iTunes 12 Sync Problems: Why Doesn’t Syncing from iTunes to iOS Devices Work?

Update: See this article for a possible solution to sync issues with iOS devices.

Syncing isn’t easy; syncing a variety of disparate content from iTunes to iOS devices is complex. There have always been problems with syncing, but lately, these problems have increased.

I get lots of email from readers, both of this website and of my Ask the iTunes Guy column on Macworld, and lately a lot of those emails have been about syncing problems. My friend Rob Griffiths had a problem last month where duplicate tracks in his iTunes library prevented him from syncing his iPhone 6. But he’s still having problems; that wasn’t the only issue preventing him from syncing.

I briefly had an iPhone 6. I returned it because of the size, but I had to restore that iPhone about five times in the week I owned it because of syncing issues.

And I’ve had readers contact me with problems syncing older devices; problems that have increased since the release of iTunes 12 and iOS 8. One reader even broke down and updated from an iPhone 4s to an iPhone 5s, hoping his syncing problems would go away; alas, they didn’t. (This makes me think that many sync problems have something to do with iTunes’ library files.)

Syncing isn’t easy; but Apple really needs to make it work. I know that some of the problems are edge cases, but so many people have problems that Apple needs to seriously pay attention to these issues. If you search Apple’s forums, just in the past 30 days, you’ll find dozens of threads about sync issues. Sometimes, the sync simply doesn’t work; at other times, it blocks at “Waiting for changes to be applied.” It’s impossible for users to resolve these issues, and Apple doesn’t provide much help. The general response from Apple is to restore the iOS device. In some cases, this my work, but in my experience, its effectiveness is limited; sync problems come back a short time afterward.

To be fair, it’s possible that this only happens to a small percentage of iOS users. Many if not most iOS users never sync their devices with iTunes, and many others don’t have much content to sync. But Rob Griffiths, who I mentioned above, doesn’t have a large music library. He’s not an edge case at all.

As for me, I had terrible problems in the last months of iOS 7, having to restore my iPhone 5s several times. I’d want to sync to add a new album to my iPhone, and it would take a half hour, and sometimes those syncs would simply fail. Curiously, since iTunes 12 and iOS 8, I’m having fewer problems.

Syncing is hard; but Apple should do a lot more to make it work.

If you have sync problems, I would appreciate if you could post a comment below. I’m trying to collect as much information as possible to try and get Apple to pay attention to this issue. Please post the device you’re using, and a brief explanation of the problems you’re having. Also, post if these problems are new, since iOS 8, or if you’ve had them for a long time. Thanks!

Also, read my series of articles outlining how I’d fix iTunes.

255 thoughts on “iTunes 12 Sync Problems: Why Doesn’t Syncing from iTunes to iOS Devices Work?

  1. iPhone 6 and was using iTunes 12.4 ,and my issue is that my music no longer syncs (notably after 12.4 update for iTunes was downloaded) as it shows dotted, greyed circles with greyed out song titles, it had no issues prior syncing music, any help will be appreciated

  2. Running iTunes on a MacBook Pro which is telling me two apple apps, Find My Friends and Podcasts have updates pending but when click update apps it tells me they are only available for IOS and and I should search the App Store for them from my IOS device. I have looked for them but cannot find them in the app store which makes sense as they are integral parts of the IOS. If I select the updates for deletion in iTunes it tells me they will be deleted from any IOS device that is synced. This seems odd to me as it is not possible to delete them (at least manually) from the IOS device as there is never an “X” badge to be able to delete them when I try.

    • The same thing happened to me. You can delete them. You still have older versions of those apps which were once standalone apps, but are now part of iOS.

  3. Itunes
    21″ iMac with 32 GB RAM
    2 TB HDD
    OSX 10.11.5

    Synchronization of an iPhone 6s Plus took 18 hours, roughly, for 2,400 songs. An iPod Nano took 36 hours and currently attempting to synch an iPhone 4S at 83 songs after 4 1/2 hours.

    It all started with Apple trying to force iCloud down our throats, my five iPod 160 GB classics would synch the whole collection in a couple of hours at most. Been searching for an explanation or reason for about 7 weeks now but have tried everything I’ve come across without success. Turning off the sleep timer as mentioned above is new, will try that, although my problem is simply that neither wireless or wired connections work or synchronize. What ever happened to “it just works”???

    One thing I know for sure is this will be my last iPhone. How sweetly ironic the Windows phone I was given at work has been humming along just peachy for two years but all the whiz bang features of the iPhone are next to useless if I cannot get any content onto the device. It’s like the new card for Costco… GREAT benefits. If only it could be activated!

    Anyway, just venting at this point. I have plenty of experience in IT but iTunes and Apple’s obstinate and deliberate refusal to fix something so basic makes ActiveSync look like a model of transparency. At least it has logs!

