Apple Watch Reset

May 14, 2020

The subtitle of this posting ought to be “1,726 Day Activity Streaked Ended by Syncing Failure.”

Some Background

I bought an Apple Watch the day ordering opened, and received my watch in mid-May 2015. Initially I didn’t do much with the Activity tracking. That changed in late 2015, when I started closing all three activity rings every day.

The three rings are Move, Exercise, and Stand.

Move: You set a calorie goal, the default is 400, and the ring is closed when you burn that many calories above what you would burn if you were not active. You can adjust the goal number up or down. For me a normal day, with 20 or minutes of active exercise, will easily reach the 400 calorie number.

Exercise: This ring is closed when you have 30 or more minutes of exercise. Apple doesn’t say what parameters have to be met to count as exercise. For myself it seems like any minute where my heart rate is elevated to about 100 beats per minutes does the trick. You cannot adjust this number, it’s 30 minutes or bust.

Stand: In order to close the stand ring, you need to stand and move around at least one minute per hour, at least 12 hours in a day. This ring is by far the easiest to close. The watch helpfully will remind you to stand at :50 minutes past the hour, if you haven’t already done so. Like Exercise, you cannot adjust this goal.

Starting in August 2015 I have closed all three rings, every day, one thousand, seven hundred, and nineteen times, according to the activity record kept on my iPhone. I had minor knee surgery midway through this streak, and, by taking my daily walk at 12:01 am the day of the surgery, and then breaking my walk into three ten minute walks the day or two following, I was able to sustain my streak. I walk in the rain, the cold, the heat, you name it. Day in and day out for four and a half years.

Disaster Strikes

Last Wednesday, May 6th, my phone restarted itself and the watch somehow was never able to reconnect after that. My watch continued to capture and record calories, stand minutes, and exercise, but it was no longer syncing to my iPhone.

I didn’t discover this fact until Friday, May 9th. To say I was dismayed would be a massive understatement. To see partially filled rings for Wednesday, and nothing at all on Thursday or Friday gave me a horrible sinking feeling.

Why didn’t I notice the issue sooner? Exhaustion from a combination of from being quarantined, from caring for an elderly cat, from worry about potential work furloughs—all combined to make checking my ring progress every night something that didn’t happen. Had I discovered the break in syncing last Wednesday, and early enough in the day, I might have been able to reset my watch and keep the streak going. The window to (a) notice and recognize there was a problem, and (2) figure out the solution, was only 5 hours long.

Apple Support

When I discovered that synchronizing between the watch and phone wasn’t working I immediately called Apple Support. This was the first of what would eventually be six support sessions, that were ultimately unsuccessful in recovering my data.

Friday, May 8

Over the course of about two hours on the phone with two different tech support people, a level-1 rep and then a senior rep, we only managed to capture some screen shots of the phone, and capture and upload some log files for Apple Engineering to examine. The level-2 rep promised a call back on Monday at 11 am. She assured me that she was determined to resolve my issue.

Over the weekend I tried several times to reconnect my watch by powering down either the phone or the watch, or both, and then powering them on in different orders. I realized while doing this that the phone could locate (Find My) watch, but that the watch could not find my phone.

Monday, May 11

The promised 11 am call never happened. About 11:30 am I contacted Apple Support and ended up talking to a new support rep. He said that there was no response from engineering yet, and that it could take several days. With people working from home, old iPhones and iPads were getting pressed into service, which had increased call volumes. He said he would call me back at 6 pm on Tuesday. The later time to hopefully allow a response from engineer.

Tuesday, May 12

Once again, the promised return call never happened. Once again I contacted Apple and introduced myself and my issue to yet another support rep. He said there was an update from engineering. The response was, “reset the watch.” This would wipe out any data that resided on the watch that hadn’t been synced to the phone. He wanted to tell me that the data on the phone would be fine as it was backed up to my computer. I had to explain to him that I needed the data from the watch. He got it, and said he’d resubmit my case to engineering, and said he’d call Wednesday at 6 pm.

Wednesday, May 13

Guess what happened at 6 pm? Not a call back from Apple Support. I ignored the whole issue until about 8pm, when I contacted Apple Support. This call started with a level-2 rep, who also wanted to tell me that, as long as my phone was backed up, I wouldn’t lose any data. Once she understood my reason for not wanting to reset my watch, she said there wasn’t any other way to fix things.

