iPhone

Review: Get direct access to your iPhone's files with iExplorer

An easy way to get direct access to an iPhone's file system, granting you the ability to manipulate backups, messages, contacts, and even voicemails.

The Apple iPhone is arguably one of the most popular smartphones out there. Unfortunately, unlike its Android counterparts, you aren't able to turn your iPhone into a USB mass storage device. Looking back at previous devices from Apple like the classic iPod, dumping files of all kinds directly onto the device was no problem in the past, yet Apple decided that everything had to go through iTunes. Being an iPhone user myself, I had enough of this limitation and I wanted to figure out how to get around this barrier.

My initial thought was to jailbreak my iPhone so that I could gain deeper access to the device, but I didn't want to have to worry about added instability and app incompatibilities that might arise from a jailbroken device. Instead, I opted to look into a product that could work from the outside in, breaking the barrier and providing me with the access I needed, all without any jailbreaking.

iExplorer

  • Title: iExplorer
  • Company: Macroplant LLC
  • Product URL: http://www.macroplant.com/iexplorer/
  • Supported OS: Windows XP, Vista and 7 (also requires iTunes 10)
  • Price: $34.99
  • Rating: 4 out of 5
  • Bottom Line: Make no mistake, if you want to use your iPhone like a mass storage device without jailbreaking, iExplorer allows anyone to gain access to the iPhone's file system as well as work with messages, contacts, calendar notifications, and more.

The main interface for iExplorer

Macroplant LLC has an application on tap for Mac OS X and Windows called iExplorer. It allows one to directly access the iPhone's file system with ease, granting the ability to drag and drop files in and out of the phone as well as manipulate backups, messages, contacts, and even voicemails! Yes, you can even extract voicemails that you wish to keep around for backup purposes with the click of a mouse, ready to play inside any media player.

iExplorer can also mount any particular area of the phone as an actual drive, which is accessible via Windows Explorer. This can serve a useful purpose, if you want to use third-party software to work with files on the iPhone directly, such as using Photoshop to edit JPEGs for instance.

Monitoring folders as drives is a piece of cake

iExplorer also borrows interface elements from iOS itself in order to provide a familiar environment. If you click on the Notes side-menu option, you get a listing of all the notes you took on your iPhone via the Notes app, using the familiar yellow notepad look and feel. Similarly, the Messages panel lays out all of your correspondence between various contacts in the same way the Messages app does. Everything is clean, fast and snappy and I honestly am glad iExplorer exists, as it pretty much strikes out the need to carry around an external flash drive around to tote documents.

The Messages area of iExplorer looks a lot like Messages on iOS

During my tests of iExplorer, I did notice a quirk that isn't immediately obvious at first, but can truly make or break the software's usefulness for you. iExplorer draws upon the iPhone's iTunes backup. If this backup is encrypted, iExplorer will simply show absolutely nothing. When I encountered this issue, I didn't know what to do at first, until I consulted some forums and realized that encrypting the iTunes backup renders it unreadable to third-party applications. Once I unchecked the encryption box in iTunes and let the backup reprocess, everything went back to normal. Also, the folder mount operation can occasionally cause the system to hang for longer than a minute. If this is the case, killing the iExplorer task is the only way to end the operation.

Bottom line

All in all, at the price of $34.99, I would totally recommend grabbing a copy without hesitation. In my experience, the demo version is very crippled and only gives you a small glimpse into the true power of iExplorer. Luckily, I think I've seen enough personally to give this a high rating for all my readers. Just make sure you have iTunes 10 installed beforehand, since iExplorer depends on Apple's software to tap into the iPhone.

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About

An avid technology writer and an IT guru, Matthew is here to help bring the best in software, hardware and the web to the collective consciousness of TechRepublic's readership. In addition to writing for TechRepublic, Matthew currently works as a Cus...

10 comments
charlesou812
charlesou812

I tried the evaluation copy and could only view my SMS messages from the iTunes backups. 1. Can iExplorer view my sms.db messages directly from my phone or does iExplorer need a backup on my windows machine (i'm using windows). 2. Can I use iExplorer to create a new folder in the Documents folder on my iPhone? My iPhone is not jailbroken. - User interface is easy to use.

w_dodman
w_dodman

Hi -- can anyone recommend a way to sync my IPhone 4 with my corporate Lotus Notes system, so I can add my contacts list to my phone? Appreciate the help...

jpetrelli
jpetrelli

After reading this review and having had recent issues with iTunes Backup, I downloaded and purchased this product hoping to pry control and establish some independence from Apple. First of all, when this software and review says "get direct access to your iPhone files..." that is the core of the functionality. Yes, you can export and rename content on your iPhone as advertised, but the software overlays and accesses your backups without offering any discernible improvement to controlling backups and content. The interaction with the backups, without any additional transparency in managing the backups is lacking and a bit unsettling. So, if you want to create the occasional one-time export of content as a backup, this software will do that. However, if you are hoping to add control over your backups beyond the pittance offered in iTunes or iCloud, this is not your solution. More importantly and concerning, after installing and using iExplorer I experienced an issue with iTunes and synchronizing my iPhone. I received a message that “iTunes cannot sync apps to the iPhone [phone name] because the apps installed on the iPhone could not be determined.” Furthermore, my initial effort to restore from a prior backup was not successful due to an error message regarding insufficient capacity on my iPhone (which had excess capacity prior to iExplorer). Resolving this issue required that I reset the iPhone erasing all phone content and settings. To be fair, I cannot confirm that the insufficient capacity error message is related to iExplorer, but a. I would not be restoring if it was not because of iExplorer and b. this capacity issue being coincidence seems suspicious. All in all, a very disappointing experience and while my iTune syncing may have been an isolated incident, I have no intention of re-trying software that caused complications with the functions it is intended to simplify.

steve
steve

Can anyone tell me if this (or an equivalent product) will also work for the iPad? One of my frustrations is easily moving files between my desktop and the iPad, as I don't always have internet/cloud access in meetings.

phvm
phvm

I erased some pictures from my iPhone by accident but fortunately have a backup. Will I be able to copy the files back to the Camera Roll as if they had never been erased?

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

Have you tried iExplorer? What did you think of it? Do you have a different tool to suggest we try for accessing the files in an iPhone?

Matt Nawrocki
Matt Nawrocki

I'm sorry iExplorer didn't work well for you. I didn't notice the apps issue personally, but I'm curious what kind of iPhone model you have and what your PC system specs are. Perhaps you were using an older version of iTunes or, if you had an iPhone 5, that a compatibility issue cropped up that I was unable to encounter? At any rate, thanks for sharing your observations.

Matt Nawrocki
Matt Nawrocki

You have direct access to the DCIM images folder on the phone. If you plop your image in there, they should be able to show up again with no problem.

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