Hack your iPhone: back up your data

If you want to hack your iPhone, be prepared for the notion that you can lose all your data or (worst case) turn your iPhone into a useless brick — thus the origin of the word “bricking” a device. Normally if things go awry, the worst that will happen is that you have to restore your iPhone to its initial pristine state. That means that you’d lose your settings and data on the iPhone. So before proceeding with hacking your iPhone, make sure you save off your data as follows.

Windows users

Back up contacts – I don’t use Outlook or Outlook Express, so my contacts are stored using the Windows Address Book (found with Start->Programs->Accessories->Address Book). I exported my contacts as a WAB (Windows Address Book) file and a CSV (comma-separated value) file. Added: in iTunes, plug in your iPhone, click on the iPhone device, then under the “Info” tab, look for the “Contacts” section. Make sure that you check the box for “Sync contacts with:” and select “Windows Address Book”.

Back up photos – On my Windows XP system, iTunes doesn’t copy photos to my desktop computer (annoying!). And each time I plugged in the iPhone, a different dialog window would pop up (also annoying). It looked like this:

Microsoft wizard to suck down camera images

It turns out that these two annoyances cancel out. 🙂 Go ahead and run the “Microsoft Scanner and Camera Wizard” and you can import the pictures on your iPhone and move them to your Windows computer pretty easily.

Back up settings – This sounds horribly low tech, but grab a blank piece of paper and walk through your “Settings” application on the iPhone and just write down each setting. It’s boring, but in 10-15 minutes you’ve got a record of every setting on your iPhone, so it won’t hurt if you have to restore your iPhone to a pristine state. Added: Any time you sync your iPhone to iTunes, iTunes also saves your settings, but I prefer to have a paper backup just in case.

Back up music – I don’t buy music from iTunes; I use MP3s from my music collection. So I had copies of the music on my iPhone somewhere else and didn’t worry about backing up my music.

Back up bookmarks – I use Firefox for my normal bookmarks and Internet Explorer for my iPhone bookmarks. I don’t have that many iPhone bookmarks, so I didn’t worry about saving a safe copy somewhere else. Added: in iTunes, plug in your iPhone, click on the iPhone device, then under the “Info” tab, look for the “Web Browser” section. I checked the checkbox for “Sync bookmarks with:” and selected “Internet Explorer”. Once IE has your iPhone bookmarks, then in Internet Explorer you can click File, then “Import and Export…” to open a wizard. Click “Next”, then “Export Favorites…” and “Next”. The following screen lets you export some or all of IE’s bookmarks (called Favorites). If you don’t change anything, you’ll select all the bookmarks, so just click “Next”, and then you can specify a file where the exported bookmarks will be saved.

Mac users

I assume that your iPhone syncs files to your Apple computer. To be cautious, make backups of whatever data you can by copying photos/file data to an extra-safe location. Any Apple users want to chime in with more specific advice?

Ready to go!

Okay, your data is backed up — you’re all set to begin hacking your iPhone. I’ve only had good experiences so far, but remember that things can go wrong. So back up that data first!

20 Responses to Hack your iPhone: back up your data (Leave a comment)

  1. Interesting post though I think bricking has an older pedigree than iphones though – i take it you know all about alternate (linux based) firmware on linksys’s wrt54g and the NSLU2.

    I’ve just brought a nslu2 to turn it into a lowcost linux box

  2. thanks for the tips, now i have to find some money to buy my iphone.

  3. Matt: Should you not be honored with a GPhone beta?

    Some of us are gagging to hear more about which way this is going – the rumored G Phone that is.

    Thanks for being here


  4. I’d be only too happy to be a guinea pig for the new (proposed/rumoured/pie in the sky) GPhone.

    Seriously though I’ve given up with those flaky infra red mobiles. I now believe phones and computer were just not meant to be together.

    PS. I am also available for tea making duties at the Googleplex if your tea lady is getting a bit passed it 🙂

  5. Maurice, sure–I didn’t mean to imply that “bricking” started with iPhones. That phrase has been around quite a while. 🙂

    David Saunders, if it’s not search quality or webspam, then it’s not really my area at Google. So I’ll stick to posts about the iPhone that’s in my pocket. 🙂

  6. Hopefully we will have Iphones soon in Costa Rica…hacked or not…

    Hey, Matt, is being cool to read most of ur entries…

    I have a link feed of this site in our maestroweb blog..

  7. What about backing up the calendar? I couldn’t get it to work with Outlook.

    Also, what about custom photos that you set for your contacts? Those don’t get backed up I don’t think.

    It’s pretty lame really, I want to click a button on iTunes and have it backup EVERYTHING on my iPhone. Because someday I’m sure something will happen to it. Or when the next one comes out I will want to transfer everything over.

