Our phones have become almost indispensable. If you come to think about it, it’s a bit silly that a device small enough to fit into our pockets holds some of our most important data and documents. Phone numbers, photos, messages, apps – everything fits into a smartphone.

Data recovery 101 – what can and can’t be recovered from your iPhone

The fact that technology became so available is nothing short of amazing, but what happens when, suddenly, our access is being revoked? What happens when your phone gets lost, damaged, or you delete some important text messages or photos? In moments like this, technology feels so powerful, yet so fragile. In a tenth of a second, things that were important to you, and that you believe were safe, are now gone.

Or are they?
Technology may not be indestructible, but there are some ways to recover lost data, even if you believe it is gone forever. That, of course, depends on how bad the device or files were damaged, but in most cases, there is a way to get those important contacts and text messages back.

Below are some examples of situations that cause people to lose important data, as well as what can be done to recover it.

Data recovery 101 – what can and can’t be recovered from your iPhone

Data lost due to water damage

This is one of the biggest fears of iPhone users, even though the last models claim to be waterproof. If you iPhone got sunken for whatever reason, you may believe all your data is completely lost. Well, while there is a high chance, you won’t be able to recover some of your data, such as passwords or information that is covered by end-to-end encryption.

There are going to be some data-recovery companies that state they can recover all information from devices that have been damaged by water, but that is not always the case.

The only way to recover as much as you can from a sunken phone is by contacting a data recovery lab. This is going to be a bit expensive, but if you have valuable information that absolutely must be recovered, it’s worth a try.

Data recovery tools that are available for the general public can help you recover information from backups or synchronized data, so if you have those backups, you can rest assured knowing your photos will be back soon.

Apple provides 5 GB of iCloud space that is free to use, but that’s not going to be enough if you have a lot of backup to do. Fortunately, you can always buy more iCloud space at quite an affordable price. By doing this, you will be able to recover backup photos from the iCloud even if you don’t have access to your phone anymore.

Data lost due to a broken phone

Before you ask yourself what’s the difference between a sunken iPhone and a broken one, let us clear things out. The sunken phone has much fewer chances of being revived than a phone with, say, a shattered display. Because even if you can not see anything on the display and you don’t have any touch functionality, the phone may still be working properly.

There are tools that can help you access most data on your iPhone by plugging it into a computer, but there are some conditions that need to be met in order for that to happen. The easiest way is when your computer is paired with iTunes on the computer and market as a trusted device. This way, you won’t need to use the screen to type in the password.

If your computer is not marked as trusted, the only thing that you can hope for is that you are able to unlock the phone either with facial recognition or fingerprint, so that you can connect it to the computer.

If you only need your photos, and your computer is a trusted device, then you can simply download the photos without using any third-party app. However, if you need more than just your photos, you will need a tool that creates iTunes-format files, then a tool that can analyze the backup you just created.

If recovering deleted text messages is your main goal, then our advice is to contact an expert and let them do the job for you. This way, you will know you have the highest chances of success.

Data deleted from your iPhone

Most of the times, when we delete data from our phone, we believe it is forever gone and can not be recovered no matter what. But what if you delete some photos or text messages by mistake? What can be done then?

First, you must understand how your iPhone stores information. With some exceptions, all user files stored on an iPhone are encrypted. This means a unique encryption key is needed to unlock every file. When the file gets deleted, this key is temporarily destroyed, making it almost impossible to recover deleted data without using jailbreak or exploit tools.

There are, however, certain types of files that can be recovered, simply because they do not follow the same protocol. These are:

  • Photos and videos: when you delete a photo from your iPhone, the phone does not completely erase it, but stores it in an album named “recently deleted files” and keeps them there for about 30 days. If they are not recovered until then, they get permanently deleted.
  • Messages: because text messages are stored in SQLite format, which means when these files are deleted, they are actually marked as unused and stored separately on a free list. These files can then be recovered using the right tools.
  • Browsing files: files such as bookmarks, browsing history, tabs, and your reading list can be recovered, as they are also stored as SQLite file, but this time in Apple’s AppDomain. However, starting iOS 12, some of these files are gone forever if they are not recovered in time.

Losing valuable data is never pleasant, but things like this happen all the time. Going to a professional that can help you recover lost data is very important, but making sure you backup your files frequently is of much greater importance, as you can see.

iLounge author Lucy Bennett

Lucy Bennett is a Contributing Editor at iLounge. She has been writing about Apple and technology for over six years. Prior to joining iLounge, Lucy worked as a writer for several online publications.