"Debrickifying" an iPhone 5

I got my share of flak from TUAW readers when I wrote a post three weeks ago bemoaning the fact that my iPhone 5 -- which was running iOS 7 beta -- lost battery power on the first day of a vacation and went into an endless restart loop. Yes, dear readers, I am well aware of the fact that Apple points out that you shouldn't run beta software on a mission critical device, so I deserved what I got -- a nice three-week-long respite from checking my iPhone every few minutes. This post is to let you know that I did manage to get the iPhone in somewhat working order yesterday (my first day back from vacation), and that you can accomplish the same thing should you ever encounter the endless restart loop problem.

Let me describe the symptom of the endless restart loop. The iPhone appears to be starting up, displaying the Apple logo and then going to a black screen showing the familiar progress "rotor" -- which doesn't rotate. After a while, the device decides to reboot and go through the process again, ad infinitum, or at least until the battery is completely drained. This was the point on my trip that I A.) wished I had taken my MacBook Pro on vacation with me and B.) put the iPhone 5 into the safe in my cruise ship cabin to act as a paperweight.

Fast-forward to yesterday morning. After a good night's sleep to kill the jet lag and taking care of some TUAW business first thing, I decided to see if I could make my iPhone 5 into something other than an attractive and expensive brick. To begin with, I tethered it to my Mac and launched iTunes, which showed a device running iOS 7, but would not let me restore the device.

A Google search for "endless restart loop" somehow pointed me to a June 2013 post by iMore editor Allyson Kazmucha talking about how to downgrade an iOS 7 device to iOS 6. In turn, that pointed to an older post by iMore editor-in-chief and all-around nice guy Rene Ritchie on how to put your iPhone into DFU (Device Firmware Update) mode. Between the two of those posts, I was on the road to Debrick City.

At this point the iPhone 5 was back into endless restart looping and still tethered to the iMac, so I picked it up and started with putting it in DFU mode. This involves some critical timing:

  • Hold down the Home button and sleep button on the top of the iPhone simultaneously for about ten seconds. I actually used the second hand on a watch (ancient technology) to time this... Ritchie's instructions note that "if you see the Apple logo, you've held them too long and will need to start again."

  • Next, let go of the sleep button and continue holding the Home button for another five seconds. In this situation, Ritchie warns that "...if you see the 'Plug into iTunes' screen then you held it too long and will need to start again."

  • At this point, the screen remained black, meaning that the device was in DFU mode and happily awaiting new firmware.

Where to go from here? Well, I had no choice but to go back to iOS 6, since Dev Center is still down and there's no way I can get access to the iOS 7 files again. My next move was to find the latest iOS 6 firmware file for my phone, which happened to be the 6.1.4 version for CDMA (I have a Verizon iPhone 5). With Dev Center down, I was happy to see that iMore has a downloads section available with all recent firmware files, so it was no problem to grab the file.

'Debrickifying' an iPhone 5

Once the iPhone 5 was in DFU mode, iTunes began displaying a message (above) that said "iTunes has detected an iPhone in recovery mode. You must restore this iPhone before it can be used with iTunes." Looking at the device screen for the iPhone 5 in iTunes, there was a button for "Restore iPhone" (image below) Since iOS 7 isn't available (ahem...), I held down the Option key on my keyboard and clicked Restore iPhone, which brought up a dialog where I could select the firmware file.

'Debrickifying' an iPhone 5

Within a few minutes, the iPhone 5 was humming away happily, although I can't do a restore from iCloud because -- get this -- all of the backups that I can select from were done from an iOS 7 device. At least this gets my device back in my pocket and acting like an iPhone again until I can do a total iOS 7 restore after the Dev Center is back online.

Many thanks to iMore for their how-to posts and the screenshots included here.