How to Sync an iPhone to a Computer

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The Summary Screen

You can sync songs, playlists, albums, movies, TV shows, audiobooks, books, ringtones, and podcasts between your computer and iPhone using the iTunes app. Although Apple encourages users to use iCloud to back up their personal data, you may also want to back up your iPhone by syncing it to your computer.

The first step to syncing the iPhone to your computer is simple. Plug the cable that came with the iPhone into a USB port on your computer and into the dock connector on the bottom of the iPhone.

Launch iTunes. Look at the top of the left panel of the iTunes window. Click on the iPhone icon at the top of the panel to open the iPhone Summary screen. This screen offers a basic overview and option information about your iPhone. The information is presented in three sections: iPhone, Backups, and Options.

iPhone Section

In the first section of the Summary screen, you'll see the iPhone's available capacity, the phone number, serial number, and version of the iOS the phone is running. The first Summary section contains two buttons: Check for Update and Restore iPhone.

  • Use Check for Update to make sure you have the latest version of the iOS. If not, you can update it here.
  • Use the Restore iPhone button to return your iPhone to factory settings. This erases all your personal data from the iPhone and is recommended before you sell or give away your phone. Restoring the iPhone is also an advanced troubleshooting option when you have problems with your phone.

The size and battery state of the iPhone, which used to appear in this section, is located at the top of the panel at the left side of the Summary screen.

Backups Section

Use this section to indicate your backup preferences, to force a backup and to restore a backup. 

In the area titled Automatically Back Up choose where your iPhone will back up its contents: iCloud or your computer. You can back up to both, but not at the same time.

  • Click the button next to iCloud if you use iCloud to back up your most important data to iCloud daily.
  • Click the button next to This computer to make a full backup of your data on your computer.
  • Select Encrypt iPhone backup to password protect the backups on your computer. This is optional but recommended if you share your computer.

This section contains two buttons: Back Up Now and Restore Backup:

  • Click Back Up Now to back up your iPhone immediately to your chosen location.
  • Choose Restore Backup to restore an existing backup onto your iPhone.

Options Section

The options section contains a list of available possibilities. The first three are important to most users. The others are dependent on your specific preferences for syncing and are used less frequently.

  • Automatically sync when this iPhone is connected: Ensures that iTunes launches and syncs the phone whenever you connect it to the computer. Consider unchecking this if you connect your iPhone to multiple computers or play your music through other computers.
  • Sync with this iPhone over Wi-Fi: When this is enabled and your iPhone is on the same Wi-Fi network as your computer, it syncs automatically—no more cables!
  • Sync only checked songs and videos: Useful if your iTunes library is bigger than your iPhone's capacity. 
  • Prefer standard definition videos: Designed to conserve disk space. This option ensures that, if you have both HD and standard definition versions of a video, the smaller standard definition version is synced.
  • Convert higher bit rate songs to 128 kbps AAC: Converts songs to the AAC format during syncing. This helps conserve space if your songs are encoded in other formats or at higher bit rates, which results in larger files.
  • Manually manage music and videos: Disables automated syncing. Instead, allows you to manually add and remove all content on your iPhone. Not recommended unless you have a specific reason.
  • Reset Warnings: If you have previously dismissed any alerts or warnings on your iPhone, you can see them again by clicking this button.
  • Configure Accessibility: Turns on accessibility options for people with hearing or visual impairments.

At the bottom of the Summary screen is a bar that displays your phone's capacity and demonstrates much space each type of data takes up on your iPhone. Hover on a section of the bar to see additional information about each kind of data.

If you make changes to the Summary screen, click Apply at the bottom of the screen. Click Sync to apply the changes to the iPhone.

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Syncing Apps to iPhone

sync apps to iphone

The types of content you can sync with an iPhone are listed in the left panel of iTunes. Click the Apps icon to control which apps are synced to your iPhone and to arrange those apps on the iPhone's screen.

Apps List 

On the left side of the iTunes Apps screen are all the apps you've downloaded to your computer's hard drive. Click the Install button to the right of an app to sync it to your iPhone. Click the Remove button to remove an app from your phone but not from your computer. You can sort the list of apps by name, kind, category, date and size. Check the Automatically install new apps box at the bottom of the list if you want newly downloaded apps to always be synced with the phone.

App Arrangement

On the right side of the screen, you'll see a representation of the home screen of your iPhone and the apps you have on it. Here, you can arrange apps and make folders prior to syncing.

  • Add/Remove Apps: If you clicked the Install box next to an app, it will be synced. You can also add an app by dragging its icon from the App list onto the screen representation. To remove an app from your iPhone, mouse over the app and click the ​X that appears. If you have more than one screen of apps showing, click on the screen you want to work with first.
  • Arrange Apps: To arrange apps on the screens, click and drag the app icon to where you want it. To move an app to another screen, drag it to the screen you want it on.
  • Make/Delete Folders: To make or delete folders on this screen, follow the standard process for making folders: Click and drag one app over another to make a folder. Remove all apps from a folder to delete the folder.
  • Add/Remove Screens: To add another screen for apps, click the plus sign at the top of the screen. To remove a screen, drag all apps off it to other screens.

File Sharing

Some apps share files between the iPhone and your computer. This box is where you manage those files. Click on the app you want and either add new files from your computer to the iPhone or save files from the app to your computer. Learn more about using this feature.

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Syncing Music to iPhone

download music from computer to iphone

Select the Music tab in the left panel of iTunes. Click Sync Music at the top of the iTunes screen in order to sync music to your iPhone.

