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Data Recovery from a Modern Smartphone is a Challenging Task


Today almost everybody owns a smartphone. Last year (2016) alone nearly 1.5 billion units were sold worldwide and smartphone sales grow from every quarter to the next according to Gartner. IDC states that this year (2017) sales have risen by 7.4 % from the second quarter and that third quarter sales were up by 2.7% year over year.

Despite his success the smartphone device is compared to other electronic quite young. It is now only 10 years since Apple introduced its first iPhone in 2007, which is regarded as the beginning of the modern smartphone, even though there were some advanced mobile phones and PDAs prior to it that had some features that are comparable to what is now normal.

With the introduction of the iPhone in 2007, other companies followed quickly with other models and operating systems. However, now only two operating systems really dominate the worldwide market: Android (by Google) and iOS (by Apple). Besides the operating systems these mobile phones have evolved from devices to talk over a long distance to products which combine a lot of functions and applications so that they have become hand-sized mini-computers.

This was only possible with the decreasing of the build-in electronic parts which are necessary for these devices to work: smaller controllers, processor chips and memory. More advanced and smaller parts are therefore put inside the casing, which hasn’t changed much since the original Apple design of 2007.  But what has evolved over the last 1o years is what can be stored inside the smartphone. Storage space (with or without removable Flash memory cards) have multiplied.

Due to the increase of storage and complexity of the devices, data recovery from smartphones is not an easy task and every smartphone recovery – like data recoveries from hard disks, tape or high-end storages – is different:

The different kinds of smart phone data losses

As with other data storage devices one has to differentiate between data loss caused by a mechanical or physical failure or one that is caused by a logical mistake.

A physical failure can occur when the Flash memory chip or the build-in controller chip is ruined and the device cannot be used anymore due to a fall to the ground. Or the used memory chips are of low quality, provoke interruptions and do not save data properly right from the beginning.

A logical failure however are missing or false file structures or – connections, corrupt files and file formats as well as wrong storage space assignments. In such cases the files are not recognized or handled by the operating system anymore, even though they are still stored in the storage medium – the FLASH memory chip(s).

In some cases – but only when a logical failure caused the problem and for example in case of a false system update – it is possible that a smartphone user can recover its lost data by using special smartphone data recovery software. There are several tools available on the market and in the internet. Before using such software it is wise to inform about all the pros and cons before trying to recover data.

In severe data loss cases – both physical as well as logical – a normal user cannot recover his data himself – these are expert jobs. When a smartphone will not start without using special tricks, it is most likely that the device and data stored have massive defects. Then there are so many complex problems, that normal do-it-yourself-methods will not work or will even cause more severe problems or make a data recovery impossible.

What data recovery experts can do…

When there are problems with the build-in electronic parts is the cause of a malfunction or data loss then data recovery experts and smartphone repair services are to be contacted. They have the necessary tools and spare parts to both repair and recover the lost data.  If for example a controller of a smartphone is broken, then a profound data recovery expert might disassemble the smartphone, locate the original controller and change it with an unused controller of the same kind if it possible that the new one will provide access to the data. In other cases the memory chips will be removed from the smartphone and read out by special hard and software which are either especially engineered by the research and development department of the professional data recovery service provider or the experts use tools that are not available to the broad public. Additional they can also repair smartphones in their cleanroom which have suffered mechanical damage like broken displays or shells.

In case of logical data loss other specialists are in demand: Here the data recovery lab engineers use special software tools to recover the data which in many cases are not only not amenable but also corrupted. Then they not only read out the data from the device, but also fix the files in a second step.

Since data specialists from Ontrack get a huge amount of Flash-based SSD devices throughout the year, they have a deep knowledge about that technology since its start. For data recovery of smartphones they have combined the gathered know how with methods and processes especially focused on smartphone recovery. Ontrack has developed data reconstruction programs that let you analyze, separate, and assemble flash memory to reliably recover files or data.

As a result, Ontrack’s data rescuers can in many cases still recover lost smartphone data even when other service providers cannot.

What you – the user – should not do!

However, for a data recovery to be successful, the owners must also do their part: If it is foreseeable that this is a serious physical or logical problem, there should be no attempt to rescue data on its own. Especially if you do not know what you are actually doing and have no experience with complex data structures.

If you are sure that the device is functioning and the data loss is due to human failure – e.g. deleting files unintentionally – you might be able to help yourself. How? This is what we show in the next blog post.

For more information see https://www.ontrack.com/services/data-recovery/mobile/


Picture copyright: Norbert Lorenz / pixelio.de

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