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Reflections on the Apple In Store iPhone Upgrade Experience

This is a blog post that I’ve been meaning to write for a while now.  The following are my thoughts and experiences with the upgrade process from my iPhone 4S to the new flagship iPhone 5S smartphone at a local Apple Store.  Overall, I was pleased with the upgrade process, but in my option, there is still room for improvements with iCloud and the restore process.

The Upgrade Experience
Like many nerds, I upgraded my iPhone on launch day, September 20.  I don’t upgrade off contract every year, nor do I think I need to.  Surprisingly, this is my first iPhone upgrade.  When I became an iPhone owner, with the iPhone 4S, I was upgrading from the ill-fated Palm Pre.  I had to work on launch day so there was no waiting around for me in massive lines that are typical of an iPhone launch.  By the time I arrived at the store, the hoopla had died down to the normal flow of things and the overall shopping experience was a good one.  Luckily, the Apple Store I went to still had the iPhone I was looking for, a 32GB Space Grey iPhone 5S for Sprint.
The upgrade experience went smoother than I expected and much quicker than the last upgrade experience from my BlackBerry Curve to Palm Pre at a Sprint retail store.  After a few short minutes of waiting for my iPhone to be called up from the back, the Apple Store employee verified my Sprint account status and the wireless contract portion of the upgrade was complete.
While the backend “cellular” upgrade was happening with Sprint, I used iCloud to back up my iPhone 4S and when it was done, I powered it down.  The Apple employee seemed to be on autopilot and started to jump into the process of setting up my phone.  This is likely because the process was well rehearsed throughout the day, but again, being a nerd, I wanted to take over the upgrade.
I powered on the iPhone 5S and ran through the welcome program and I was quickly setup and running.  The restoration of settings and data from my iPhone 4S came over easily enough and all of my installed applications began downloading and installing on my new phone without intervention.
The restoration of my music and photos was a bit of a hassle, more so than I expected from Apple.  You see, hours later, after all of my apps reinstalled, the Settings app was still showing that the iCloud restore was underway.  I knew that a few photos were missing, but I couldn’t tell if any of my music was too.  Knowing that my photos were in Photo Stream and on my Mac in my iPhoto library, I killed the restore.  I really would like to see Apple clean up this process of iCloud backup/restore as this is not the first time I’ve seen this problem, and it was not unique to my phone.  I’ve seen the same issue on family and friends iPhone’s.  I never really liked killing there restore because I was never really sure, nor where they, that they had their photos backed up anywhere.
To improve the process, I would like to see Apple add some kind of progress or status to the restore.  Additionally, if there where problems restoring data, what data it was, and then moving on to the next bit of data and then finally completing the restore.  I think there is more problems created when the restores are left open ended since you can’t start a new iCloud backup until the seemingly stalled iCloud backup completes.  In my experience, the restore never completes and the user is never notified.
As a workaround to this issue, I recommend that if possible; backup your current iPhone to your Mac or Windows PC running iTunes and a sync cable.  I know that seems like crazy talk in some tech circles but it was save you the hassle at restore time.  Then, pick up your new iPhone, skipping the restore step and then sycing it with iTunes to reload your data.  An iTunes cabled back up/restore has never failed me upgrading my iPod touches or iPads.
All-in-all, the retail shopping experience at the Apple Store, as compared to a wireless carrier or big box store, was far superior.  The actual transfer of service from old phone to new phone was pretty painless also.  I just wish that the iCloud backup and restore went smoother than it has been my experience in the past.  Results will vary and I hope you enjoy your new iPhone.