How to sync information between your Macintosh computers, iPads and iPhones.

If you have an iPhone, iPad or iPod touch you’ll want the latest information available on each one.  There are a number of ways to synchronise different kinds of information. Here’s my suggestions as to the best solution for each area that needs syncing.  If you have an Android Phone read this article instead.



Use Apple built in Address book (OSX) and Contacts (iOS) and they sync over iCloud.  This will keep you iPhone and computer in sync. If you have an Android phone read this article on how to sync iCloud with Google Contacts.



Use built in Calendar app on your iPhone and OSX, and sync via iCloud. If you want to share outside of the Apple ecosystem (eg to an Android phone like  Google or Samsung) read this article.


Notes Option #1: (The Apple way)

Notes app

Use Notes app on your iPhone and computer – they sync with iCloud.


Notes Option #2. (My preferred way.)

Use Notational Velocity (on the Mac) synced with Simplenote (iOS). This is a beautiful combination and superior to Notes in many ways. For more info see here.


Why I use 2 notes apps:

I find it handy to have 2 separate Notes apps.  My Notational Velocity currently has 748 notes in it: song lists, research material, bits of computer code and so on. It’s more of a reference file.

I have a much smaller set of notes (about 10) that I sync with my wife. For this I use the built in notes app synced over iCloud to both our phones.  She would be overwhelmed with all my other notes!

Therefore Notes only has a few files, eg house cleaning plan, lists of presents, our shopping list.  When I go shopping my wife can add items from home while I am shopping and I will notice them in the shopping list!

Mail Accounts

Do it manually or use iCloud if you want.

You can setup your computer and iPhone to use  any email provider that you want (eg Gmail, Hotmail, Apple mail or whatever) and the mail will sync across.  Just be sure to use IMAP (not POP) when you set up your mail. Then the emails can sync across all your iOS devices and computers just from your mail account – you don’t need iCloud or anything.

What iCloud does when it comes to mail is that it syncs the Mail Account information (username and password etc) to your iPhone. It doesn’t sync the actual email. So you can enter the settigns by hand, or use iCloud to sync your settings.


 ToDo lists

Advanced: Things

Things is my favourite here but it is NOT CHEAP!  There are many, many other free options available.

Things wins hands down if you are into organising your life via to-do lists GTD (Dave Allen) style. (I have hundreds of to-do’s in Things and it’s not cluttered.)



Simple: Apple Reminders

If you want a simple free solution to store just 10 or 20  to do’s then Apple’s built in ‘Reminders’ will do the job and it will sync across to the to-do list in ‘Calenders’ on your mac.




Photostream will make the last 30 days worth of photos available to any iPhone, iPad and computer (up to a max of 1000 photos).

(1) Turn on ‘Photostream’ in iPhoto on your computer under the iPhoto top Menu called  ‘Preferences’ –> ‘Photostream’ tab then click the ‘My Photo Stream’ checkbox.

(2) Turn on Photostream on your iOS device under  the ‘Settings’ –>  ‘Photos & Camera’ –> ‘My Photo Stream’ –> (ON).

IMPORTANT: You need to make sure this only syncs photos when you are on wi-fi or else you would use up lots of data.

To turn on Photostream over cellular phone network (or check that it is in fact turned off!) you need to check BOTH these settings:

Settings –> iCloud –> Photostream (ON)


Settings –> General –> Cellular –> Use Celllular Data for –> iCloud Documents (ON)

If both these are on, photostream will work over cellular network.

If you have an Android phone, use Google Photos.


Receipts (Photos)

No solution!

I have been looking for a simple app that will sync photos of receipts across from the iPhone to the computer for all purchases that I make. Evernote was the closest I came but it lost half my photos in the sync so I don’t trust it. Bento is too clunky. There are numerous ‘Receipts’ apps but they either don’t sync or are too cumbersome. I’m open to suggestions!!!

I use Devonthink to store my receipts, but I can’t easily access them from my Pixel phone.


What is iCloud?


iCloud is Apple’s sync solution. You can sync your email settings, Address Book, Calendars, Notes, Photos and Keynote/Pages documents over iCloud.  It’s very robust (unlike Apples earlier attempts such as MobileMe) and fast.




25 responses to “How to sync information between your Macintosh computers, iPads and iPhones.”

  1. roger

    how do i setup mail using imap instead of pop and does this only work for mac – iPhone or between macs as well? it’s frustrating deleting or reading a email 3 times!!!

  2. lorne

    icloud only works on Mountain Lion, and yet it works on all windows computers including XP, (12 years old). Do I need to scrap my 3 year old Snow Leopard Mac Book Pro?

