Can I backup and "wipe" or reset a smartphone or tablet?

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I don’t own a smartphone or other mobile device (running iOS or Android, etc.). I’ve never needed one, although I can anticipate needing one in the future. So, here are some questions you experienced smart phone or tablet users might be able to answer.

First, I’m curious about whether such devices have a reset feature, or some other way to “wipe” them back to factory settings, similar to re-initializing a hard drive on a computer. I would expect certain information to be hard-coded into the phone (like its phone number), but otherwise it seems that a user should be able to wipe everything and go back to a “clean” version of the phone’s OS and software.

That leads to my second question: Can you back up a smartphone or tablet? I can understand why wiping a mobile device would be an extreme measure if the unit is storing photos, messages, documents, contact info, or other data a user might not want to lose. Is there some way to back up the contents of, say, a phone or tablet running iOS or Android?

Thirdly, if it’s possible to back up a mobile device, are the backups “data only”, or can the user make the equivalent of a “bootable backup” on a desktop or notebook computer—that is, back up the entire contents of the device, including the system and all its settings?

Thanks in advance for any helpful responses.

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Another person without a smart device. So they exist.

I don’t know the answer to every question (but I would guess some of it depends on the phone itself – and possibly the OS). But the phone number – and other information like contacts – is on the SIM card (which is how you upgrade a phone without having to lose this information). So as long as you have that you should be okay for that part; I don’t know about wiping (probably system specific) and I don’t know about backing up (but the phones I’m aware of do have a micro USB port – also likely system specific).

Actually, I just had this memory (but without much detail). I’ve had a friend tell me he has reset his phone to defaults (it was an android – don’t have any other information) and he still had my contact information (in some way or another).

But if data is your concern, I can offer you this:

Regardless of what you read (or are told by anyone – even someone you trust, even if they have the exact same set up as you), you should confirm these things (including your data plan and everything else) with the shop you go to (if you buy online I haven’t a clue what you’d have to do). More importantly, you should always be careful when it comes to data, so you’re indeed thinking of the right things. But no matter what you’re told, you should always make sure that you are the one that is in control of your data; don’t let something you’re told by someone else – about a phone or anything else – be enough for you: disaster and disaster recovery is always important to consider. And policies do have the need to change at times (including because hardware or software changes), and so should be evaluated from time to time. Too many people only understand this after they lose pictures they can no longer take, and even then they might not truly address the issue.

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coyote:

Thanks for your reply. I’ve been a computer user for over 30 years, so I already know that the advice you’ve given is the right stuff. In fact, the points you raise about being in control of one’s own data extend to being in control of one’s system configuration in general.

Alas, that principle is currently being stomped to death by the likes of Apple and Microsoft. To wit, the App Store is turning Mac users into passive drones who have no control over their system or app versions.

Case in point: Want to buy a Final Cut Pro X license for a version of that application that will run on Mountain Lion or Mavericks? Nope. Apple will not sell you an installer. You have to “upgrade” to Yosemite 10.10.4, and then use the App Store. Never mind the fact that OS X 10.8.x and 10.9.x are still “supported” by Apple, if you’ll allow that abuse of the word. And never mind that you might have apps or require your system to have other functionality that Yosemite has broken.

There’s a list of even more egregious fiascoes in Windows 10, all of which have been amply documented in Graham’s blog, so I won’t reiterate them here.

The point is that the very same advice you’ve given about the wisdom (…no, the *necessity*) of being in control of one’s own system configuration, apps, and data is a lesson that both Mac and Windows users are (effectively) being told to forget. It’s madness, and no responsible user should want any part of it.

Anyhow, yeah…my own cell phone has a SIM card, and I figured there must be some equivalent of that in a smart phone.

Actually, I have nothing against smart devices; I just don’t happen to need one. I work at home, and when I do go out, a cell phone is all I need. But if I were to get a smart device, it would be for productive purposes, in which case it would hold content I wouldn’t want to lose. Well, to me that automatically means “backup”.

Truth be told, it’s inconceivable to me that everyone wouldn’t back up their entire system. Of course I don’t want to lose my documents, photos, music, …etc. But for me, losing my system, mail files, applications, plugins, libraries, system and application preferences, and everything else that I use to remain productive would be a disaster. So, a bootable backup of the entire system is a necessity, not a luxury. If I were to use a smart device as a productivity tool, the same principle would apply.

However, judging by the number of folks I know who don’t even back up their desktop systems, I suspect that many (most?) users don’t back up their phones either. Nevertheless, considering the degree to which so many folks apparently rely on their mobile devices, it seems to me just common sense that the more rational and responsible users would be concerned about backing up…or perhaps this a case wherein common sense is not a common commodity.

