Restoring iPhone contacts after backup mishap
January 8, 2011 12:24 PM   Subscribe

Can my friend restore her iPhone contacts, after mistakenly syncing with the wrong iTunes backup?

My friend asks:
"I got my new iphone 4. All my contacts were moved to my new phone by the guys at the shop where I got my phone. When I got home I hooked it up to my PC, but the itunes synched my phone with my husband's phone. Now I have all his contacts on my phone and none of mine. I tried to restore to the previous backup, but after about two minutes of synching an error message came up: "iTunes could not restore the iPhone "Yair's iphone" because an error occurred", and my phone restarts. I tried restoring my contacts from the SIM card, but nothing happens. Any ideas how can I find my original back up and restore the hundreds of contacts I erased?"

To clarify - Previous to the update, they both had iPhones, but the wife never synced hers. After getting the new iPhone, she inadvertently synced and got his contacts. Are her old contacts still stored anywhere? Thanks.
posted by Silky Slim to Computers & Internet (3 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
If you're unable to use an older back on one computer, there's a chance you can use it on another. I had to do this recently, due to an error in trying to upgrade. I found the folder where iPhone upgrades are kept (on my laptop) and used a thumb drive to copy them over to the same folder on my desktop computer. I had to upgrade iTunes on the desktop, but once I did I was able to restore from one of the older backups. I'm not sure where that is but web search for 'where does itunes store iphone backups' is how I found it in the first place. Good luck.

Also, moving forward, it might be a good idea to use something like Google Sync to back up all contacts. Then changing phones just involves setting Sync up on the new phone, plus you can access all your contacts from a web browser.
posted by monkeymadness at 1:00 PM on January 8, 2011

When you sync your iPhone, a backup is created. Generally speaking, only one backup file is stored by iTunes for that particular phone's name. So you have Bob's phone, and you sync it on Monday, a backup file is created. You sync it on Tuesday, a backup file is created which overwrites Monday's file.

You rename this phone as Bob's Lovely phone, and now creates a backup file, but because there's no previous file for "Bob's Lovely", nothing is overwritten.

Backup files are stored in various locations depending on the operating system. To find out where they're stored, see iPhone and iPod touch: About backups.

Since the contacts were never synced, the contacts she wants are stored in a backup file, not in Windows Contacts or Microsoft Outlook or Windows Address Book or Contacts (if on a Mac). However, when she synced her contacts for the first time and got her husband's contacts on her phone, she either clicked on MERGE or she clicked on REPLACE.

1) She clicked on merge: YAY! The contacts she needs are still on the phone! Sync with a new account in Windows or OSX to move every contact from the phone to the computer, then go through on the computer to click and delete the unwanted contacts, then sync again. Now the phone should mirror that user account on the computer, and it should have only the contacts she wants.

2) She clicked on replace. FUCK! You are going to have to rely on a backup file. Before you do anything, go to the location in that KB article I linked to above and copy/paste all the backup files to a different location (desktop, USB, burn to a disc, wevs). Next, go to preferences in iTunes (Windows: edit-->preferences | OSX: iTunes-->preferences) then click the DEVICES tab, then turn off the option to sync automatically. Now connect the phone and wait for it to appear under DEVICES on the left-hand side in iTunes. Right click on the name of the iPhone under DEVICES (or in OSX, control+click) and choose the option to RESTORE FROM BACKUP. Here you'll see a list of the iPhone backup files on the computer. Choose the one you think will have the contacts she needs, and click restore. At the end of the process, check the phone to see if that worked. If not, repeat with a different backup file. Hopefully you have more than one.

If you've backed up the hard drive in the past, you can also roll back the operating system to a previous date to get a backup file that existed in the past. You can even take a backup file (again, see that article above) from a different computer and transfer it to yet another computer, and restore from there.

Once you get the contacts on the phone, make sure you've enabled contact syncing (click on the name of the phone under DEVICES, click the INFO tab, and then place a check in the box next to SYNC CONTACTS, then click APPLY). It's a lot more reliable to sync rather than just backup, because when you sync everything is actually transferred to a program on the computer, and you can see individual files. When you choose to just backup, EVERYTHING is stored in a single file which can be inadvertently deleted or corrupted, and you can't see what exactly is stored in there (there are third-party programs which will peek into a backup file, but I don't have any experience with them).

Finally, once everything is working again, find a way to back up the hard drive so that data recovery is a little easier in the future. I use TimeMachine (OSX); I don't know what the Windows equivalent is, but maybe someone here can chime in.

Good luck!
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 1:07 PM on January 8, 2011

I forgot to mention Update and restore alert messages on iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. When she tried to restore from a backup previously and got a message, hopefully there was a numerical error code (1611, 20, 23, etc). You can look at that article to see what the problem is. A lot of times, it's a problem with iTunes connecting successfully to Apple's servers, and temporarily disabling security software or a firewall can resolve that (again, reference that KB article to see if the error code is not on the list).

Sometimes the error code isn't on the list. In that case, you can try removing/reinstalling iTunes: XP, Vista & Windows 7, OSX.

Also, if you still get the error message after removing/reinstalling iTunes and the associated software per the KB articles above, you could try migrating the backup files to another computer and attempting the "restore from backup" procedure there.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 1:15 PM on January 8, 2011

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