    1. It works on Lion too, but I get your point!

  3. Rod

    All I want is a simple note taking app that I can edit on both my iPodTouch and my Mac and sync with my Mac *without* having to go through any Internet stuff, any 3rd parties, or any special service such as iCloud. I want my notes to live only on my iPod & my Mac. (BTW, I use POP for email, not IMAP.)

    1. The built in Apple notes app used to do that but sadly no more notes sync via iTunes sync without iCloud. Very sad.

  4. Theresa Fritz

    Receipts- I just saw a program called “Paperless lite” on sale for $9.99 on MacUpdate that claims to capture receipts, have you seen this program? What do you think?

  5. lucy

    You suggest that you will tell us how to synchronize iphone with Mac Mail but all you say is use the Cloud. How pray tell is that done? Your job of explaining not done yet.

  6. Mark Lidster

    Hey Lucy,

    Just had the same issue. Go into settings on your devices and under the iCloud option turn the mail option on. Then in mail on your macbook got mail – synchronise all accounts. I was missing loads of sent messages on my macbook which after I’d changed the settings almost immediately came through. Hope that helps

  7. TedL

    If you want to carry around notes, to do lists etc. and are not worried about security, one of the easiest to use apps is “”. I use it all the time because no matter which device I have with me or around me, I can go into any browser and type which is a password I create. Whenever I am doing research where my access is through a corporate computer, I just cut and paste my material to “”. When I get home, I just transfer the material to an appropriate document. I also keep my todo list and shopping lists right at the top. REMEMBER – IT IS NOT SECURE – JUST HANDY!

  8. Jim L Thompson

    Is there a way in settings to delete emails from computer, ipad and iphone with one delete?

    1. Vicki B.

      PLEASE somebody answer Jim Thompson & Vickie! It is SO frustrating to delete on my computer and have to do it again on my iPad.

      1. If you have to delete them twice there’s something wrong. Look at the article on this site that talks about gmail settings and OS X and make sure you have it set up right. All the best. Wayne.

  9. Vickie

    Good question!! I have been trying to figure that out for months! :)

  10. Passarotimo

    I’m looking for a calendar app with icons in month view. Pimlico made DateBook Plus for Palm and then Android. Very useful, one can look at month view and see a cursory schedule based on assigned icons for events. No day view required. Anyone find something like this for iPhone?

    1. James

      If it’s a Apple device, I love Week Cal. When I use to have a palm years ago, there was one just as good made by Agendus.

  11. Katie

    I currently have two (older) macbooks, an ipad that I have never synced to my laptop, and an iphone… :/ none are exactly “new” and I have different music on everyone… if I sync my phone with one computer (that has a different Itunes library) will it erase the music from my phone?? is there a way to combine all of these “libraries”…??! I need to un-complicate my mac life!! Help!

    1. Easiest way is probably to subscribe to iTunes match for a year for $29 then all songs on all computers will be synced. Otherwise you’ll need to copy them from all the computers to one of your computers and sync the phone to that one.

  12. Sergio Mindlin

    How can I sync Contacts between my wife’s and mine devices (iPhones, iPads and Mac), since we have separate Apple accounts? We use two separate iCloud accounts.

    1. You’ll need to add your wife’s iCloud account to your mac or vice versa then just sync contacts to it.

  13. Brian

    I have an iMac that I’ve been using for years with lots of mailboxes. I only use my gmail accounts and don’t want to use iCloud. How do I sync all the mail and mailboxes on my iMac with another MBP? In other words if I get new emails and move then to a mailbox on my iMac I want that synchronized with the MBP.


    1. Just to connect each computer to your Gmail account and this will happen automatically.

  14. David

    I’m trying to sync email and calendar on iMac. The email address I’m using is from my web site not one of the free online email clients (Gmail, Outlook etc.). I’ve tried both IMAP and POP3 settings with no luck syncing the calendar (no option to turn on calendar under the email account). Is there a solution for this to work or will I have to install something like Web Calendar onto my web server?

  15. I don’t get Mail synchronizing. Can someone who actually has it working spell out the requirements?

    I have a Mini running Mavericks and a MBP running Sierra, and iCloud has Mail selected on both computers.

    The Mini (regular desktop machine) has Mail set up and cleaned out of unwanted mail.
    The MBP is missing some folders and has every email I ever received

    I need a “make this one like that one and then keep them synchronized” operation.

    1. Make sure they are both using IMAP not POP, it should sync automatically.

  16. OFS

    Shame that iCloud doesn’t sync the Gmail groups. I know there are apps to do this but is there a way to do it using only iCloud?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.