    Music synch, broken. Photos, broken….

  4. iphone 6s and itunes 12.4 HATE the new ibooks feature of the last several updates and now it wont sinc half my audiobooks. m4b format. only work around i have found is switch them in windows explorer to m4a files, label them as music and sync them. this seems to work, but is a MAJOR hassle and eliminates any possible advantage they thought there was to adding ibooks section.

  5. Should anybody read this, I’ve a peculiar problem. I’ve got a partial album stuck on my phone 13/16 songs. If I download the rest, I get 29/16 songs, duplicates of all but 3. This is unbelievably irritating as they are not listed as deprecate albums, just piled into 1. I cleared all music from my iPhone and it was still there, playable and everything. iTunes doesn’t recognize it as a duplicate so it won’t let me delete it. I like the album too, it’s just the only options are 13/16 or 29/16

  6. I synced all of my photos and videos from my laptop to my iphone but none of the videos synced to the phone. I have “include videos” checked so I really don’t know why the videos won’t sync. I have room for them, too.

    • Hi Jaymee

      I have exactly the same problem and I believe it started after this iOS 10.2 update for me. I had around 15-20 videos synced to my iPhone, but now none of those videos are syncing. I have tried to re-sync entire library, I removed entire library and synced again and I also tried to manually copy those videos to iPhone and it just doesn’t copy. I am really frustrated with this. None of the videos I had earlier are on my iPhone now.

      Strange thing is I also posted this issue in their discussion forums and it has been 5 days but no one has replied as of now.

      Please fix it Apple.

      iPhone 6 (iOS 10.2)
      iTunes 12

  7. Last week I tried to sync my iPhone 7+ with my iTunes over WiFi. Something I’ve been doing daily. When I clicked on the icon for the 7+ it disappeared and hasn’t been seen since. My iPad Air and iPhone 4s have their icons displayed and sync over WiFi with no problem.

    My wife had the same problem when she attempted to sync her iPhone 6s+.

    Both phones have been syncing without these issues since we purchased them in January.

    ITunes is and all iDevices are up to date according to query.

    Both the 6+ and 7+ will sync using a cord. We do not sync anything via the cloud as we don’t allow our contacts or calendar to put data there.

    Apple seems to have problems in vetting updates and making sure they will actually work as that is the only thing that can possibly have changed since some devices work and others, the latest and greatest, don’t.

  8. I cannot figure out how to export contacts in my iPhone 7 to a CSV (or text doc with contacts in list form) on my MacBookAir with OS X 10.10.5 and iTunes All of the online tutorials get me as far as the iTunes sync page so that I can choose what to sync, however there is NO option to select Contacts on that page (if I recall, only Calendars could be selected). I don’t know if there is some magic button I need to push to get Contacts syncing to show up or whether there is something that needs to be turned off or on with iCloud (how?). We did follow another procedure to select all contacts on the MacBookAir and export those as a VCard but found no way to export or convert that into a list or CSV file (and these were not the iphone contacts). ANY HINTS? From my readings about CopyTrans it sounds like that app is having issues with the latest iTunes and OS X versions.

  9. Running IOS 12.1.2 and I tunes 12.9.25. As soon as I downloaded IOS12.1.2 my Outlook calendar and contacts would no longer sync to my I phone 8 plus thru I tunes. Even though I tunes states the phone has synced, I do not have calendar & contact updates . I had two chats with Apple Support and now need to talk again. So far all of their options to fix it have not worked. The last was to sync to I Cloud which also did not work. Very frustrating.

  10. I bought a new ipod touch 128 GB in December 2018, and itunes is refusing to sync with the newly created itunes library created just for this device! it shows nasty “sync session failed to start” i followed each adn every advice from apple support, from people, nothing worked, even downloaded tunes care didnt do anything. all Itunes and ipid software is up to date.
    how am I supposed to use this new device? So frustrated with the itunes!
    P.S. I used ipod classic 160 GB for 10 years, it worked and synced with no problem..

  11. I had this problem, though I seem to have much older devices and programs. Many times ago, the syncing of Contacts just stopped, because of no apparent reason.
    Many seem to blame some upgrade of iTunes.

    My equipment:
    iMac Retina 5k 27″ – Mac-OS 10.10.5 – iTunes
    iPhone 5S – iOS 7.1

    I sync Contacts and Calendar using the USB-cable. (Nothing else is synced.) The Calendar syncs fine, but not the Contacts.

    I found the following recommendation from @IGotThis on internet []:

    On the iPhone set “settings>contacts>import SIM contacts>From My Mac or I guess ICloud what ever suits you… you are welcome!”

    I did, and now Contacts are synced in both directions. However I have no idea what the command really means, and if there is any collateral effects.

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