  8. The other option is to hack the iphone BEFORE you add any personal settings, and while the warrenty still lasts.

  9. So Matt, what are your feelings now that the phone has dropped $200 in price or if it was the 4 Gb it has been discontinued? That doesn’t give me much confidence in Apple.

  10. not as useful as you could have been. Its ok you don’t buy drm music but you still could have said how to backup music. Contacts is done automaticly…

  11. thanks for the tips, now i have to find some money to buy my iphone.

  12. This is very useful information for me, don’t know if it is useful to other users but I appreciate this information very much because I wanted to hack little bit my iPhone and I’m new to this. Thanks, Matt.

  13. For PC users, the best solution to backup their iPhone is CopyTrans http://www.copytrans.net/iphone-ipod-touch-backup.php

  14. Matt,

    IDrive Lite just launched an internet based iPhone Contacts backup and restore application for free. This is a much easier option that the options you described.


  15. I tried iDrive Lite. it LOOKS like it worked. I downloaded the app and tapped the “Backup” button and watched this little progress bar for a while…then, it said it was done.

    But who knows? Do I really have anything backed up?? I didn’t see any way to verify anything…so I guess I just hope for the best and rely on this thing – at least until I come up with something better. And, if I do have to restore, what data am I going to get? There’s no documentation, or even any info. in the app that gives me any assurance that I’m not going to get somebody else’s data. (How is that managed? We have no information.)

    I’ve tried iTunes, iPranks, and now this. Apple does not seem to have provided their customers with a reliable, verifiable facility for protecting their data. Maybe its a lot more than a music player for kids but it still hasn’t really grown up.

    To me, backing up data is not a matter of blind faith. Clicking on a cute icon and hoping for the best is not what I have in mind. A backup is something that I can point to, verify, and know I can rely on in case something happens – whether just some data gets corrupted or the whole device gets lost, stolen, bricked, or just craps out.

    So, while I agree that all the steps that Matt describes seem like a lot of stuff to do…it looks like that the best we’ve got – at least for now.

  16. No need to jailbreak or hack into your iphone!!! Please review MSB, free demo in website
    From the Public Relations Office of MobileSyncBrowser: As your website is in touch with the news about iPhone Technology and Applications, I’m writing to tell you about the release of MobileSync Browser (MSB) 3.0, as well as MSB 3.1b1, the exclusive pre-release version of this application.
    MobileSyncBrowser is used to retrieve data automatically stored inside iTunes every time the iPhone was synchronized to the computer. MSB will recover all information, notes, contacts, call history and SMS messages, in case the device gets lost, broken or stolen. Visit MSB at: http://homepage.mac.com/vaughn/msync/ Important note: 3.1 beta releases (e.g. 3.1b1) users should bear in mind that, as pre-release test copies, they are limited to running for a maximum of 15 days, when the next test cycle begins.
    Users all over the world contact developer Vaughn S. Cordero to thank him and praise MSB for helping them evade the negative effects of losing all their information.
    I’m attaching the press release and/or an informational document that outlines all the useful characteristics of MSB, now in its third generation. You are welcome to download the free trial; and please, would you kindly write a review or use the attached information to let your readers know about MobileSyncBrowser?
    In addition to English, MSB includes Spanish, French and German support when it runs on systems in those languages. Be aware that MSB will work for iPhones in any language; however, the application contains those four to display the menus and the text. For instance, if you use MSB for an Italian iPhone, the information will display in Italian because MSB does not include that language support.
    If you have questions or comments, please write back directly to Vaughn at audiobinder@mac.com, or reply to my email. Thank you for your help. — Madeleine D. Quilichini, e: mad_copy@yahoo.com

  17. Can you imagine making plans and relying solely on your iphone. You go traveling somewhere and then your screwed cause the battery in the phone explodes. Everything is now a fucking nightmare. Technology is suppose to make things simpler not more complicated. I want to have my contacts and calander information on my phone and backed up on the internet do i can print it out. Its obviously something thats very complicated and you need a pc to sync with your itunes to do it. NOW. Supposidly there is a way to do it with a mobileme application and account. The fuckers want £59.99 pa to let you do it!!

  18. Thanks. The following is how I got things done:
    Tip1: for those songs purchased from iTunes, simply transfer purchases. See http://support.apple.com/kb/HT1329

    Tip2: for songs that were not purchased from iTunes, use this transfer guide:

  19. Please Help!
    I have a shit load of bookmarks saved on my iPhone’s safari browser that I’ve collected while away from my PC.
    Is there anyway possible to export the bookmarks added/saved on an iPhone into a main PC browser (e.g. firefox) favorites collection??