Recover Older Versions of iPhone Apps After Updating

Ever since iOS 4 was announced back in April, I’ve seen an increase in the number of software updates for each of my iOS apps. In fact, more than two-thirds have been updated: several of them more than once since April 8. This is usually a good thing, but not always. Occasionally, I accept an update that I’m not too happy with, and would prefer to go back to a prior version.

Accordingly, I discovered a series of techniques to roll back the clock and get an older version of my apps back on my iOS device. It isn’t a foolproof plan, but it’s worked more than once. These techniques do come with some risks; for starters, you may lose all local data associated with the app, or even all data on the device since your last backup.

Delete From Device, Re-Install From iTunes

If you’ve updated an app directly on your device, the solution is easy. In this case, the version of the app in question on the iOS device is more current than the version stored in your Mac’s iTunes library. Before you do anything at all, convince yourself that you no longer need any of the data or files associated with the app that may be located on the device itself. Do not sync if you have Sync All Apps checked. Now simply delete the app and install it again the next time you sync in iTunes.

  1. Always update all apps using the App Store on the device first
  2. Delete the current version of any ‘bad’ apps from the device
  3. Plug in your device
  4. Install the prior version of the ‘bad’ apps via syncing

This method isn’t without its downside. If it’s been a very long time since you synced, you may find that the version of the app in your Mac’s iTunes library is either really old, or not there at all.

Recover Your App From a Time Machine Backup

For this method, you’ll need an iOS 4 device, a Mac running OS X Snow Leopard, the latest iTunes, and Time Machine enabled. Now I think you know where this is going, but there is a little sleight of mouse you need to master in order to pull this trick off. Before you do anything at all, convince yourself not only that you do not need your most current iOS backup in iTunes, but also do not need the most recent back up of your apps’ on-device data.

The assumption here is that the first technique isn’t applicable. First, sync your iOS device with iTunes. Then have Time Machine back up your iTunes library. It should go without saying that if you’ve configured Time Machine to ignore your iTunes Library, this technique won’t work. If you have any other means of backing up your iTunes Library, like saving it to a data CD/DVD, you may want to do that at this time as well.

  1. Delete the App from your device
  2. In iTunes on your Mac, option click on the app and choose Show In Finder
  3. Open Time Machine and navigate to the folder where the app is stored
  4. Go back in time and locate the older version of the file
  5. Restore the older version from Time Machine (NOTE: keep Finder open, displaying the restored file)
  6. Delete the app from your iTunes library on your Mac (NOTE: be sure to move the file to the Trash)
  7. Quit iTunes on your Mac
  8. From Finder, option click on the restored file and select Open With => iTunes (default)
  9. Reinstall the app to your device via an iTunes sync

Note that the name of the file will most likely be different as the version number of the App is also part of the file name. This technique, like the prior technique, is dependent upon frequent syncing to work. Time Machine won’t have a copy if you haven’t added an app to your iTunes library from your device.

What to Do Following the Restoration

Moving forward, in all of the above cases, the annoying reality is that you will be constantly nagged by the App Store on your device, as well as in iTunes to update the app to the most current version. Do not update the software until the developer has had a chance to resolve any issues. Check the developer’s support page and make note of which version of the app was defective. In order for me to go through all of this trouble, the app must be something I use a lot, and something which I feel I can’t live without. In all other situations, a “bad” update is treated as an invitation to shop around for a better app.

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