What happens if data recovery fails on iPhone?

Losing data on your iPhone can be stressful, especially if you have important photos, messages, or other irreplaceable information stored on the device. While there are various data recovery methods available, they do not always work. So what happens if you exhaust all options and data recovery ultimately fails?

Why does data recovery fail?

There are a few key reasons why iPhone data recovery attempts may be unsuccessful:

  • The data has been overwritten – If new data has been saved over your lost files, it becomes much harder to recover them.
  • Hardware damage – Any physical damage to the iPhone’s storage chips or logic boards can prevent access to data.
  • Encryption – iPhones have built-in data encryption that protects your information but also makes recovery difficult if you forget the passcode.
  • Improper handling – Actions like factory resetting your iPhone lower the chances of data recovery success.

Essentially, the more you use your iPhone after data loss, the lower your chances of recovery become. This is because the deleted data can be permanently overwritten by new data.

What exactly is lost forever?

If data recovery fails, any files or data that were stored locally on your iPhone’s internal storage are likely gone for good. This includes:

  • Photos and videos
  • Messages, call logs, voicemails
  • Contacts
  • Calendars and reminders
  • Notes and voice memos
  • Web history and bookmarks
  • Health and activity data
  • Apple wallet passes and payment information
  • App data and settings

Any iCloud backups, iTunes or Finder backups, or synced data may allow you to restore some of this lost information. However, any files not previously backed up will be permanently inaccessible if they cannot be recovered from the iPhone itself.

Will I lose data on external SD cards?

The iPhone does not actually have expandable external storage in the form of SD cards or similar media. However, if you had an external drive connected via the iPhone’s Lightning port when the data loss occurred, the situation is a bit different.

In this case, you may be able to recover data from the external drive as long as its storage chips or interface were not damaged. If the external drive and connector remain functional, data recovery should still be possible by connecting the drive to another device like a computer.

Can the iPhone be restored without data recovery?

Yes, even with failed data recovery attempts, it is still possible to restore your iPhone’s base software and perform a factory reset. This is done by connecting the iPhone to a computer and entering recovery mode or DFU (device firmware upgrade) mode. However, keep in mind factory resetting eliminates any remaining deleted data on your iPhone that recovery could potentially retrieve.

The process varies slightly between iPhone models but generally involves some combination of holding certain buttons while connecting to a computer via USB. The computer can then wipe the iPhone completely and reinstall the latest iOS firmware. This gives you a functioning iPhone again, but any unsaved data will be gone for good.

What are my options going forward after recovery fails?

After exhausting all data recovery methods, here are some steps you can take to get your iPhone working again while also safeguarding your data in the future:

  • Factory reset the iPhone to restore functionality.
  • Log in to iCloud and confirm backups are active for important data like messages, photos, and contacts.
  • Enable automatic iCloud backups and encrypted iTunes backups for local data backups.
  • Consider using a cloud storage service as another backup for photos, videos, and files.
  • Repair or replace the iPhone if hardware damage caused the data loss.
  • Enable security features like Find My iPhone to protect and track your device.
  • Review iPhone storage settings and optimize space as needed.

While an failed recovery is never a good situation, taking proactive measures for your new iPhone can ensure you do not find yourself in the same predicament again down the road. Be diligent about performing regular backups to both iCloud and iTunes whenever possible.

Can I recover data without a backup after factory reset?

Unfortunately, performing a factory reset on your iPhone virtually eliminates any chance of recovering lost data without a backup. The reset wipes the entire iPhone storage and reinstalls the operating system from scratch.

Any photos, messages, notes, and other data stored locally on the device are permanently overwritten by the reset process. Unless that information was already backed up to iCloud or iTunes, it will be unrecoverable.

There are some exceptions where very small remnants of data may technically remain on the iPhone’s storage chips after a reset. However, actually finding and extracting any meaningful user files from that low-level raw data using forensic data recovery methods would be extremely difficult, costly, and unreliable.

So in most real-world scenarios, performing a factory reset means any data without an existing backup is essentially gone for good. This is why it’s critical to maintain regular backups of your iPhone to avoid ever being in that situation.

Can deleted files be recovered after a factory reset?

No, deleted files cannot be recovered from an iPhone after a factory reset. The reset erases the entire device storage, including any past deleted or existing user data. Any information not backed up is overwritten and permanently destroyed.

When files are deleted under normal circumstances (without a reset) there is a chance for recovery. This is because the files are not totally erased from the storage right away. Only the indexing links get removed, so recovery software can sometimes re-link the data.

But performing a factory reset purposely writes over all storage sectors to make sure everything is wiped clean. There are no remnants left where deleted user data could be recovered after this process. So unfortunately, a reset means any lost files are gone for good barring an existing backup.

How can I recover data after factory reset if I don’t have a backup?

There is no way to reliably recover user data from an iPhone after a factory reset if you do not have a backup. The reset intentionally overwrites all data as part of wiping the device, so anything that was not saved in a backup will be permanently deleted.

Without an iCloud or iTunes backup, here are your only options:

  • Manually attempt to recover data from the raw storage chips. This is difficult, expensive, and unlikely to recover anything usable.
  • Try third-party cloud extraction tools if you had any data synced to a cloud service outside of iCloud, like Google Photos or Dropbox.
  • Ask the person you were messaging if they still have any saved conversations.
  • Check your computer or any connected external hard drives for synced iPhone media.
  • See if your wireless carrier can recover voicemail or text transcripts.

But again, without an existing backup of your iPhone’s data partitions, it is essentially impossible to recover anything meaningful after a full factory reset. Doing a proper backup is the only sure way to protect your data.

Can you recover data from a dead iPhone?

It depends on why the iPhone is “dead” and not powering on. Here are some possibilities for data recovery from a dead iPhone:

  • If the screen is cracked or display is damaged but phone powers on – You may be able to recover data by connecting to a computer or external monitor.
  • If the battery is dead but no other damage – Charge via cable or external battery to power back on and recover data.
  • If there is water damage or corrosion – Professional data recovery services may be able to repair and extract data.
  • If there is damage to internal chips or logic board – Data is likely unrecoverable from the device itself. But backups could restore some data.

With significant physical damage that prevents powering on at all, professional data recovery becomes the only option. But it can be expensive with no guarantee, so backups are critical.

Should I avoid using the iPhone if data recovery is unsuccessful?

Yes, if you have exhausted all options and been unable to recover lost data from your iPhone, it is best to avoid using the device any further. This is because any new data could overwrite deleted files making future recovery attempts more difficult or impossible.

As soon as you realize important iPhone data is lost, stop using the device. Do not take or save new photos, download apps or media, reset or restore, or make any changes to the storage. This will increase the chances that professional or forensic data recovery methods could retrieve some lost files at a later point.

Also be very careful to avoid any new physical or liquid damage to the iPhone, as this could destroy sensitive storage chips needed to read any recoverable data remnants. Your best bet is to immediately power off the phone once data loss occurs and contact an expert for assistance.


Having iPhone data recovery fail can be devastating, especially for irreplaceable photos, videos, messages, and other personal data stored on the device. Unfortunately once exhausted, there are limited options beyond factory resetting and restoring from any existing backups.

To avoid being in that situation, be vigilant about maintaining regular backups to both iCloud and directly to a computer through iTunes or Finder. Enabling backup encryption and remote wipe features like Find My iPhone are also wise to secure and protect your data both locally on the device and in cloud storage.

But should the worst happen, do not continue using your iPhone or attempt any DIY data recovery after a failed attempt. This will likely make future professional recovery difficult or impossible. Your best path forward is contacting a reputable data recovery specialist and protecting the iPhone from any new damage in the meantime.