As an iPhone or iPad user knows, it’s all too easy to accidentally delete information from your device simply by touching the screen the wrong way. And once that data is gone, it’s gone for good—unless you have Wondershare’s Dr. Fone, a $100 program (free feature-limited demo) that proved capable of recovering lost data from iOS devices … some of the time.
Dr. Fone is desktop software (with separate versions for Windows and Mac) that works with all iOS devices. It can recover data directly from the iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4, the iPad 1, and the fourth-generation iPod touch, and it can regain data from an iTunes backup of all other iOS devices, including newer iPads, the iPhone 5, and the iPhone 4S. Wondershare plans to add device-level recovery for these newer iPhones and iPads in a version to be released later this year.
As mentioned above, Dr. Fone tackles iOS data recovery in two ways: Either from the iOS device itself, or—in case you’ve lost the device—from an iTunes backup. To recover data from a compatible iOS device, you launch Dr. Fone on your PC and connect your device via USB. In order to recover deleted data, Dr. Fone needs your device in DFU mode (Device Firmware Update), which prevents the OS from loading. To accomplish, the software leads you through the process—which simply involves pressing a combination of buttons—as painstakingly as possible. It even shows an on-screen countdown clock, ticking off the seconds that you’re required to hold the buttons.
Once your phone or tablet is in DFU mode, Dr. Fone takes a few seconds to connect with the device, and then automatically begins scanning it for deleted files. The software can recover items deleted from the camera roll, photo stream, photo library, contacts, MMS and SMS messages and attachments, call history, calendar, notes, reminders, voice memos, and Safari bookmarks. It automatically scans for all types of files; once done, it tells you how many of each it managed to recover.
At first glance, Dr. Fone seemed pretty capable of recovering lost files. I deleted multiple contacts, photos, videos, text messages, and bookmarks, as well as the complete call history, from an iPhone 4, and Dr. Fone was able to find all of the files except for the deleted text messages.
Once the files are located, you can choose which ones to recover, and Dr. Fone walks you through the process of recovering the items to a folder of your choice on your PC. Unfortunately, once my files were recovered, I found that not all of them were intact: For my missing contacts, it recovered the names and contact photos, but not the phone numbers associated with them, which was the most important part. I’ve had a similar experience when testing data recovery applications for my Windows PC: Often, they’re able to recover bits and pieces of the deleted data, but not always all of it.
If you don’t have access to your iOS device, if your Dr. Fone scan doesn’t find what you’re looking for, or if you’re using a newer Apple device, you can use the software to recover data from iTunes backup files. Dr. Fone automatically loads a list of available iTunes backup files, and you select which one you’d like to scan. Then, Dr. Fone automatically searches through the file for the same photos, contacts, and more that it attempts to recover from your iPhone or iPad itself. While you could use iTunes to access these backups, doing so limits you to accessing the entire backup file; using Dr. Fone allows you to pick and choose which specific files within the backup you’d like to recover.
Dr. Fone isn’t perfect, as it didn’t recover all of my deleted files intact, but it came close. It certainly is pricey, but if you’ve accidentally deleted an important photo or file, you know that some things are priceless.
Note: The “Try it for free” button on the Product Information page takes you to the vendor’s site, where you can download the latest version of the software appropriate to your system.
Liane Cassavoy is a veteran technology and business journalist. She contributes regularly to PCWorld and has written about business issues and products for Entrepreneur Magazine and other publications. She is the author of two business start-up guides published by Entrepreneur Press.