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Why won't my iPhone sync with iTunes?

So you’re having problems getting your iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch to sync properly with iTunes? Don't worry, it happens to the best of us! Here’s a quick and easy guide to help you troubleshoot this frustrating issue and get your device to sync with no hassle.

All of the steps contained in this article apply equally to the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch. For the sake of clarity, we will only refer to the iPhone throughout the article – but rest assured, if your iPad or iPod won't sync, these steps should still help you resolve the issue.

Why won't my iPhone connect to iTunes?

The first thing to bear in mind is that it could be either the iPhone or iTunes at fault if your device won't sync. It isn't always obvious where the problem lies, so we're going to work through the troubleshooting process – looking at both the mobile device and the computer at the same time, and swapping between them as required.

Before we go too far into the process, the first thing to check is whether your iPhone is syncing any kind of data through iCloud, as this prevents that type of data being copied across from your computer. If you have turned on iCloud Music Library on your iPhone through Settings > Music > iCloud Music Library, you won't be able to sync music through iTunes – and if you've enabled iCloud Photos through Settings > iCloud > Photos, then your pictures won't sync from your computer.

Having either of these enabled shouldn't prevent other types of content being synced, however – so if you're still having problems, let's get started on trying to resolve them.

Is your iPhone being detected?

The first thing to check is whether there are any issues with connecting the phone to your computer. It's one thing to physically connect the device – but if iTunes doesn't recognise it, you won't be able to go any further.

Check the iPhone's connection to the computer

There are some simple steps to follow to try to resolve this:

  • iphone lightning portCheck the charging port on your iPhone: debris in the port and water or physical damage can all prevent your device from being detected.
  • Restart the iPhone: disconnect it from the computer, then hold down the Power and Home buttons until you see the Apple logo on the screen. Release the buttons, and when the phone has restarted, reconnect it.
  • Quit and relaunch iTunes.
  • Try using a different cable, if you have one available.
  • Connect the iPhone to a different USB port on the computer.
  • Disconnect the cable, reboot the computer and the iPhone, then reconnect.

These 'quick wins' may be all it takes to get your iPhone syncing again – but if you're still having trouble, read on for the next steps:

Reinstall the drivers (Windows PC only)

  1. Open the Control Panel.
  2. Locate and click on Device Manager.
  3. In the Portable Devices section, right-click on Apple iPhone and choose Update driver software.
  4. Click Browse my computer.
  5. Click the Browse button, navigate to C:\Program Files\Common Files\Apple\Mobile Device Support and choose the folder called Drivers. Click OK.
  6. Click Next to reinstall the driver pack.

This will reinstall the driver pack, which should result in your iPhone being detected by iTunes.

Update iTunes

iTunesThe next thing to check is that your computer is running the latest version of iTunes. The software will usually check for updates when opened, but you can force a check through the program's menus:

  • If you're using a PC, click Help on the iTunes menu bar, then click Check for updates. If the menu bar isn't visible, press Ctrl+B to enable it.
  • On a Mac, click iTunes on the Apple menu bar then click Software Update

If an update is available, make sure you disconnect your iPhone from the computer before installing the update and restarting your computer.

Please note

iPhones running iOS 9 will only sync with iTunes v12.3, which can only be installed on Macs running OS X v10.8 and newer, and PCs running Windows 7, 8, 8.1 or 10. Older operating systems are no longer supported by iTunes.

Check your Apple ID

If you're having difficulty syncing content that you've purchased through iTunes (such as music), then you may not be signed in to iTunes with the correct Apple ID, or the computer may not be authorised for use with your account.

Open iTunes, select Store and then Sign in to log in to your iTunes account. If you're already signed in, make sure it's with the correct account – if not, then sign out and back in with the correct details. Next, select Store from the menu bar and then Authorise this computer, signing in with your Apple ID again when requested.

You can authorise up to five computers to interact with your Apple ID. If you have reached the limit, access your account through the iTunes Store and deauthorise all of them. This will allow you to start over by authorising the computer you're trying to use.

Are you getting an 'error -54' message?

'Error -54' is a common error message encountered when trying to sync in iTunes, and usually appears in the form "The iPhone [device name] cannot be synced. An unknown error occurred (-54)." Clicking OK at this point will sometimes result in the device syncing, but this isn't guaranteed.

This error can sometimes be a result of third-party security software being a little over-protective, so it may be worth disabling any such software while you try again.

More commonly, it happens when users have media files spread across different drives and folders on their computer. In this case, Apple recommend users consolidate their media into one location, and have a great support article on their own site describing how to do this.

Check your itunes sync settings

iPhone detected in iTunesOnce you’ve hooked up the iPhone and iTunes can see the handset, click on the phone's icon in the top left-hand corner to see the Summary page for the device.

Down the left-hand side of this page, you'll see headings for each type of content that can be synced. Clicking on any of these will display all the sync options available for this type of content.

When you select a content type on the left, its name will be shown in the main window along with a checkbox. Tick this to enable syncing for that type of content.

Choosing Music allows you to select some, or all, of your iTunes library to copy across to your iPhone. Photos allows you to sync pictures from a folder on your PC to your iPhone. Info will show sync options for Contacts, Calendars, Mail, Notes and more, and so on.

For each type of content, make sure that the boxes are ticked to select which data that you want to sync. It is also important to remember that deselecting (unticking) any items that are already on your device will remove them from the iPhone!

