Working with iPhone Data (It Really Shouldn’t Be This Hard).

Post Published on December 26, 2012.
Last Updated on April 9, 2016 by davemackey.

Image representing iPhone
Image via CrunchBase

Charity has been using an iPhone 3G I bought years ago for a long time now. Recently I bought a used iPhone 4 for her and today we finally made it over to an AT&T store to get a new SIM card (the SIM’s are smaller for the iPhone 4). While all the contacts where transferred – the text messages, pictures, and notes weren’t and by the time we got back to the house her new phone had already blown up with text messages. Now the challenge was how to get her pictures, notes, and text messages off of her old iPhone and onto the new one without overwriting the new text messages on the new one.

Sure, it would be easy enough to create a backup through iTunes of the iPhone 3G and then restore it to the iPhone 4 – but that isn’t what I wanted to do…I don’t like data loss!

No big deal I figured. There must be tons of free software programs out there to handle this sort of thing…Ummm, I was wrong. So here is what I’ve learned in the process and how I managed to get things moved around for anyone else who wants to avoid any data loss. 🙂


Pictures are the easiest:

  • Attach the old iPhone to your computer
  • Create a new folder called something like iphone_pics on your computer
  • Open the iPhone via Windows Explorer (click on My Computer–>iPhone (it may have a unique name)–>Internal Storage–>DCIM–>another folder (probably named something like 800AAAAA).
  • Copy and paste images from this folder into the iphone_pics folder you created earlier.

To then transfer the pictures back to your iPhone you can use the iTunes interface or plug in your new phone, navigate to the images folder using the same process as above and cut and paste the files from your iphone_pics folder into the new phones’ image folder.


You’d think that forwarding the notes to Gmail and placing them in the Notes folder that later versions of the iPhone use to sync notes across devices would work – that the phone would download said notes, but it doesn’t! I was able to extract the raw text of the Notes by using MobileSyncBrowser.

Alternatively, see this article by Dave Taylor on emailing oneself notes.

Note: While there is a note syncing function in later versions of iOS, it does not appear to be in 4.2.1 which is what my iPhone 3G is running, even though this article seems to suggest it is present in 4.0.


Here again I resorted to exporting the text messages to a flat text file using MobileSyncBrowser. You’d think there would be a better way to do this, but I haven’t found it!

Dead Ends

I thought that perhaps if I could upgrade my iPhone to a newer version of the software I’d be able to get my data off – perhaps using the notes sync function, etc. I downloaded and installed whited00r, but that didn’t work as it wiped all the data before installing, and couldn’t restore the data from the iTunes backup I had…I ended up restoring back to iOS 4.2.1 from a backup in iTunes.

Software Options

I found numerous applications that claim to help in various ways in extracting data from your device – though few of them seem to offer the ability to then port it into a new device. Here is what I found. Let me know if any of these worked well for you. I tried several, but most of them where very crippled and/or expensive.

  • Backuptrans iPhone SMS Backup & Restore – This application claims to backup iPhone SMS messages and then restore them to an iPhone. Very crippled without registration. Cost is $19. Not too bad. I need to check with the wife and see if having her historical SMS messages on the iPhone rather than in a flat text file is worth the cost…If so, I’ll probably give these folks a try.
  • 91 PC Suite – Believe it was a free program but has been succeeded by Moborobo. Still available for free download. Moborobo looks pretty slick, but it doesn’t yet support iPhone. The 91 PC Suite app. crashed on startup on my Windows 7 machine.
  • Decipher Tools TextMessage – This company offers several applications – one for managing SMS, one for voicemail, and one for browsing files in an iTunes backup. Cost is $19 for the TextMessage application. Didn’t see anything about the ability to transfer the SMS to another iPhone.
  • DigiDNA DiskAid – This software looks slick and appears to be powerful, but does cost around $20 and I didn’t see anything about transferring from one iPhone to another.
  • MacroPlant iExplorer – Another nifty application, but it doesn’t appear to do device-to-device transfers and the cost is $35.
  • Reincubate’s iPhone Backup Extractor – Allows for extraction of data from a backup, cost is $25. No device-to-device transfers.
  • Cucusoft’s iPhone Tool Kits – Cost is $35. Does the usual, but not device-to-device.
  • iPhoneBrowser – Open Source, hasn’t been updated since 2009. Needs a jailbroke phone.
  • MobileSyncBrowser – Lets you perform full exports using the trial version. This is what I ended up using. There is a basic version for $10 and a premium version for $20. Uses iTunes backups rather than live data off of phone. Does not perform device-to-device sync.
  • ImToo iPhone SMS Backup – Backs up SMS, no device-to-device sync, $10.

There are innumerable options out there, but they all seem to be lacking – especially on the device-to-device front…and many of them seem a bit on the sleazy side. I’d be hesitant to download them or give them my payment information.


Before you upgrade your iPhone, do a full backup immediately preceding, then get the SIM out as quickly as possible so no further SMS etc. messages come in. Once the new phone is loaded, restore the data from the most recent backup. You’ll avoid all this headache.

For those who are in this same situation – I’ve spent hours trying to figure out a resolution to this dilemma to no avail. If you find one, let me know.

Technical Appendix

For those so inclined, here is some additional technical information from a geeky perspective along with some relevant articles.

  • SMS is stored in a SQLite database – at least the backup files are.

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