Apple has always provided a means to back up your iPhone so that, should anything disastrous happen, you’re safe in the knowledge that you can easily restore your backup to a new one. At first, this was simply through iTunes but along came iCloud and now backups are performed directly to Apple’s servers, saving the burden of iTunes syncing.
While this protects our iPhone’s data from something such as loss, theft or damage, what happens if we inadvertently delete some information such as some notes, a voice recording or document within an app?
PhoneView is an app that provides a level of interaction with an iPhone (and iPad) that goes far beyond anything iTunes lets us do. Even without jailbreaking, we’re able to delve deep into the iPhone’s filesystem and directly access app data, messages, call logs and more so they can be easily archived and backed up – as well as recovered if the worst has happened.
iTunes is pretty dumb in that respect as it simply serves as a way of syncing the iPhone’s media files and backing it up, offering no control about what exactly is being backed up or how. While it will certainly save our proverbial bacon if we misplace our iPhone, it offers no protection in the event that a specific piece of data is accidentally erased.
PhoneView, by Ecamm Network, is to be used as a means of copying all sorts of data to and from the iPhone, with the ability to archive data in a growing history. As it functions more as a file browser than syncing platform, we can access information that would otherwise be unavailable to us.
When it comes to the app’s look and feel, there really isn’t much to write home about. I don’t mean that in a negative manner, simply that there isn’t anything particularly exceptional about it. PhoneView’s interface closely mirrors that of the Finder, with each section listed within the sidebar, providing a familiar experience when accessing your iPhone. At the end of the day, PhoneView is a file browser and it doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel.
Depending on the capacity and amount of space used on your iPhone, it can take a good 10-15 seconds whenever you’re first switching between categories. After that, the app maintains a history of information so it loads much quicker.
Your iPhone, Your Data
I was really surprised by how much data is available to PhoneView from a typical iPhone.
- Notes taken with the built-in Notes app
- Voice recordings saved with Voice Memos
- Call logs
- Media files (Music, Photos, Videos, Voice Memos)
- Safari history
- App documents
PhoneView provides a drag-and-drop way of accessing this sort of data and files without ever having to go through iTunes. You can access movies and photos you’ve stored on your iPhone and even play music directly through the app. This is especially useful for troubleshooting potentially lost data as apps that have unexpectedly quit can, although rare, no longer recognise files that were present just moments earlier. Using this feature alone, I’ve recovered several voice recordings that Voice Memos, for one reason or another, decided were no longer present on my iPhone — all thanks to PhoneView.
Additionally, this also applies to any apps you may have installed on your iPhone. Should those apps be capable of creating new files, such as text editors, you can access the files you’ve created with them through PhoneView. You can even copy compatible files into apps, similar to the function within iTunes, but without having to actually use Apple’s bloated media app.
Each category of data can be opened with the equivalent Mac app. Contacts can be sent to Contacts in Mac OS X and opening any Safari history items will do so within your default browser.
But with great power comes great responsibility, and this additional level of access you gain to your iPhone means you’re one step closer to potentially wiping data permanently as you can delete data within PhoneView quite easily.
Should you find yourself without a USB memory stick and need a decent amount of storage space, PhoneView lets you use your iPhone as a data storage device, allowing for any files or folders to be copied to it. Any data you copy to your iPhone in this manner isn’t accessible by the iPhone and, for all intents and purposes, is completely hidden.
It’s a feature that I’m sure some people would find useful and works perfectly, but it isn’t terribly convenient since it requires PhoneView installed on any Mac you’re transferring data to or from.
Backing Up Messages
One of the most common questions I get asked is “how do I back up my text messages?” PhoneView offers a fully automatic way of backing up all of your iPhone’s messages, both SMS and iMessage, as soon as you plug it in. Messages are even displayed as they would appear on your iPhone, complete with appropriate speech bubbles and avatar images. You can select multiple messages and export them into various formats, with PDFs appearing in the same style.
Call logs are also archived in this way, updated whenever the iPhone is connected. PhoneView even states whether the call was received, sent, missed or cancelled. The more you use PhoneView, the larger your call log will be.
Both call logs and messages are fully searchable and PhoneView can even access your iPhone Backups that have been made through iTunes so that, even if you have lost your iPhone, provided you made a recent backup then you can still view your messages and call logs.
If you’re a heavy texter or just want to make sure you have a thorough backup of your messages, PhoneView might be the very app you’ve been looking for.
At just $29.95, PhoneView provides an unparalleled level of access to your iPhone’s filesystem that requires no modification to your Mac or iPhone. It’s as plug-and-play as you can get, and it does everything it sets out to do in a straightforward and simplistic manner.
Its feature set is something iTunes sorely lacks and, though I suspect the majority of users will be those just wanting to maintain an easily-accessible archive of text messages, if you have to use it once to recover some data then it will be money well spent.
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