iTunes won't sync iPhone anymore

It might be time for TidBITS to do an article or Take Control on iPhone management outside the Apple environment. When an Apple Podcast app update failed, I read the TidBITS article and now use PodCruncher (great app). Now the music app is not meeting all my needs and I could use a replacement. Obviously other things are also presenting problems.

I don’t want to stop using my plus size iPhone and won’t until it dies, but last night I did do a search for mp3 player devices out of curiosity. They still exist.

That is precisely my experience. Apps get downloaded, Music from Apple gets downloaded, music you added yourself needs to be re-added. Photos come from somewhere.

I had recently accidentally deleted 7 videos I did not want to delete. I had deleted over 1000 photos and did not intend to delete any videos. When I went to the deleted photos folder and pressed delete to get the space back is when I found out (too late) that the videos were included (message like permanently deleting 1009 photos and 7 videos). My heart stopped. I spent 12 hours trying to recover these videos to no avail. I did not have iCloud photos turned on prior to this and it did not matter what backup I restored (day before, no joy, week before, no joy, 6 month before, not joy), all gave the same message regarding those videos, They cannot be found in iCloud. So it appears that videos (don’t know about photos) DO NOT get backed up to the Mac when doing an iTunes or iMazing backup. Kind of defeats the purpose!

In the end it turned out that I had manually saved those videos to my Mac over a year previous and had forgotten. I was able to locate them (after all else failed). So although “Recovery Saturday” was educational, it was a total waste of time, I felt like the poster boy for 'Haste makes waste".

I can tell you from my miserable experience at getting my battery replaced in December, that the phrase “photos come from somewhere” is completely correct - and mystifying!

I had not expected to get a new phone based on my past battery replacement experiences, so I only had it backed up to the cloud. I don’t have Photos/icloud turned on though, and it’s obvious by the space used in iCloud that they are not up there. (both iPhone and iPad backup to a 50gb iCloud account).

Yet somehow all my photos reappeared onto my new phone, completely from the cloud. It took 24 hours but I didn’t lose a single one.


With iMazing 2, I believe you can choose where to back-up your iDevices; I’ll have to look at their backing up guides.

Like I said, backing up to iCloud did exactly zero for her.

The problem is not backing up, it’s sync. And iCloud sync only works for some services, not for others. Even more so if you don’t want to be locked into using certain sevices in a certain way (eg. iCloud photo library vs. My Photo Stream).

That’s exactly what we’re seeing, Steve. The actual backup and restore from backup both work. But loads of stuff doesn’t get restored that way. To restore music/photos/books you need to get them via sync. And if syncing from the old device is broken, it appears you won’t be able to get that content onto the new iPhone either. :(

In fact, @frederico is working on that right now, but he hit a few health-related snags.

Personally, I would be very leery of trying to manage an iPhone not using Apple’s tools at all. It just seems too likely that Apple would change something behind the scenes that would cause trouble.

That is the precise reason I put up with iTunes and use iMazing as my lifesaver.

Heya, @Simon, sorry I’ve been down and mostly out for awhile. You absolutely should take a look at Backup Extractor, the original backup spelunking tool for iPhones. It can do considerably more than iMazing and access more data inside existing backups. And that’s all it does. No, it won’t solve your sync issue, but you should be able to recover much of the data you seek, and get it onto the new iPhone by manual addition.

It sounds like you’re going to have to punt some of your app settings — BUT — it’s possible the app settings came over on the botched sync, even if the app didn’t appear on your home screen. I’d pick one, and redownload it from the App Store directly on the iPhone, and see if it retained its prefs.

I also wouldn’t be super quick to blame iTunes entirely for this; it sounds like your backup is corrupt (possibly because your original iPhone storage is corrupt), and you maybe need to do some serious disk maintenance on the Mac; if it’s file system or physical media is damaged, it may be hosting your iPhone/app data in those sectors.

Yes, you should be and are correct to encrypt your backups;again BE can get past those issues with your password. BE might even prove that the missing sync data never made it into said backup to begin with. It will also allow you to spelunk older backups, from Time Machine or clone archives, if necessary.

Trying to write up the tools but was hospitalized then in rehab. Home now but recovery is slow. Sorry I wasn’t more timely with that information.



