Simplicity and Clarity by Design

Upgrade to iPhone OS 2.0 Fails – Unknown Error (-9838)

The new iPhone 3G went on sale this morning at 8:00 AM and I’m sure there are long lines at various Apple stores around the country. I already have a first generation iPhone and was looking forward to the iPhone OS 2.0 upgrade. Sure, I’ll still have to live with the EDGE network speed when not connected to a WiFi hotspot and I won’t have a GPS, but other than those two shortcomings (and not being able to get one in white) my first generation iPhone is working just fine.

So, this morning when I sat down at my desk and pressed the “Check for Updates” button in iTunes with my iPhone connected it said that the iPhone OS 2.0 update was available for download and installation. I ran through the process and everything seemed to be going well right up until when it restarted the iPhone with the new 2.0 software. Then I get the dialog box shown below.

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WTF! An unknown error? What sort of an iTunes Store failure is this? My phone appears to be bricked at this point. All I can do is make an emergency call. Oh boy, just what I wanted from Apple! If only I could make an “emergency call” to the Apple technical support line maybe they could let me know what the -9838 error is. I am not very happy right now.

The dialog box says to try again later. Well, I have retried this operation by ejecting and reconnecting my iPhone at least ten times now, and each time I see the same dialog box.

When I get this resolved I will post an update. For now, if you are eager to get the iPhone OS 2.0 I would suggest that your best bet is to go buy a second iPhone. Clearly Apple has not fully baked the iPhone OS 2.0 support for the first generation iPhones. How disappointing!

Update @ 9:05 AM

It is now 1 hour after I started this upgrade process and the iTunes Store is now reporting a different unknown error code.

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What fun!

Updated @ 10:12 AM

Still no luck getting my phone to work. I am getting the “unknown error occurred (-4)”, and have been for more than an hour now.

There is a discussion of this issue on the Apple support site. Here is the link:

Topic : Cannot connect to store (error -9838): can’t activate iPhone !

Someone at Apple should be held to the flames for not anticipating this sort of issue and taking steps to eleminate it. They had very similar problems when the first generation iPhones were released and people couldn’t activate them.

Think Different, indeed….

Updated @ 10:20 AM


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Apple is very fond of reminding people that they build great user interfaces for their applications. Here is a perfect example of where they failed miserably. I think a lot fewer people would be complaining about this server scalability issue if the iTunes application had a “retry” button. Instead of just asking you to try later the software should do that for us. After all, the computer is more than capable of retrying the connection until it succeeds. There is no reason at all for all of us humans to be sitting here clicking on play lists and then clicking on the iPhone item and then waiting for an error and then repeating the process FOR TWO AND A HALF HOURS!

Apple, you need to put more engineering resources into this sort of thing. The scale you are dealing with on the iPhone and the iTunes Store and now the App Store is way beyond what .mac ever was. You need to THINK DIFFERENT!