We had a client that wanted to retrieve older text messages, but they were no longer on his iPhone. So we attempted to pull down his back up directly from iCloud, and there were none- he had not engaged his iCloud backup option on his iPhone.

Lucky for us, and them, that there is a relatively unknown artifact known as “syncdata,” which is used by Apple to synchronize all types of data between devices.  Which is how your iPhone pictures end up on you Macbook, or your text messages on your iPad. We did a syncdata collection, and pulled down over 200k messages!  Including attachments, dates sent and received, etc. 

In addition to the text messages, syncdata also contains the call log, contacts, notes, pictures, Safari history, voice memos, etc. 

Syncdata is a no-brainer for collections of mobile devices- do it, every time. It is likely that two-factor authentication will be engaged, so getting user cooperation is ideal. 

Drawbacks?  Yup.  The output is not pretty.  In fact, it is ugly. The resulting Excel file will have all the data, but the phone numbers may not be connected to the contact names, and the message threads will not be grouped. But given the above real-world example, the benefits crush the costs.