I asked what would happen if I backed up my phone, reset it, and then restored it: would the watch have to be re-paired with the phone, or would the previous pairing work? She assured me it would not need to be re-paired. I told her I’d try that course of action, and she said she’d call back in 60 minutes to see what my status was.

I initiated a “Reset all Settings” activity on my phone at about 8:27 pm. Shortly after 10 pm the phone had reset, and the synchronizing of the Apple Watch was done. Yay? It was the wrong watch.

In an effort to gather more information, first thing Wednesday morning, I dug out my original Apple Watch (now know as a Series 0) and had paired with my iPhone. I was trying to see if pairing still worked at all or not. It did work. And then I forgot to remove that watch from my phone before backing it up and restoring it. So it synced up with the Series 0 and ignored my Series 4 watch altogether.

I unpaired the Series 0, reset the watch again, and waited. Shortly after midnight the reset and synchronization completed. It had found the Series 0 in the backup I restored from, and set it up again.

Thursday, May 14

This morning I realized that I had a back up from last Friday, May 8th, that did not have the Series 0 attached to my phone. Since that backup had all the activity I’d ever collected it was a good place to restore from.

Unsyncing the Series 0 from my iPhone again, I did a “Erase all Content and Setting” reset, and then restored the iPhone from Friday’s backup. This took about 100 minutes, from 8:27 am until 10:11 am. The watch still would not sync to the phone. In fact, when I opened the Apple Watch app on my iPhone and selected the watch, it would show the detail screen for the watch and sit there with a spinner. I had to force quit the app to regain control of the phone.

Clearly the reset and the erase had not accomplished anything.

At about 10:30 am I contacted Apple Support for the sixth time. Engineering was still saying that reseting the watch was the only solution. Support says there is no other way to get data from the watch to the phone. The only option is to reset the watch.

At 10:49 am I reset my Apple Watch Series 4 and lost the stored activity data it had for Wednesday May 6th through today. After the reset the watch and phone were syncing again.

Aftermath

Having an entire week to prepare myself for the possibility that, through no fault of my own, I might lose my activity data and therefore my 1700+ day streak helped. I’m not happy at all about losing the data, or about no longer being able to see an ever increasing number in the Activity app awards section. In my head I’ll know to add what ever number my new streak is at to the one that should be there today (1,727), but it’ll be four and a half years, before I set a new daily streak as far as the Activity app is concerned.

I am disappointed in Apple Support for making promises to recontact me and then not following through. I understand the realities of working in a call center—their time is not theirs to budget and schedule—but they should know that and either not promise to call, or tell the customer to use the link in the “Your upcoming call with Apple Support” email to initiate contact themselves.

I am also disappointed that there is no way to capture data on a watch that is no longer syncing properly with its iPhone. I get that there are privacy concerns, especially around health or health related data, but surely there is some way to allow for recovering data.

Some of the shine of Apple is lost now. I don’t know when or if it will return to its former level. I have spent probably close to $10,000 on Apple products and services in the past 20 years. I’m a huge fan. I still want new shiny things from Apple, even today. But I won’t invest so much of my heart into them now. I can’t deal with the potential emotional cost down the road. Especially in these utterly unique times.

But Wait, There’s More

It is possible to edit some Activity data through the Health app.

To add a missing stand minute, for example:

You can also edit Exercise data, using the same steps, substituting the actual type of workout, and a calorie count. Unfortunately you can only do this for today and the previous day. I had read several years ago about the stand hours trick, but didn’t know you could also edit exercise data.

It is a testament to how much cognitive drain trying to work from home during a pandemic, that I didn’t remembered this until today. Had I remember last Wednesday or Thursday, I could have replaced the missing data from Wednesday and Thursday, reset my watch and been fat, dumb, and happy.

As it stands now, I can (one minute at a time, twelve times per day for eight missing days) poke in some zero kilo calorie minutes to fill out my stand rings for the missing eight days, which will keep at least that streak going.

Moral of the story

Pay attention to odd or out of place things that happen with your computers, which includes phones, tablets, watches, in addition to laptops and desktops. When something out of the ordinary happens try to step back from whatever “are you kidding me!?” emotion might have been stirred up, and check for a ripple effect.

Or maybe not get trapped in a 1,727 day streak.

Author's profile picture

Mark H. Nichols

I am a husband, cellist, code prole, nerd, technologist, and all around good guy living and working in fly-over country. You should follow me on Twitter.