  • Click the button next to Entire Music Library to sync all your iTunes music to your iPhone. This only works if your phone's storage is bigger than your library. If it isn't, you'll get some of your music but not all of it.
  • Click the button next to Selected playlists, artists, albums, and genres to specify which music is downloaded to your iPhone. Sync playlists by checking the boxes in the Playlist section or all music by specific artists by checking the boxes in the Artists section. Sync all music in a particular genre or from a given album by clicking the boxes in the Genres and Albums sections.

Additional options include:

  • Include music videos syncs them to your iPhone if you have any.
  • Include voice memos syncs voice recordings to/from your iPhone.
  • Automatically fill free space with songs fills unused storage on your iPhone with music that you haven't already told iTunes to sync.
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Syncing Movies to iPhone

syncing movies from iphone to computer

On the Movies tab, you control the syncing of movies and videos that aren't TV shows.

Click the box next to Sync Movies if you want to sync any movies or other videos from your computer to your iPhone. When you check this, you can select individual movies in the box that appears below. To sync a given movie, click its checkbox.

  • Automatically Include: Click this if you want iTunes to automatically sync movies by default. The menu next to it will allow you to choose your preferences for how many movies to sync. 
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Syncing TV to iPhone

Sync TV shows to iPhone

You can sync entire seasons of TV, or individual episodes, on the TV Shows tab.

Click the box next to Sync TV Shows in order to enable syncing of TV shows to your iPhone. When you click it, all other options become available.

  • To sync individual episodes of TV shows, click the show on the left and then the checkbox next to the episodes you want to add to your phone.
  • Automatically include: When checked, allows you to automatically sync shows based on the following criteria: unwatched, newest, newest unwatched, oldest unwatched, and from all shows or just selected shows.
  • Shows: Lists all the shows on your hard drive, as well as what seasons you have and how many episodes of each show. If there are new or unwatched episodes, a blue dot appears next to the number of unwatched shows. Click on an individual show to see a list of all its episodes.
  • Episodes: Once you've clicked on a show, the episodes of that show appear on the right.
  • Include Episodes from Playlists: TV shows can reside in playlists including Purchased and Recently Played. If you want to include shows from those playlists (though you won't have direct control from this screen over what they are), check the box next to the playlist.
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Syncing Podcasts to iPhone

How to Sync Podcasts to iPhone

Podcasts have the same syncing options as the Movie and TV show screens. You need to click the box next to Sync Podcasts to access the options.

You can choose to sync none or all of your podcasts just as you can with TV shows, as well as those fitting certain criteria. If you wish to sync some podcasts, but not others, click on a podcast and then click the episodes you want to sync with your iPhone by clicking the box next to the episode.

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Syncing Books to iPhone

How to Sync iBooks to Your iPhone

Syncing iBooks

On the Books screen, you can manage how iBooks files and PDFs are synced to your iPhone.

Check the box next to Sync Books to enable the syncing of books from your hard drive to your iPhone. When you check this, options become available. 

Check All books to automatically sync all books to your iPhone. Check Selected books to control which books are synced.

Use the drop-down menus under the Books heading to sort files by type (Books and PDF files, Only Books, Only PDF files) and by title, author, and date.

If you choose Selected books, check the box next to each book you want to sync.

You can also learn how to sync PDFs to iPhone

Syncing Audiobooks

After you select Audiobooks from the menu in the left panel, click in the box next to Sync Audiobooks. At that point, you can select all audiobooks or only ones you specify, just like with regular books.

Place a check mark in front of the books you want to sync to your iPhone. If the book comes in sections, select the section you want to transfer.

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Syncing Ringtones to iPhone

sync ringtones to iphone

The Tones tab is where you select the ringtones to sync to your iPhone. To sync ringtones, begin by placing a check mark in front of Sync Tones. Select either All tones or Selected Tones. If you choose All Tones, there's nothing else to do. If you choose Selected Tones, choose the ringtones you want to sync by checking the boxes next to each tone.

To learn about getting custom ringtones, check out:

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Syncing Photos to iPhone

The iPhone can sync its photos with your Photos app (or other photo management software) library. Check the box in front of Sync Photos to enable this option. Choose which photo library to sync with iPhone in the Photos drop-down menu. Options include:

  • All photos and albums:  Select this to sync all photos and photo albums with the iPhone.
  • Selected albums: This gives you control over the content that is synced. Use the options that appear when this is selected to indicate which photos you want to sync to your iPhone.
  • Include videos: Check this to sync videos taken by the iPhone camera to your computer and vice versa.
  • Automatically include photos from: gives you a drop-down menu where you can select photos from a specific time period—last week or 1 month ago, for example.
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Syncing Contacts and Calendar to iPhone

The Info tab is where you manage the sync settings for contacts and calendars. The Info tab is located in the left panel of the iTunes screen in the list of iPhone settings topics. The icon is the letter i in a circle. Tap on the Info icon to go to the screen.

When you set up your iPhone, if you chose to link your contacts and calendars with iCloud, which is recommended, no options are available on this screen. Instead, there is a notice advising that these are being synced over the air with iCloud and you can make changes to the settings on your iPhone.

If you choose to sync these from your computer, you'll need to activate the sections by placing a check mark in front of each item and then indicating your preferences from the options that appear.

  • Sync Contacts: Choose to sync all contacts or just selected groups of contacts. 
  • Sync Calendars: Lets you decide whether to sync all the calendars on your computer to the iPhone or just selected ones. You can also choose to not sync events older than 30 days.
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Resync to Update Content

When you're done choosing all your settings, click the Sync button at the bottom right of the iTunes screen to sync the iPhone with iTunes and all your content is updated based on the new settings you've just created.

If you chose the option in the Summary section to automatically sync each time you plug your iPhone into your computer, a sync happens anytime you connect. If you chose the option to sync wirelessly, the sync happens in the background whenever a change is made.