Why Are Some Of My Contacts Missing From My iPhone, iPad, or iPod? Here’s The Real Fix!

You add a contact to your iPhone and it’s supposed to show up on all your devices automatically, right? Isn’t that what iCloud is for? How come only some of my contacts are showing up on my iPhone? Why are only some of my contacts missing? How can I move all my contacts to one place so this problem doesn’t keep getting worse?

I’ll start by clearing up confusion about “The Cloud”, explain why contacts are missing from your iPhone, iPad, or iPod, help you find out where your contacts, calendars, and other personal information is actually stored, and help you change some settings on your iPhone or iPad to get your contacts back under control.

A Little Background Information

When I first heard that my data was stored in “The Cloud”, I pictured all of my contacts, calendars, and notes floating around in white, puffy clouds high above our heads. I’m not sure who told who coined the term, but it is one of the greatest examples of technology marketing lingo of our time.

Why Do We Need A Cloud?

Since we all use multiple devices nowadays, it makes sense that if I add a contact on my computer, I want it to show up on my iPhone and tablet, and if I add a calendar event on my phone, I wanted to show up on my computer.

Sounds great, and it is — but if you don’t know exactly where things are being stored and what clouds all of your personal information is being stored on, you can end up with your personal information distributed across a slew of cloud servers, which makes things really complicated, really quickly.

Wait, There’s More Than One Cloud? Yep!

iCloud isn’t the only cloud in town. Gmail, AOL, Yahoo, Exchange, and many more are all types of cloud servers. Here’s the concept behind the cloud, and the key to understanding how it works is as easy as answering this question: Where does my data (contacts, calendars, notes, etc.) live? Is its home on my device (the old way) or on the cloud (the new way)?

The old way was simple: When you saved a contact on your phone, it was saved in memory on that device. End of story. If you wanted to transfer contacts back and forth between your phone and your computer, you had to plug in the USB cable and use iTunes to sync the data.

Using the old way, the contact’s home is on your device. If you delete the contact from your phone, it doesn’t affect the data on your other devices. But, if you drop your device in the toilet (like I did once), all of your contacts go down the tubes.

The new way (using the cloud): When you save a contact on your iPhone or iPad, the contact is saved on a remote server like iCloud, Gmail, AOL, Yahoo, Exchange, etc., and yes, every one of these is a cloud server! Using the cloud, the contact’s home is on the remote server, not on your device.

If you delete the contact from your phone, it deletes it from the server, and since every device is connected to that same server, the contact is deleted on all your devices. If you drop your phone in the toilet, it’s OK because the data’s home is on a remote server (a cloud), not on your waterlogged phone.

See Why Things Can Get Really Complicated, Really Quickly?

If iCloud, Gmail, AOL, Yahoo, Exchange, and others can all save your contacts, how do you know where your contacts are actually being saved? A contact is only stored in one place, after all. Otherwise, there’d be duplicates all over the place, and Apple doesn’t let you make that mistake. That being said, Apple doesn’t help you get organized either, and that’s why I’m writing this article.

So Where Exactly Is This Cloud?

The concept behind all cloud servers is essentially the same: Build a massive building, fill it with servers and hard drives, and give everybody a little corner of a hard drive. iCloud is actually in North Carolina. In truth, cloud servers aren’t new by any means, and you’ve probably been using at least one for years.

Lots of email providers (Gmail, AOL, etc.) have used the IMAP protocol to synchronize email for over 10 years. Microsoft Exchange has, in essence, been a kind of cloud since day one. It’s only in the past few years that we slapped the cloud label on everything because it sounds cool.

Saying my contacts are stored on iCloud sounds way better than saying they’re stored on iMassiveServerFarm-InNorthCarolina-WithLotsOfHardDrives-OnWhichIHaveATiny-AmountOfSpaceReserved-ThatAppleOwns — but that’s just my opinion.

Cloud servers are great and we use them for two main reasons:

1. Automatic syncing between all devices. Update a contact on your iPhone, it’s updated on your computer. Delete an email on your computer, it’s deleted from your iPhone.

Note: If when you delete an email it doesn’t delete from your other devices, your email provider is probably using the older POP (Post Office Protocol) method for delivering your mail.

