Reload iOS on the iPad (and how to save your data!)

I still own an “ancient” first edition iPad that I bought in the fall of 2010.  I have created a lot of documents on it and religiously backed it up to my iTunes at home.  But after updating to the multiple version of iOS 4 and then to two versions of iOS 5, it was getting slow.  Safari crashed all the time and it lagged frequently.  (Recently Apple decided not to allow the iPad 1 to be upgraded to iOS 6 and I suspected that the apps that I used had been updated over time and just required more resources than the iPad 1 could provide. Fortunately, I was mostly wrong.)

The iPad 1 has a measly 256 meg of RAM.  About half of that is used by iOS 5 which doesn’t leave a whole lot to other apps.  The iPad 2 has 512 meg and the iPad 3 (New iPad) has 1 gb.  iOS 6 certainly uses more RAM than iOS 5 so Apple decided not to allow it to be installed on the iPad 1.  But what would the original iPad run like with a clean installation of iOS 5.1.1? Read on to find out.

Before installing iOS 5.1.1 from scratch I needed to back up my data.  Sure, I could do this in iTunes but I would have to restore the backup which would restore all of the junk that was slowing down my iPad.  I had 250 apps installed (mostly games that my son tried for a few minutes and gave up on) but I also created documents in Pages, had several remote sessions configured in Remoter, had many podcasts in iCatcher, lots of music and videos, seven email accounts, all of my contacts, etc.  Most of these can be uploaded to iCloud (contacts, photos, documents), or can be reloaded using iTunes (music, videos, apps), can be re-synced from online servers (calendars, emails, podcasts) and Remoter allows backups of configurations to be copied to Dropbox.  What can’t be saved easily?  Game data.   You will lose your progress in Angry Birds.  Sorry.

After being confident that everything was backed up, I used iTunes to restore it to factory defaults.  It downloaded the 700+ MB image, then installed it.  This process took about 30 minutes.  Then I set it up as a new iPad.  It only took me about two hours to get all of my necessary apps installed (slimmed down to about 135!), emails configured, calendar working, iCloud sync functioning, and everything organized.

So what is the result?  The iPad doesn’t lag anymore!  It still crashes when it runs out of memory, but not nearly as frequently as it did before.  Speedtest shows that it is faster on 3G than it was before (no idea why).  It is much smoother and more responsive.  This was worth the time!  It won’t add more memory but it will clear out all of the unnecessary stuff left over from iOS 4 and iOS 5.

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