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Library Guides

Managing your personal digital archive: Finding your stuff: phones and tablets

This guide will provide an introduction to personal digital preservation: making sure the digital material that you care about is safe and accessible into the future.

Finding your digital stuff

In this section we will look at how to find and access all of the digital material you might want to keep safe. Working out where all your digital stuff is can be difficult. You might have pictures on social media sites, documents on your computer and videos on your phone, not to mention material spread across different cloud services. Once you've found your stuff, you may still have trouble getting it out of the app or hardware that is storing it. However, this is an absolutely essential step: to make sure your material is safe, you need to have access to the actual files themselves on a hard drive or computer that you control, so you can look after them yourself. 

Actions!

'To do' icon

  • Go through the places below and on the next page looking for digital material that you might want to save and work out how you can access it.
  • If you have lots of stuff it might be useful to make a list of what it is, where you found it, and your first thoughts about whether you want to keep it.
  • Deciding whether you want to keep something is called appraisal, and we will look at it in more detail in the Appraisal section. Of course finding and assessing your material go hand in hand and you might want to think about appraisal as you go - especially before downloading large amounts of data - in which case we recommend you read both sections before starting.

Mobile phones and tablets

Mobile devices can be one of the more complicated places to access your digital material for archiving. This is because on mobile devices we usually access our content through apps. When using mobile apps we don't usually need to know or care exactly where the files that make up that content are stored (on our device, the cloud or both).

However, to be able to keep our stuff safe we need to be able to get our own copies of everything off the mobile device and on to other devices such as a computer or external hard drive (we will talk some more about this in the Storing and Maintaining section).

You might want to start by taking a quick look through your apps and make a note of any content that you want to save. You can then follow the steps below to find and access the underlying files. Sometimes it might be difficult to access them directly and if that's the case, see Other options below.

Android

If you have an Android phone or tablet you can usually just plug it into a Windows computer (Mac users may need to download Android File Transfer).

  • You should then be prompted on your device to select whether you just want to power the device or use USB for File Transfer. Select File transfer and your device will be mounted on your computer and appear as a new drive.
  • You can then use your computer to navigate through the file system looking for material you would like to keep.
  • Some common places to look include the DCIM folder for pictures and video and the Download folder for content you've saved from the web. You can also look in folders named after individual apps so, for example, images you've sent over WhatsApp will be in WhatsApp\Media\WhatsApp Images. 
  • You could also use the search functionality on your computer to try and find particular files.
  • For other ways to access your files and for troubleshooting, see this Google Support article

Alternatively you can access material on your phone or tablet through cloud syncing:

  • This can be a useful way of getting access to material that is stored on your mobile device, however you should not rely on it as your only form of backup (refer back to the Case Studies section at the beginning of this guide to see why).
  • Instead use it to get copies of your material on to a computer so you can add it to your personal digital archive.
  • You may also find that you are only able to sync content from supported apps and that you have material in another app that doesn't sync, in that case try one of the other methods below.
  • Android users can sync files using their Google Account by adding them to their Google Drive on their device and by using Back up and sync in Google Photos.
  • You can then sync the files with Google Drive on your computer or download them through the Google drive web interface. 
  • You can also install the app of the cloud service of your choice such as Dropbox or OneDrive on your mobile device and sync that way. 

 

Apple

If you have an Apple phone or tablet, you can't usually access the file system as directly as you can with Android.

  • However, you can access files from specific apps by plugging in your device and using Finder (on a Mac with macOS 10.5 or later) or iTunes (on a Windows computer or older Mac).
  • To use Finder, select your device in the Finder sidebar, and select files Transfer from iPad [or iPhone] to Mac.
  • To use iTunes, click on your device on the left under Devices and select File Sharing, you will then see a list of apps you are able to share files from. Select an app in the list, select a file you want to transfer and click Save to your computer.  
  • For more information see the iPad or iPhone user guide.

Alternatively you can access material on your phone or tablet through cloud syncing:

  • This can be a useful way of getting access to material that is stored on your mobile device, however you should not rely on it as your only form of backup (refer back to the Case Studies section at the beginning of this guide to see why).
  • Instead use it to get copies of your material on to a computer so you can add it to your personal digital archive.
  • You may also find that you are only able to sync content from supported apps and that you have material in another app that doesn't sync, in that case try one of the other methods below.
  • Apple users can sync their content with iCloud drive on their iPhone or iPad and then access it via a computer. Macs will usually have the iCloud app installed and Windows users can download it from Apple.
  • You can also access your iCloud drive via the web and download files from there. 
  • You can also install the app of the cloud service of your choice such as Dropbox or OneDrive on your mobile device and sync that way. 

Other options

If you aren't able to access your files directly through one of the methods above, you may be able to export or share them from within the app you normally use to interact with them.

  • Look through the app in question to see if there are options to allow you to save content in a location that is accessible through the file system, such as your Download folder in Android.
  • Video, image or animation apps may support exporting your work and you may need to do this before the work is accessible.
  • Alternatively there may be options in your app to allow you to send files via email or to sync them with a cloud service from within the app (for example WhatsApp allows you to set up syncing with Google Drive).
  • Finally some apps linked with social media services may offer you the ability to download your content as part of their Data Portability policies (see the Social Media section on the next page for more details).