How To Fix The Problem When Your Contacts Are Missing From Your iPhone, iPad, or iPod
For this example, I’m going to use Contacts because issues with syncing contacts are the most common issue I see people dealing with nowadays. If you’re having an issue synchronizing your calendars, notes, reminders, etc., the process is essentially the same. Just use the Calendar, Notes, or Reminders app and follow along.
If you can, gather up all your devices because it’s easiest to see everything right in front of you. Don’t worry if you don’t have them all right now – we might still be able to fix the issue. Let’s do it together:
1. Find Out Where Your Contacts Are Actually Stored
Grab the device that has the most accurate list of contacts on it because we need to find out where they’re currently being stored.
If you’re using an iPhone, head to the Phone app and tap Contacts in the bottom center to bring up your list of contacts. If you’re using an iPad or iPod, head to the Contacts app. (If you’re troubleshooting an issue with Calendar or Notes, now’s the time to open those apps – the process is essentially the same.)
Now tap Groups in the upper left hand corner of the display. (If you don’t see Groups, that’s OK – it just means you only have one account set up to sync contacts on this device, so skip down to the next point.) Tap the Hide All Contacts button at the top of that screen.
You’ll see all the checkmarks disappear next to each group. If a group is checked, it will display in the Contacts app. If it’s not, it won’t display, but it won’t be deleted, either. Groups is separated by account, so you might see iCloud at the top, then Gmail, then AOL, then Exchange.
If none of the accounts are checked and you hit done, you’ll see an empty list of contacts, but don’t panic! You’ve just turned them off from displaying on your device temporarily. You can always go back to Groups and tap Show All Contacts.
To find out where your contacts are actually stored, we need to take it one account at a time. Make sure nothing is checked (you’ve tapped Hide All Contacts), and then tap the first item under the top group, which will say ‘All iCloud’, ‘All Gmail’, or ‘All (the name of your account)’. Then hit Done.
If you see all your contacts, we know that they’re stored on this account, because this is the only one that is checked under Groups. Make a mental note of this account, because this is the account we need the to set up on the device that isn’t syncing correctly.
If you don’t see any contacts at all, make a note of that too, because we can probably disable this account from syncing your contacts, since there’s nothing there anyway. Then go back to Groups, turn off all the checkboxes again (Hide All Contacts), and tap the ‘All iCloud(or Gmail, Yahoo, AOL)’ for the next account listed under Groups. By going one account at a time, you’ll find out exactly which contacts are stored on each account – and that’s the first step toward solving this problem.
2. Find Out What Accounts Are Set Up To Sync Your Contacts, Calendars, Notes, etc.
On your iPhone, iPad, or iPod, head to Settings -> Accounts & Passwords. You’ll see a list of all the accounts that are set up on your device. Under the name of each account in gray is the list of what data is being synced from each account.
Think of every one of these accounts as clouds, because they are! iCloud is just Apple’s fancy name for their email, contacts, and calendars synchronization service. With some minor differences, Gmail does the same thing with Mail, Contacts, Calendars, and Notes, and so does AOL, and Yahoo, etc.
If you’re like me, your phone is connecting to lots of clouds! gmailCloud, iCloud, yahooCloud, exchangeCloud, and aolCloud might all be set up on your phone. See why it’s confusing?
It’s confusing because you don’t know which cloud your contacts are stored on and which cloud they are being saved to. Most people I’ve worked with don’t know where their data is stored. They think it just lives on their device, but it doesn’t – its home is on one of these remote cloud servers.
In the first step, we figured out which Account has the contacts you want to show up on your other devices. You’ll definitely see that account listed on the device with the full list of contacts on it. If you don’t see this account on the other device, we have to add it!
Adding An Account
Tap Add Account, walk through the steps, and make sure you leave the Contacts slider on as you complete the setup process. If you do see the account on the other device, tap on it to see the individual on / off switches for syncing Mail, Contacts, Calendars, etc. for that account, and turn on Contacts.
Now that you’ve turned them on, they’ll automatically be downloaded from the server, so head to the Phone / Contacts App, tap Groups, make sure everything’s checked, and you should see all of your missing contacts show up.
If during the first step you discovered some of your accounts don’t have anything stored in them, I strongly recommend you go into each account under Settings -> Accounts & Passwords and disable those empty accounts from synchronizing. It’ll save you some extra battery life and maybe even some headaches in the future.
Wrapping It Up
Why would I want to have multiple accounts syncing contacts and calendars?
For most people, you probably wouldn’t – it’s easiest to keep all your contacts on one server. However, if you use your phone for work, you might need to have your work contacts stored on one server – say, for example, an Exchange server – and your personal contacts stored on another server like iCloud or Gmail.
Last but not least, if you’ve discovered your contacts are stored across an array of servers and you’d like to consolidate them all, I wish I could say that doing that’s an easy process – but it’s not. It usually involves logging into the webmail version of Gmail, Yahoo, AOL, etc., going to the contacts, exporting them all as vCards or as a CSV file (comma separated values – a kind of primitive spreadsheet format), and then importing them into your main account. It’s a process, but it can be worth it if things have become a mess.
I wrote this article in response to the many comments and emails I received asking for help on this point in response to my first blog, “Why Does My iPhone Battery Die So Fast? Here’s The iPhone Battery Fix!”. Shannon A.’s email really hit home with me because it reminded me of this issue, which is another one I used to see all the time when I worked for Apple.
Shannon had all of her agents backing up to iCloud and using an Exchange server for their contacts, but the syncing was “not working well at all.” She said she had spent full days researching this issue but hadn’t been successful in finding a true fix. After we wrote back and forth, she wrote an email that said, “You should definitely do a blog about this issue, I know thousands of people that have this issue.”
Well, Shannon, this one’s for you. I hope this post helps people to clear up the confusion surrounding contacts, calendars, notes, and reminders not syncing and helps you get rid of that syncing feeling in your stomach. 🙂
I’d love to hear your questions, comments, and experiences around fixing this problem. Be in touch and I look forward to corresponding with you all.
All the best,