iOS is obviously going in the direction of not needing iTunes at all, but in the meantime you still need to sync an iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch to copy over music libraries, videos, media, perform local backups, apps, and more. Typically iTunes will sync with an iOS device without incident, but sometimes things go awry, and iTunes just won’t sync at all. If you find yourself in that frustrating situation, here is what you can do to fix it and get the iPhone, iPod, or iPad syncing with iTunes on a Mac or PC again.
We’re going to cover a variety of troubleshooting tricks to fix the syncing problem here, try each in descending order until the problem is resolved. Do note this guide is aimed at resolving actual syncing problems (ie: the transfer of data between iTunes and the computer), not at problems with detecting the devices themselves. If iTunes won’t even find an iOS device, refer to this guide to resolve detection related problems.
Before Beginning: Update to the Newest iTunes
Before trying anything else, be sure you have the newest version of iTunes on the computer. This applies to both Mac OS X and Windows. Sometimes just updating to the newest version of iTunes is enough to resolve all syncing problems, particularly if the desktop software hasn’t been updated in a while. You can always download the newest version of iTunes directly from Apple by clicking here. Update iTunes before proceeding.
1: Quit & Relaunch iTunes, Then Perform a Manual Sync
Simply quit out of iTunes, then relaunch the app, and try syncing again. Sometimes this is enough to get things working again.
1b: Syncing Works But No Music / Movies / Apps Copy Over to iOS?
If syncing now works but no content, music, apps, or movies is moving over to the iPhone, iPad, or iPod, check the following:
- Under the “Summary” tab, check if “Manually manage music and videos” is enabled or not, if it is then try toggling it off and on again then manually drag a song or movie over to the iOS device to force manual syncing
- Look under the “Music”, “Movies”, “Apps”, “TV Shows” or respective tabs and be sure that “Sync Music”, “Sync Movies” etc is checked and enabled
- Try checking and unchecking those boxes, then hit the “Sync” button again
These content and media transfer issues are often just a misunderstanding of how those preferences work. Personally, I prefer to manually sync my music and media, so I have all of the individual content sync features disabled and sync everything myself through drag & drop.
2: Re-Authorize iTunes & the Computer
If syncing fails, the Sync button is greyed out and not available at all, or if you try to sync and nothing transfers over to the iPhone, iPod, or iPad, you may simply need to authorize the computer with iTunes:
- Open iTunes with the iOS device attached to the computer through USB
- Pull down the “Store” menu and choose “Deauthorize This Computer”
- Now go back to the Store menu and choose “Authorize This Computer”
- Fill in the Apple ID and password information, then choose “Authorize”
This is a surprisingly common problem and it’s extremely easy to resolve. iTunes Authorization basically tells Apple that the apps, music, and media you have purchased belong to you, and that you have the rights to them and thus that media can be copied and synced to your iOS devices.
If you encounter authorization specific problems related to the 5 device limit, you may need to deauthorize other machines before you are able to sync the iOS device with the current one.
2: Reboot the iOS Device
Restarting an iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch is just a matter of Holding down the Power button and Home button simultaneously until the device restarts. Technically, that approach is called a Hard Reboot because it forcibly restarts the iOS device, but in situations where things are acting up, crashing, or just not behaving properly, it’s usually more effective to force reboot than to use the standard power-off approach.
Once the iOS device has been restarted, try syncing again.
3: Restart the Computer
Yes restarting the computer can be annoying, but sometimes just restarting a Mac or PC is enough to resolve the problem and get things syncing again. This is particularly true if the issue has to do with a malfunctioning daemon like the iTunesHelper Service or the AppleMobileDevice Helper process.
4: Try the Opposite Syncing Method: Wi-Fi or USB
Typically use Wi-Fi Syncing? Try using a USB cable instead. Usually use a USB cable? Try using Wi-Fi syncing instead to see if that works. USB syncing is usually the most reliable method, and it’s not terribly uncommon for wi-fi sync to be a bit more picky.
4b: Wireless Syncing Randomly Stopped Working
If you find wireless sync to suddenly stop working, you typically just have to toggle the feature on and off again to get it functioning again, which must be done by connecting the iPhone, iPad, or iPod to the computer by USB and rechecking the “Sync over Wi-Fi” option again under the Summary tab. This is basically like enabling it again for the first time, and only takes a moment:
With wireless syncing, be sure that both the iOS device and the computer are on the same wireless network. It will not work if they are not joined to the same network.
If USB syncing isn’t working but Wi-Fi syncing is working, then you may have a faulty USB cable, or there may be an issue with the USB port you are attempting to use, and that leads us to the next troubleshooting tip.
5: Try a Different USB Port & USB Cable
Sometimes USB ports go bad, and though it’s pretty rare it’s very easy to rule out. All you need to do is switch the USB cable from one port to another and see if it works.
Also, try using a different USB cable entirely, whether it’s another Lightning cable or the old-fashioned 30-pin adapters. Some of the cheaper third party cables are notorious for not working properly and leading to syncing problems, and even some of the Apple branded cables can malfunction after they’ve been in use for a long time, especially if you see a weird kink in the cable itself or any fraying in the physical cable.
6: Reset & Restore the iOS Device
Still having problems? Try resetting and restoring the iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch. The best way to do this is through a three step process to preserve your data through a backup, then reset it to as new, then restore from a backup:
- Create a new fresh backup of the iOS device, either to iTunes or to iCloud
- After the backup is complete, reset to factory defaults from the device itself by going to Settings > General > “Erase All Content and Settings” – this will erase everything on the iPhone, iPad, or iPod and return it to the factory defaults as if the device was brand new, which is why it’s important to have created a backup first
- Now restore the iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch by using the backup you just created, this can be restored through iTunes or iCloud from the initial setup menus
Backing up to iCloud and restoring from iCloud is often the most simple process, but it can be slightly slower than using iTunes because it must transfer all of the data over the internet rather than a local USB connection. On the other hand, if you have a faulty USB connection, then the iTunes method will not be possible and you’ll have to use iCloud instead. Both ways work basically the same, so it’s really a matter of preference as to what you choose.
Resetting and restoring is the last troubleshooting step you should take yourself, and if things still are not working properly then go ahead and contact the official Apple support line or visit a Genius Bar to get things sorted out.