2. Automatic backup. Meet a new person, add them to your phone, and drop your phone in the toilet later that day? No worries! (At least about the contact.) Its home is on a cloud server, so if you have to get new phone, it’ll come right back when you set it up.

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.)

tap contacts tab in phone app

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.

hide all contacts phone app

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, tap 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 -> Contacts. Tap on Accounts to see all the accounts currently set up on your device. Under the name of each account in gray is a list of what data is being synced from each account.

view contacts accounts on iphone

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 iPhone is connected 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

In Settings -> Contacts -> Accounts, 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.

add a new account on iphone

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 -> Contacts -> Accounts 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 post, “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.

About Author

I'm a former Apple employee and the founder of Payette Forward, and I'm here to help you with your iPhone.

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1 year ago

Just found this article and for the first time ever my contacts are synced thank you so much.

2 years ago

Thank you so much! This was helpful. It was driving me nuts why some of my contacts weren’t syncing on my iPad, and it was cause of gmail! You’re the best.

3 years ago

Hi, David: Ok. So I’m a little late to this party, but this is the first usual information I’ve found about this issue. Thank you! Every other article just focused on the iPhone/iCloud missing contacts. None EVER mentioned the concept of pulling contacts from multiple server locations. Quite honestly, the iPhone storage structure drives me batty. Photos folders keep moving and changing, there is no real “folder naming” on the iPhone, just tagging, so if you look at the raw storage structure, you can’t find your photos. And deleting often means the img_##### name can get reused, which makes manually… Read more »

Sally Loudwill
4 years ago

Thank you so much, this info was a lifesaver 🙂

Lisa-Frank Ranzino
4 years ago

Wow!!! Can’t thank you enough. I’ve searched the web for days and couldn’t find out why my contacts on my iPad were not showing up when they are clearly on my iPhone. I’ve tried many suggestions – none of which worked. THANK YOU! I not only followed your step by step instructions, I also completely understand WHY I was having this problem. I will print and save this article for future reference. Appreciate you posting this.

Diane Swanson McDevitt
4 years ago

Thank you so much!!!!! This was the most useful and easy site I have found with questions about my iproducts!!!! I will be checking in with you often and spreading your good news to all those who will listen. I followed you step by step and it all came together.

Barbara Gillan
4 years ago

Great post! Extremely helpful! I have an iPhone, iMac, and a new iPad. The correct set of contacts is on an Exchange server. I can access them thru my iPhone. I ran setup on the new iPad. I added the Exchange account, but no contacts show up. My old iPad as well as my iMac keep an incorrect set of contacts on a Gmail account. Any thoughts?

Michelle Hand Kyle
4 years ago

Thank you for this!! I had lost only a portion of my contacts and have no idea when an how. Almost purchased an unnecessary data recover program. After reading this article, I realized the contacts I lost were associated with an email account I deleted. Re-associated the account and voila!! Fixed in 2 minutes.

Eric Deslauriers
5 years ago

Couple questions please David! 1. I have a load of duplicate contacts somehow. With this as a guide, I’ve narrowed it down to every service (GMail, Yahoo, iCloud, GMail #2, etc.) that contains that contact causes it to be displayed on my Mac when I select “All contacts” or iPhone when I enable all the services (they’re not complete dupes of each other). On my iPhone, I’ll see a contact displayed up to 4x. I want to make iCloud my “source of truth” when it comes to contacts. Can you explain how to do that (is that another blog post… Read more »

Noah Ji
5 years ago

You are my hero. I was going insane. Good to know about the different clouds. I just got a new ipad and hadn’t added all my email accounts yet, thus all my contacts weren’t showing up. Thank you again!

Caroline Brown
5 years ago

My problem is I have lost only some of my (old) contacts in the last few days – they have just disappeared – for example, my daughter and son!!!. I do not have all my contacts in icloud, as it is full and I have not paid to increase its size. SO – how do I find these missing contacts?

Cass Nelson-Dooley
5 years ago

AMAZING! thank you so much! I was able to reconcile all my missing contacts.

