPhone) but I am not sure the warranty will cover me throwing the iPad against the wall!

Apple support advised to try what I had tried above, but as that hadn’t worked – time for drastic measures – a complete uninstall of everything Apple including iTunes, Quicktime, etc – see the specific order in which this needs to be carried out here.

Then reinstall the latest version of iTunes.

Somehow the uninstall process did not delete my music playlists so guess that is good and it recognised the iPad when I reattached it, and then immediately started to sync it, again of course by backing it up first.

After 20 minutes, backup progress bar had reached the ~5% mark and the feeling of deja vu had set in 🙁

We are leaving for Europe in 2 days – this is NOT what I was expecting from Apple!

My biggest fear is if I used the iPad camera connector and iPad SD card reader to backup up my travel photos, and when I get back I had to do a complete new install of iTunes and remove all traces of the iPad (not yet sure how to do this – guess I follow these instructions), that the initial sync might erase everything on the iPad before  had a chance to copy it onto a computer.

It certainly does not fill me with trust!

40 minutes into the sync process and surprise, the backup progress bar had actually progressed – albeit only to about 15%, but that was much faster than last night!

Fingers crossed and hoping it continues and completes its task before I leave for Europe!

60 minutes and it seems it is pretty much stalled at ~20% done – time for almost drastic measures!

Time to cancel the sync and go into iTunes preferences again – delete all backups, reset sync history, reboot everything, temporarily disable antivirus scanner, and try again.

So sorry Apple support, your advice just wasted a few more of my precious hours, perhas you could have told me the truth about the backup/sync debacle, and given me some real advice!

I don’t really want to delete all user preferences just yet – that would be another day’s work recreating them and it may erase all my good work on the iPad in setting that up.

Same thing again.

Almost time to throw it against the wall.

Google search of the web found this great blog post which may help solve the issues – perhaps its time to find the app which iTunes can’t backup well?

I am thinking perhaps this is going to have to wait until after we get back from our holiday, too bad if my wife wants to change the music playlist I have selected for her

It seems that not only is the iPad severely crippled as per my previous post on it, but iTunes itself has a poor design which means if you use the iPad with apps and store some files outside of the iTunes data store (as most of the apps do – thank goodness), iTunes will take 12-72 hours of continuous backing up before you can run the sync.

If you just want to use the iPad as a web browser, mail and calendar client then things should be OK, but if you really want to try to get value for your money from it and use apps, well you may be in for a shock!

If you don’t believe me, I am not alone in this experience!

Here are a few comments posted in that blog:

“The way iTunes backs up any files not directly stored by it (videos, songs, photos) is horrible. What’s the point of getting 64GB ipad and not being able to put even 1 GB of files, risking hours of backup. This has been an issue since April and there’s no reply from Apple yet. It’s not the developers’ fault in any way, it’s just the criminally stupid way that iTunes backs up application files. I had around 5GB of comics in ComicZeal and it kept syncing for 5 hours to get only around 20%… This is unacceptable. There’s no way I’ll stop using the apps I bought my iphone for just because iTunes was coded by monkeys. Even version 10 has the same damn problem. Wake up Apple.”

“You tip worked very well. I was very unhappy with this backup situation. Yesterday it took more than 4 hours, and now, less than 3 min. Thank you very much for sharing your knowledge with us,”

“This is awesome. iPod Touch Backup went from apparent infinity (the longest I actually waited was just over 12 hours) to less than 30 seconds (!) after removal of one offending app–from a Kong Kong newspaper called Apple Daily. What is it with newspaper and magazine apps?”

“This is very good information. I am finding, however, that the slow backup is caused by photos stored on my ipad. In every mdinfo file, I have a string like Media/PhotoData/Thumbnails/00000/00000/00086.jpg. Before starting the backup, i had several hundred photos on the ipad, but had deleted all but 40. It seems that the thumbnails for all the rest are still there and still slowing the backup. Does anyone have ideas how to delete these thumbnails?”

I only have a dozen photos ever put on my iPad so thumbnails is not what is causing my backup to be slow.

I’m monitoring the cleaned backup folder whilst watching the hours pass on yet another attempt at sync – so far after 5 hours and backup progress bar has hit 30% done and created 8,000 backup files (mostly 1kb each) and still going!

6 hours, 33% done and 9,100 files created ….

8 hours, almost 40% done, 11,000 files created ….

9.5 hours, ~45% done, 13,000 files created …. I’m off to bed!

20 hours, 70% done, 27,000 files created …..

24 hours,  80% done, 30,000 files created …..

28 hours,  84% done, 33,000 files created ….

32 hours, 89% done, 35,500 files created ….

finally the backup finished, presumably at 40hrs, 37,500 files created then took under 1 minute to do the sync.

By the way, my iPhone 4 with 13Gb data gets incrementally backed up in a minute!

Good luck if you buy an iPad, and thanks Apple for designing a dodgy product and iTunesplease fix this ASAP!

And Steve Jobs, if your team cannot fix this backup debacle, at least put a mechanism in place in iTunes where we can easily disable backup during sync – so at least we can sync our files!

Some workarounds to bypass iTunes:

Fortunately, I had bought a ZoomIt SD card reader which bypasses Apple iTunes software, and although VERY slow to copy files from SD cards, it may offer me a workaround for copying images and other files to and from SD cards if I can’t get this issue fixed before leaving.

Also, the AirShare app allows me to copy non-iTunes files to and from my computer via WiFi without requiring iTunes, so again, another possible workaround – but I won’t have my laptop with me in Europe – that’s the whole point of buying the iPad – no need to take a laptop – or so I thought!

 

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