Apple has, admittedly, improved using older iOS devices in your household. But there are still some situations where you can lose functionality down the road. Here’s an important guide that could save your bacon.
For this example, I’ll use a game that I really like – Jet Set Radio for iOS. I have it on my iPhone 4S with iOS 8 and my iPod touch 4G with iOS 6.1.6.
I also have the same game on a lot more Android devices, but this is an iOS how-to…
While Apple allows older versions to be maintained, for older iOS devices, they will not allow developers to go back and patch those old versions.
In Sega’s case, they changed app vendor ID’s for Jet Set Radio and no longer offer the iOS 6 version. You can’t re-download it from Apple. Many more developers have not opted in to offering older versions on the App Store.
Now normally, the old version would rest in your iTunes Library. But, since there’s an iOS 8 version, it doesn’t. The updated version of the app is in my library. I cannot tell iTunes to transfer the older version (to archive) – as it protests that a newer version is available.
Well, actually, it doesn’t protest. And that’s the problem – Many people that restore their older iOS devices find many of the apps vanish, and cannot be restored from the App Store.
If the developer doesn’t offer the final iOS 5 / iOS 6 / iOS 7 version of an app anymore, and your iTunes Library will only archive the newer version… you’re out of luck.
To work around this, create a new, secondary iTunes Library. There are several guides that will walk you through toggling between two iTunes Library folders.
Next, disable downloading app updates automatically inside of iTunes. This is important.
Now, connect the older iOS device that has archives of the apps in question. In iTunes 12, the tool you want to use is the Transfer Purchases tool. It’s currently located in File -> Devices menu. Apple loves to move this stuff around, you may need to search the app in future versions for it.
What this will do is create an archive of all the .ipa iPhone app binaries into the secondary iTunes Library. With automatic app updates disabled, these will not be wiped out with newer (incompatible) versions from the App Store.
Finally, quit iTunes and make a backup copy of this new iTunes Library. Upload a spare to the cloud.
These .ipa files will be signed with your iTunes account login, so they can’t be shared with others. However, if your iOS device needs restoring in the future – or you obtain another iOS device with an older iOS version, you can restore these .ipa files to that device via iTunes manually.
Once the secondary iTunes Library is backed up elsewhere, you can switch back to your primary iTunes Library and turn back on automatically updating apps. Unfortunately, you will have to do this incrementally when new iOS devices get phased out in your family – and there’s no way to really just isolate the apps that need to be archived.
Luckily, cloud backup storage is free these days, so you don’t have to save the files locally on your disk eating up space. If your cloud store gets wiped out for some reason, the apps are still on your older iOS devices.