There will come a time when you realize that you want to get something off of your iPhone(s aapl), and yet you don’t have access to the Mac your normally sync with, or your Mac’s hard drive has failed. That’s when getting information off of your iPhone can become a daunting task. Here are a few different ways to recover different types of data from your iPhone.
iPhone Photo Library
The good news is that you can access the iPhone photos you’ve taken from any Mac (and not just the one you sync with) using the OS X Image Capture app. In fact, you can even use the iPad Camera Adapter. The iPhone itself will look like any other camera that you connect to either your Mac or your iPad. You also even use iPhoto or Aperture directly to perform the transfer. Some of the techniques outlined below can also be used to directly copy image files off of the iPhone when importing from iPhoto fails.
iPod Music Files
Ever since the arrival of the iPod, there have been ways to extract music from your Apple device. These same utilities are still applicable to the iPhone. The tricky part is that the files and directory structure are not represented in human friendly text. There is a database file that Apple uses to translate the gibberish back into the artist, album, song format you are familiar with. Many of the free solutions like Macroplant’s iPhone Explorer, will allow you to copy the music files directly from the iPhone to your Mac in the nonsense naming format they are in on the iPhone.
So long as you have iTunes configured to “Copy files to your iTunes Media folder”, as well as to “Keep iTunes Media File organized”, then the file names will all be restored once you have imported the music back into your iTunes Library. It will retrieve the names of the artist, album and song from the ID3v2 tag embedded in the music file.
Other free solutions like HeadLightSoft’s DeTune (formerly know as expod) will perform the translation before you transfer the files. There are other paid solutions like FadingRed’s Senuti for $18.99, which are also quite good at what they do. But for the money, DeTunes offers a more than adequate solution if all you want to do is recover your device-locked music.
iOS App Data and More
Sometimes you may have to get app and data regarding iPhone usage from your phone to your computer outside of iTunes. While you can use Macroplant’s iPhone Explorer to perform this task, I have found that their Pod to Mac product for $19.95 delivers more value. Also in this category, and my personal preference is Ecamm’s PhoneView also for $19.95. Both Pod to Mac and PhoneView offer a way to access SMS Messages, VoiceMail, Call History, Contacts, and Calendar information. They also offer solutions to access your Photos, Media Files and even the locally stored files for each app you have installed.
Secret Location Data
There has been a lot of press regarding the storage of location information in the consolidated.db file on your iPhone. Apple recently revealed that it actually provides a database of cell and Wi-Fi tower locations in and around where you use your device, but the info is still interesting. While not part of a formal product offering, there is a crude yet effective tool called iPhone Tracker on GitHub that lets you see it.
Extract From Backup
Sometimes something has happened to your iPhone and you need to extract a file from your iPhone backups. This includes accessing any photos you had on your iPhone at the time of your last backup. There are two utilities that I use to perform this task, SuperCrazyAwesome’s iPhone Backup Extractor which is a free utility, and addPod’s Juice Phone, also free. Neither solution will work if you have encrypted your backup files. Both allow you to access the backed up data as if the iPhone was connected to your Mac.
So until Apple comes up with a solid cloud-based solution for iOS products, the fact remains that all iOS devices are just satellites to their Mac hosts. And so long as you need to sync between your Mac and your iOS device, there is a chance that either your Mac will fail, or your iOS device will fail. The above solutions will have you covered until Apple comes up with a better solution of its own.