I’m pretty sure iTunes is to blame for this. This setup synced fine for years until Apple had to screw with iTunes when they quick and dirty yanked out the apps part. Now that I write this, I realize around the same time iOS 12 came out, so I’d say it has to be either iTunes or iOS 12. Either way I expect Apple to fix this. And I’m not happy about having to wait forever for them to get off their butts. Suggesting BS like “try factory resetting your iPhone” is completely unacceptable. Maybe that works for a toy, but not for something you work on or trust half your digital life to.

The disk is fine, it passes bitwise inspections without a hitch. Maybe the iPhone’s file system has an issue, but that would again be Apple giving no hint to the issue let alone offering a utility for a fix. Bottom line here is they are promising a functionality they do not deliver. Considering the implications this has, it’s quite a blunder. I wonder how many people would be stunned to learn that if they drop their iPhones in a storm drain, they’ll be SOL despite backups and syncing etc.

Sounds unpleasant. Get well soon, buddy.

Lots of people are seeing this issue. Both on macOS and Windows. I notice that a lot of them have an SE and iOS 12. This is just one of the more recent threads.

Since she just purchased a brand new iPhone SE (technically it was manufactured 2017 and has only lately been released from the shelf via the clearance store) we had Apple support available. Decided to give those guys a call to see where we’re at. They had us replicate the whole thing. Backing up, syncing (and failing), setting up the new iPhone from backup, failing to sync, setting it up as brand new and then trying to sync (and failing). They had us turn on iCloud backups/sync, but no change there. At that point they declared we should try another Mac. So we scheduled an appointment with the local Apple store on Tue to try out that. One interesting comment the tech did make was that their engineering team is aware of the issue, that it is indepedent of hardware, but that it does have to do with iOS 12. Apparently they haven’t figured out what’s causing it yet so they’re eager to have people report issues and come in so they can gather data points. Glad to be of service. :wink:

I’ll report back Tue night. Even if they can’t fix it immediately, I would appreciate knowing that eventually they’ll release an iOS update that will make this baloney go way.

I understand they prefer people sync to iCloud, but as long as you only get 5GB there and a typical iPhone these days holds ~50-100 GB of user data (for which iPhone buyers pay top $$$), that’s not an option for many — not to mention those that don’t want all their private data on Apple’s servers knowing that Apple too has a key (obviously for restore purposes when people forget their credentials). Personally, I’d be ok if Apple indeed put their foot down and said “this is how we see the future, come along or stay behind forever” and in that spirit removed backing up to a local Mac. I wouldn’t like it, but I’d get their reasoning. But when they do something like that they need to provide a migration path. Leaving the feature in iTunes, but broken, is IMHO not a viable option. I hope that’s clear to Apple as well. After hearing what the tech had to say about their engineering team’s awareness and the ongoing search for a fix, I would tend to believe they do intend to do the right thing.

As far as I’m aware, in today’s modern world, you can call Apple for support for free at any time, regardless of whether you have AppleCare or a recently purchased device.

Thanks, Adam. I wasn’t aware they do free phone support for out-of-warranty kit. Great to know.


The short version: The backup was corrupt. New backups remained corrupt regardless of backup to Mac or to iCloud. That’s what prevented syncing. It also explains why syncing on the new device was broken (as long as that device was set up via restore from backup). Solution: new iPhone had to be set up w/o restore from backup. Tons of stuff was lost and had to be reinstalled and reset by hand. Despite biting the bullet of iCloud syncing. A real PITA. But now she has a new 128 GB iPhone SE that has most of her stuff, runs well, and syncs. :slight_smile:

Lessons to learn: if you do anything outside of the strict Apple sphere, i.e, you don’t want to pay monthly fees for extra iCloud storage (after having already paid hundreds of $ for that storage in your iDevice) and you prefer buying your music wherever instead of renting through some Apple all-you-can-eat gig for $100/year, if you are that person, and you do not have both syncing and backing up 100% secured (it’s a good idea to take an older iDevice and see if you can actually fully restore from the backups you think you have), then YOUR DATA IS NOT SAFE. Do not assume a backup will allow you to back up to a new device. Do not assume being able to sync means you will be able to recover to a new device. And don’t think using iCloud instead of Mac is buying you any added safety.

