What You Need to Know to Sync iPhone to iPad

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Last Updated: April 27, 2015

Millions of people have both an iPhone and an iPad, so ensuring that the data on both devices is in sync at all times is crucial. After a long work session on your iPad, you don't want to head out the door with your iPhone only to discover that everything you just did hasn't made it onto your phone. The need to have both devices have the exact same data on them leads many people to look for a way to sync their iPhone and iPad to each other.

But is it possible?

Can You Sync iPhone Directly to iPad?

It depends on what you mean. If you want to sync your iPhone and iPad in the same way that you'd sync them with your computer—plug the device into a USB port and Lightning port, or connect via W-Fi, and move data back and forth between the devices—that's not possible.

There are a couple of reasons for this: first off, and most importantly, Apple simply didn't design the devices or the iOS to work that way. One of the fundamental concepts of the way data is managed on iOS devices is that they share data with more stationary computers, where that's your home computer or a web-based server.

The other reason is that there are no cables that allow you to connect the two devices. There are no Lightning-to-Lightning or Lightning-to-Dock-Connector cables, only cables that have USB on one end (you could cobble together a functional cable with adapters, of course).

The One Exception: Photos

All of that said, there is actually one instance in which you can sync data directly from an iPhone to an iPad (though not the other direction): Photos.

This solution requires that you have Apple's US$29 Lightning to USB Camera Adapter (or the same price iPad Camera Connection Kit for older models).

 If you've got one of those adapters, you can connect your iPhone to your iPad. In this case, the iPad treats the phone as if it were simply a digital camera or memory card containing photos. When you connect the two, you'll be able to sync photos from the phone to the tablet.

Unfortunately, because Apple hasn't added support for syncing any other kind of data, this approach only works for photos.

The Solution: iCloud

So, if the only kind of data that can be directly synced between iPhone and iPad is photos, what are you supposed to do to keep all the data on your iPhone and iPad in sync? The answer: use iCloud.

As mentioned earlier, Apple's concept for syncing data to and from iOS devices is that this happens when they connect with a more powerful computer. While that was originally a desktop or laptop, these days the cloud works equally well. In fact, that's the whole point of iCloud: to make sure that all your devices have the same data on them at all times.

As long as both your devices are connected to the Internet and have the same iCloud settings, they'll stay in sync. Here's what you need to do:

  1. Set up iCloud on both devices, if you haven't done so already
  2. In your iCloud settings (Settings -> iCloud), ensure that all your settings are the same on both devices
  1. Make sure the same email accounts are set up on both devices
  2. Turn on automatic downloads of music, movies, and apps on both devices

This approach will keep the majority of your information identical across both devices, but there's one notable instance in which it may not work: App Store apps.

Many apps from the App Store use iCloud to store their data, but not all of them do. Apps that do should stay in sync across both devices, but for those that don't, your only option will be to sync both of your devices to a computer. 

One of the best ways around this is to try only use apps that are also web-based.

Take Evernote, for example, It can be accessed via the web or apps. Because its data lives in the cloud, all you need to do is connect your devices to the Internet and download the latest notes.