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Why Apple won’t allow you to downgrade your iPhone from iOS 7 to iOS 6

MobileFeatures
by Sebastian Anthony, 29 Sep 2013Features
Why Apple won’t allow you to downgrade your iPhone from iOS 7 to iOS 6

If you updated to iOS 7 from iOS 6, and are now suffering from motion sickness or acute day-glowitis, I have bad news: You can no longer downgrade from iOS 7 to iOS 6. You’re stuck. This is partly for security reasons, but mostly because it’s simply part of the Apple experience: When buying an iPhone or iPad, you implicitly sign away your rights and privileges so that everyone can coexist in blissful unfragmented harmony in Apple’s sandbox.

Whenever Apple releases a new version of iOS, there is a grace period – usually of a few days – where you can revert back to the previous version. There are also ways to downgrade if you happen to have an iPhone 4, which was the last iPhone to be properly and irrevocably jailbroken by hackers. If you have an iPhone 4S, iPhone 5, or iPhone 5S, however, where Apple’s low-level security mechanisms are still intact, there’s no way to revert back to iOS 6 once you’ve installed iOS 7 and the grace period has passed.

To understand why you can’t downgrade to iOS 6, we need to look at the iOS update and restore processes. Basically, after you install a new version of iOS – either over-the-air on your device, or via an IPSW file in iTunes – your device phones home to Apple. Apple then checks to see whether the newly installed version of iOS is signed – as in, the cryptographic signature of the files matches a list of approved signatures on Apple’s servers.

This serves three purposes: Firstly, it makes sure that none of your files are corrupted or infected with malware. Secondly, it ensures that you’re only running an approved version of iOS – and thirdly, there’s the small issue of fragmentation. One of the strongest features of Apple’s mobile ecosystem is that every device runs the same operating system. If users could downgrade freely, then the story might be very different.

Basically, during the grace period, Apple’s servers still accept the signature of previous versions of iOS (iOS 6.1.3 and 6.1.4 in this case) – and then, when that period ends, only the latest version is accepted (iOS 7). If your version of iOS doesn’t match Apple’s approved list, your device will refuse to work until you reinstall an approved version (iOS 7 in this case).

This is why you will read some reports of people being able to downgrade from iOS 7 to iOS 6, but why none of the guides you find online will work. The one exception is if you have a jailbroken iPhone 4 and previously backed up the SHSH blob (the signature token sent by Apple) for iOS 6 – in which case, you can downgrade to iOS 6. For any iDevice based on the A5 SoC or newer (the iPhone 4S, iPhone 5, iPhone 5S, iPad 2 or later, iPad mini, and the fifth-gen iPod touch), you cannot downgrade – and probably never will be able to, unless hacking groups like the iPhone Dev Team and Evad3rs can find a really low-level jailbreak.

There are, of course, very few legitimate reasons for downgrading to iOS 6 – this isn’t like when Apple introduced its abominable new Maps in iOS 6. You may not like the visual aesthetic of iOS 7, but time and time again it has been shown that it’s the change that you actually object to, and that you’ll eventually grow to like iOS 7′s flat, colourful interface – or at least tolerate it. If the parallax effect actually disorients you, you can turn it off in Settings.

There have been some complaints that all of the new zoomy animations can cause nausea, and there’s no way to turn them off – but that’s something that Apple could easily add to iOS 7.1, if it becomes a serious issue. In the meantime, if the nausea is crippling, a good stopgap is increasing the font size, reducing the transparency of some UI elements, and turning off dynamic wallpapers – all of which can be found in the Accessibility and Wallpaper settings. You might also want to take a gander at our 6 handy tips for iOS 7 while you’re here.

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