The long version (for those with lots of patience or those who like gawping). :wink: We were too busy to make the Tue appointment and rescheduled for Sat. Arrived at the Apple Store at 4pm. Left after 8pm. We went through a half dozen geniuses, incl. getting advice from more experienced techs from back of the house. They were able to recreate the issue. They were able to confirm both iPhones were affected. They also tested USB vs. wifi and different ports. But they were able to confirm it was not the Mac or iTunes since they were able to backup and sync one of their iPhones just fine. At this point they believed it was either her Apple ID or DRM. DRM was ruled out because they recreated the same issue despite temporarily getting rid of all music and using just a few tracks of a freshly ripped CD (was amazed my wife’s built-in DVD drive still worked, she hadn’t used it in probably 6 years). Apple ID was ruled out after checking everything was fine there. At this point five geniuses went into a huddle and started going over everything they’ve tried and trying to figure out what the one common denominator was. That’s when it became clear it was the backup itself. That was the only thing that linked both her iPhones and was not involved when backing up and syncing to their support iPhone. Unfortunately, further testing showed you cannot just delete all backups, do a fresh backup, and that one will then not be tainted. The suspicion was that there was something on her old iPhone corrupting the backup which then led to a loss of sync. Unfortunately, whatever this was prevailed through both iCloud and Mac backups so there was no way she was going to be able to use backing up. At that point she realized she could either stick to her old iPhone which had all her stuff, but would not sync (and hence would offer no data safety in case that device ever died or got lost/destroyed) or she could move to the new device without backing up which meant using iCloud against her wishes to sync a ton of material and then aving to redownload all her apps and set up each and every system and app setting from scratch as far as possible. Of course some she will not regain at all (for example wifi passwords of networks she won’t see again until months from now). At that point the store was closing and we decided to leave. She needed time to think and we all needed a break. We went for Mexican food, I had too many beers to get myself over this colossal Apple CF, and then we calmed down and decided what the plan was going to be. She decided to bite the bullet and turn on iCloud syncing to get at least some of her stuff transferred. She set up the new iPhone as a brand new device from scratch. She got Contacts and Calendars through iCloud syncing (she couldn’t have gotten those off her Mac since what was on her Mac was way outdated because her old iPhone had no longer synced back to her Mac). That’s how she also got her Camera Roll pics. She started downloading all her 3rd party apps again. And then painstakingly started setting up all prefs by hand. There’s a gazillion in Settings, but also each 3rd party app needed to be set up from scratch. A day later and she’s still not done. Her next phone will probably not be from Apple. The new device will now sync with her Mac so it spent several hours downloading all her music and her old photos from her Mac. Books, movies, TV shows, and audiobooks came onto the phone the very same way. There’s a ton of stuff that went missing. Things like her Notes (iPhone account). There was no way she was going to use iCloud to sync her encrypted notes. Fortunately, AirDrop helped with some of that. The rest was typing off one screen and onto another iPhone by hand. For hours. She has a lot of work apps that need to be set up from scratch, but once set up will sync over their own clouds and that stuff worked. It was just a pain because most don’t just need user/pass, they want 2FA via some quirky thing like either an additional app, or a fob (requiring her security card) or some other shenanigans that makes you wonder how hard can it be to get single sign-on these days. :wink: Mail was cool once she set up her new accounts thanks to IMAP. There was tons of small stuff I never would have thought about like all your alarms, with their melodies and other settings. Bottom line, a few more days and she’ll have it all. Then she’ll be able to shut off the old iPhone and she’ll have migrated for good. At that point she will stop iCloud syncing of various apps and she’ll be syncing exclusively to her Mac again. Backups are already now exclusively Mac, iCloud backup is off and iCloud backups have all been deleted. She asked me what means we have of checking if that stuff was actually really removed from 3rd-party servers. She knew the answer. Her new iPhone now syncs fine and backups appear ok. If we had yet another iPhone lying around it would probably be a good idea to periodically check if she can back up to a new device from the sync/backup data stored on her Mac.

Getting back to Apple, I have to say Apple’s phone support and the people at the Apple store were great. They tried really hard, they didn’t treat her like an idiot, and they never tried to get rid of us despite the problem persisting over hours. Chasing down her issue must have cost Apple way more money than they ever made off that SE. That said, ultimately though, they weren’t able to fix the issue. And I’m not at all certain this will find its way back to the right Apple engineering team even though it’s quite clear there’s something that causes corruption and there’s something that lets that corruption get into the way of syncing. At least one of those issues should be fixed by their engineers and I’m highly doubtful all this info will get back to the right people in the right form. Plus, I hestitate to believe Apple really gives fixing such bugs high priority. I’ll be happy to be proven wrong. Her old iPhone is still around. Next iOS and iTunes update, you can be sure that’s the first thing I’m testing.