Thanks again for your reply!

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Yes, it is most likely unlikely that people back up their phones, just like their computers. Yet they would be devastated if they lost photos of loved ones that are no longer in this world (or even pictures that they can’t replace because they obviously were in the past). But as you say, common sense is quite uncommon.

And yes, you should be in control and anyone thinking otherwise is setting themselves up for a disaster – whether it happens or not is really besides the point; it could happen and therefore you should consider it if you actually care about your data (and if you’re in control of data that doesn’t belong to you, then you really should be careful about that data, too) – and possibly your life. But most people don’t understand it until they’ve lost something – if they do at all. The same goes for heightened security levels (e.g national threats) after an attack but then after things calm down, the guards go down, too. This happens ad infinitum but after the attack (or whatever) is too late, isn’t it? But try telling that to society – it is so simple they don’t understand it (and/or dismiss it because it is so simple). Are you saying that that Windows and Mac users are being told they do not need to control their own data, their own lives? I’ve not noticed this but I don’t particularly pay attention to (most) users in a general way. It is a concerning thought, though.

I don’t like smart devices because they aren’t really all that smart. In the end, there are limiting factors, and as for Internet connected devices, they tend to have this trait that they’re terribly insecure (because security is ignored).

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coyote:

You asked: “Are you saying that that Windows and Mac users are being told they do not need to control their own data, their own lives?”

Well, not exactly. What I actually said was: “…being in control of one’s own system configuration, apps, and data is a lesson that both Mac and Windows users are (effectively) being told to forget.” Perhaps I should have emphasized EFFECTIVELY.

That’s really what it boils down to. For example, Windows 10 is pushing automatic updates. That’s a disaster waiting to happen. How many times have we read stories about a Windows update that wasn’t properly tested and broke something? Then…BAM!! Production screeches to a halt. The same thing has happened with OS X…perhaps somewhat less frequently, but any such occurrence is a productivity killer. And it has happened with Apple’s pro apps, as well as MS Office, which I rely on for production.

The solution is system configuration management (CM), wherein all application and system updates are first tested on a bootable clone of the system volume (which also serves as the backup for the system volume). If the update is broken or it breaks anything else, the user simply reboots from the primary system drive and runs a backup, which overwrites the broken software, and the system stays as is…namely, working properly.

But that requires the user to be able to apply the updates manually. Automatic updates obviate that CM strategy.

Apple’s App Store isn’t quite as bad as automatic updates, because you still have the choice not to install the update. But there are no more installer apps. If an update breaks something, you can’t roll anything back to the previous version by running its installer, because the App Store doesn’t give you an installer for each version. It all works behind the scenes, under the hood, and out of the user’s control.

Frankly, I don’t know how anyone who doesn’t run a bootable backup/test bed CM strategy like I’ve described above can think the App Store is a good thing. You’re handing over control of your application versions and system configuration to Apple, and if you can’t overwrite a broken update, you’re boned. Apple will NOT provide a previous version of its software at any price, for any reason. I know that for a fact. I’ve tried.

Yet, the pace of forced obsolescence via software incompatibility is increasing, and that’s on top of the problem of updates that are broken or that break other things. It has happened often enough that I’m unwilling to trust either Apple or Microsoft with the responsibility of getting it right, so I have no choice but to control my own system configuration. Unfortunately, the trend increasingly seems to be toward taking that degree of control and responsibility away from the user.

It’s not a trend I welcome.

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“being told to forget” something is essentially the same thing as “told they don’t need” that something.

Yes, automatic updates are indeed a disaster waiting to happen – and it isn’t even system updates that are significant. And it isn’t only Windows or Mac. Programmers are humans and humans make mistakes (and also cannot know every environment and therefore cannot prevent all problems: a different version of a library might cause problems in one program even though if it shouldn’t, for example). And administrators are users and users are humans and again, humans aren’t perfect.

I don’t mind software becoming obsolete; it is a necessary thing and at least it isn’t like when we went from 32 bit to 64 bit (or 16 to 32 bit, or…) where we had even more compatibility problems (besides making programs themselves N-bit compatible through compiling, you also had new instruction sets, word sizes, new registers, etc.). Mind you, it has been quite some time since the move to 64-bit and I would really like 128 to come out sooner than later, but I can’t change that.

I don’t feel there is a trend to take the responsibility away from the user (any more than before; differences yes, but this happens) – most users are irresponsible (‘careless’ if you prefer) in the first place, and many simply accept whatever changes (in the end) or they find workarounds. Users do not care how something works – they only care that it works. The average user has no in between: it either works or they are frustrated (and it increases the longer it doesn’t get resolved).

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