A cautionary tale of iOS 9, app restrictions, and what I hope is a bug, not a feature

TL;DR

I recently enabled app restrictions on my personal iPhone, which is running the iOS 9 beta, to check how a couple things work for a friend. When I disabled those restrictions, iOS blew away my entire homescreen and folder organization, exploding all 404 apps across 15 or so pages.

Yes, I reported this to Apple as a bug. I hope it agrees. And no, I don’t have an iOS 8 device to check whether this is new in 9 or a behavior that’s been around for a while. If you have a test device, by all means give it a shot and let me know so I can update.

What happened

A friend recently asked whether it was possible to restrict things in iOS like installing and deleting apps, as well as if a device could be restricted to show one or a few specific apps.

I dug into Settings > General > Restrictions and found the Apps section. In there you can restrict apps by age rating—3+, 17+, etc.—but there’s also a “Don’t Allow Apps” option. I enabled that just to see what it does, and that’s where my homescreens blew up.

Even stranger, it seems like apps were organized completely at random on some pages, but alphabetized on others. My usual setup is five pages organized by purpose, all with a mix of folders at the top, a few individual apps below, and usually some empty space for new apps.

My theory

If we play with the idea that this is a feature, not a bug, I wager it was designed thinking that most people will enable it only when they give their child device to use in perpetuity. In other words, maybe this mode was meant to be permanently enabled, not something you switch on and off for when your kids want to use your device. After all, it’s buried in Settings and not very convenient to toggle at will.

But I believe this is a bug, and a mildly dangerous one. Granted, most people don’t have 404 apps. But as far as I can tell, most people do spend a little time organizing at least two or three homescreens and maybe a few folders of their most-used apps and games.

The crux of the matter is that there is no easy way to recover one’s iOS homescreen organization when something like this happens. The only solution I can think of is a complete restore from iCloud or iTunes, which is time-consuming and feels like overkill for a problem like this.

Hopefully, Apple agrees this is a decently serious bug to fix soon. I don’t know how to escalate bugs to Apple, but maybe this post can help.