Voice memos are known to be particularly problematic: we've seen many examples of syncing issues around them here at Geek Squad. They're included by default when you sync Music, but they are one of the few items that iTunes will sync both ways: any new voice memos on your iPhone will also sync to your computer. Disabling this option can sometimes mean the difference between syncing or not!

Finally, take a look at the bar across the bottom of iTunes. This is a representation of the storage available on your iPhone, and shows different types of data in different colours. If your iPhone storage is full (perhaps you've taken more photos and videos than you thought!) or you've selected more data to be synced than there is room available, your sync may not complete.

iphone storage

Reset iTunes sync settings (Windows PC Only)

Please note

This is an advanced procedure, which you should only perform if you are confident in your technical ability. Changing any other setting within the folder described can cause iTunes or other programs to function incorrectly.

I would recommend reading through this section before you perform the actions listed, in order to understand the process before you start.

  1. Disconnect your iPhone and then close iTunes.
  2. Reboot the PC. When it restarts, do not open iTunes.
  3. Open Task Manager (Ctrl + Shift + Escape), click the Processes tab, and end all of the following by highlighting them, and clicking the End Process button for each in turn: Bonjour, SyncServices, iCloud, iTunes, iTunesHelper, MobileDeviceService, anything else starting with Apple.
  4. Open the AppData folder by one of the following methods:
    1. Open a Run dialog box by pressing Windows+R on your keyboard, and type %appdata% into the box then click OK, or
    2. Open Windows Explorer and browse to C:\Users\(username)\AppData\Roaming (The AppData folder is normally hidden, so you will need to enable viewing of hidden folders).
  5. Once in the folder, click the AppleComputer folder.
  6. Rename the folder named “SyncServices” to “OldSyncServices”. (Don't delete it: this way, if something goes wrong, you still have the old folder to rename back!)
  7. Reopen iTunes then reconnect your iPhone.

Again, I need to stress that you should only attempt this if you feel confident in your technical ability – and if not, you can always ask a Geek Squad Agent to perform these steps.

Reinstall iTunes

If updating iTunes to the latest version hasn't helped, you may need to consider reinstalling it. Before you do this you will need to completely remove the existing version and, if you're using a Windows PC, several other associated pieces of software too.

The procedure to remove iTunes differs greatly for Windows PCs and Macs, so we've split the uninstall sections accordingly.

Uninstall iTunes from a Windows PC

Through Control Panel on your PC, uninstall the following programs in the order shown:

  1. iTunes
  2. Apple Software Update
  3. Apple Mobile Device Support
  4. Bonjour
  5. Apple Application Support. (If two versions are listed, remove both.)

If you're unsure how to remove programs from your computer, Microsoft can offer guidance on doing so for Windows 7, Windows 8 and Windows 10 users.

When all the programs have been uninstalled, reboot your computer and then reinstall iTunes.

Uninstall iTunes from a Mac

On a Mac, iTunes is now a 'protected app' – meaning you can't just drag it straight to the trash as you could have done in the past.

  1. mac osx delete itunesOpen Finder.
  2. Navigate to the Applications folder.
  3. Right-click (or Control-click) on iTunes and select Get Info.
  4. Click on the padlock in the bottom right-hand corner of the window and enter your admin password when prompted – this will allow you to make the changes required.
  5. In the Sharing & Permissions section, change the permission for 'everyone' to Read & Write.
  6. Close the iTunes info window.
  7. Drag iTunes from the Applications folder to the trash.

Restart your Mac, and read on to discover how to reinstall iTunes.

Reinstall iTunes

If you're a PC user, simply visit the Apple website and download the latest version of iTunes. If you are using a Mac, you can either use the link above, or open the App Store on your Mac –which will detect that you don't have iTunes and offer to install it for you.

Restore the iPhone

If none of the above fixes has worked, the last resort is to restore your iPhone. This will download and install a new copy of the operating system – but be aware that this process will also wipe all the data from the device!

Important

Before restoring your iPhone, try to ensure you've made a backup. iCloud is the better method, because it doesn't require the device to be connected to iTunes. If you can't perform a backup, you may lose any content added since your last sync.

To restore your iPhone, connect it to your computer using the cable. Next, in iTunes, click on the name of the phone to open its summary page. Once this opens, there should be a Restore button. Click this and it will completely wipe the phone, update it and restart it.

If your device is still not recognised, you may need to put it into 'recovery mode' in order to start the restore process.

  1. Unplug the USB lead to disconnect your device from the computer.
  2. Press and hold the Power button until you are asked to Slide to power off.
  3. Once the iPhone is off, hold in the Home button and connect it to the computer with the cable.
  4. When you see the Connect to iTunes screen, release the Home button.
  5. The computer screen should then tell you it has detected a device in Recovery Mode, and needs to restore it in order to continue. Follow the onscreen prompts to recover your phone.

When your iPhone has been restored, you'll need to complete the setup wizard as if it was a new device, restoring it from any backup you have made.

Once you've completed this, you should then be able to sync your iPhone with iTunes, transferring your music, videos, apps and other content to your device.


Hopefully this should solve your syncinc issues – but if you're still unable to sync your iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch after trying the tips shown here, your iPhone may be in need of a repair! Geek Squad can help – check out our repair options here.

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