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Other people have mentioned it, but BACKUP TO ICLOUD.

Having one backup chain is effectively like having no backups, as you discovered.

Also, deleting the old backups from the computer was a mistake.

(The iCloud backup for my mostly full 128GB iPhone XR is 1.5GB)

No, if you read the post you’d know that iCloud backup did nothing beyond what the Mac backup did. It’s NOT an independent chain. And if you read the thread you’d also know that the backups were only deleted on the local partition to troubleshoot iTunes. All those backups all still readily available through TM backups and clones.

If you want to act like you know it all and tell people how to manage their stuff, you should at the least have an idea of the circumstances. /hint

Fascinating story, @Simon. It just goes to show that sometimes data gets corrupted, and when that data is in the backup, there can be no way to recover.

I will say, as much as it’s a pain, setting things up from scratch every now and then isn’t a terrible thing (if you don’t actually lose user-created data). I like to do that on my Mac every 2-4 years because things just get messy behind the scenes. After I do, everything runs really smoothly for a while.

I think what makes this episode a bit more worrisome to me is that it appears it’s not just the backup that has become corrupted, but rather something in the iOS install and that is now corrupting every single backup—regardless of how it is performed.

Not knowing which bug, preference, or file (or file corruption) is behind this, I’m left to wonder if this can happen again, and if so, what can be done to prevent it. :cold_sweat: On macOS you can check the FS integrity and you could attempt to move/remove/restore individual files to find out the culprit, but on iOS there is no equivalent (not that I’m trying to advocate full FS access on an iPhone!).

I definitely hear you, @ace. :+1: I have no problem believing that ultimately, you’re right. I do have to admit I do not usually do that. In fact, I go through a lot of trouble to prevent having to do that just because it’s such a hassle. I’m very conservative with what I install, try to keep track of exactly what gets put where, which updates get done and where they go. On my personal systems, I try to run a very tight ship. Fortunately, my Macs and iOS devices have usually done quite well this way despite all the delta updating. But I imagine you’re right and ultimately, it’s a question of time until I’ll be forced to do what you describe.

I suppose you must install lots of apps and try out all kinds of stuff because of your work. I cannot imagine how much work it must be to then set up from scratch. In my case I don’t have that many Mac apps that require classic installers, but I have installed (apt-get, fink, autoconf/automake, etc.) or compiled from scratch tons of UNIX apps that go all over the place on the FS, so re-installing those could be quite painful. System prefs are probably manageable since there’s not that many, but there’s a gazillion app prefs I have set, some carefully tweaked over the years to ideally match my workflow. The idea of having to go over all of that again by hand to me sounds excruciating. Now on macOS I guess you can attempt to bring over individual pref files (if you know exactly which they are and where they reside [something that on OS X was very clear and strict back when it came out and these days has unfortunately become rather murky]) to save yourself some trouble. But when you do that you of course also risk bringing over some of what you mean to leave behind. I’d have a hard time walking the thin line between being cautious and getting back into running shape in a brief period of time and without losing too many years of my life expectancy. :exploding_head: ;)

I also have always considered the fact that Macs and iOS devices can so easily do delta upgrades to be one of the great advantages of the Apple world. Obviouly, that does not always go without a hitch, but in general Apple is awesome about this. What Windows or even Linux environment can be updated for years on end by a simple small delta installer? Or the fact that we can just boot from another system’s partition, or boot from a clone made on another system? To me that is definitely part of the appeal of the Apple world. While I’m sure that doesn’t always work perfectly (hence justifying your advice), I do want Apple to continue to hold themselves to that goal and I would like to believe that is still one the key advantages to sticking to their “walled garden”. :)

I do install a vast amount of software, and as a result, I have many home screens on my iPhone containing apps that I don’t even know what they do.

My Mac is a bit better, but my rule when I do a clean install is that I don’t reinstall any app until I discover that I need it. I’ve been keeping track, more or less, since the last reinstall, which I think was High Sierra, and I’ve installed about 75 apps since then.