Penny Harris Clifton
5 years ago

Thanks, Dave. Ive just stumbled upon you, but already in the space of two articles – and maybe a few side trips to links – I have fixed two problems, overheating and contact syncing. Not to mention I finally understand The Cloud. Oh, and now Apple isnt following me everywhere I go… Cant wait to pass on your website. Thanks for sharing your knowledge.

Favorisntfair Crn
5 years ago

Thank you so much! I just bought a new iPad and couldn’t figure out for the life of me why my contacts wouldn’t sync with my iphone. This is much appreciated.

Sue Roberts
5 years ago

Thanks! I had no idea what was going on. I’ve only got around 15 or 20 contacts in gmail accidentally so I guess I can move them out and shut that down. I wonder why my phone decided to put the there rather than in icloud.

Dariel Connors
5 years ago

I wish there was an indicator on each contact telling which server it was stored on- like gmail or yahoo or iphone.

Henry Harris
5 years ago

I couldn’t figure out why a particular contact entered into my iPhone would not show up on my iPad. After using you diagnostic info, I figured out that it was because I only had an address without a phone number registered for that contact.

Suzie De Long
5 years ago

Thank you for all your advice
I share it with everyone. You have enlightened me on so much, keep up the good work!

Deirdre Morrissey Berru
5 years ago

Thank you for taking the time to post this iinformation. It has become so difficult to keep up with the never-ending changes in techno-land. It seems like the designers simply move things around, hide them, so that the device looks new. Unfortunately it only antagonizes the user.

Hadley Thompson
5 years ago

Thank you, your method fixed my problem

Jim Lodge
5 years ago

Thanks. Exactly what i wanted to know

Janet Mather
6 years ago

Fantastic. I’ve struggled goes thinking where on rat jve those contacts gone. Great response. Thank you.

Townsend Pinnex
6 years ago

I found this article to be very useful, compact and straight to the point. Answered several of my Outlook questions and well written. Thank you.

Lorin Butler DiBenedetto
6 years ago

Great article. It helped a lot. However when I go to contacts on my iPad it does not offer me a default account, and that is my biggest problem on my iPad. Only some of my contacts show up. . Thank you

Harry Carter
6 years ago

Does this article need updating? I found you and have followed you ever since because of the clarity of your writing and instructions. Based on this article, I moved all my contacts to the Gmail Cloud and it worked great! Now with nothing changed that I can tell, excepting IOS upgrades, it ain’t working. Help?

Geert Brouckmeersch
6 years ago

Contacts disappearing on iphone 7 with OS 10.2 And also pictures, mails, calenders, apps docs, This is a big problem and as I can read on the internet in many blog and forum, many people have this issue!!! Already since iphone 4 I bought my new iphone 7 and installed from icloud, Perfect installation and everything is there and works! This is what happened -I add a new telephone number to my iphone contacts to add a friend to Whatsapp. -My iphone Contacts disappear. -My iphone Calenders disappear. -My ipone Fotos disappear. -My Safari Bookmarks disappear. -My Mails disappear. -Several… Read more »

7 years ago

You are a blooming genius! Thank you. I thought I was loosing my mind. Somehow one of my iPads had a different default account than the other, so contacts added on one iPad didn’t show on the other iPad. Fortunately, there were only about 9 so I added them manually and made both ipads use the same account. Bigger issue with the Calendars. Everything before mid 2013 is on Gmail server. All my events after 2013 are on iCloud server. I think I must have chosen a while back to sync only events newer than 1 year previous. I use… Read more »

7 years ago

I left my job yesterday and lost part of my contacts that I saved by hand on my iphone. I’m sure 100% the standard account was another and not the one from work.
So why were my contacts saved there?
Any explanation?

Todor Tashev
7 years ago

This is a good article indeed, because it gives a warning on a very important moment that we are facing (and it’s yet to come a lot more). I was the first of my friends who started using Google Drive to store my PC apps, personal documents and other sensitive data, with caution, of course. I’ve been using the services of “The Cloud”, but I’m rethinking my consept of storing data, because the “sky is getting too cloudy”. It is a serious issue that we don’t really know WERE EXACTLY our personal information is stored and how can we be… Read more »

Jackie Nimrichter Mohr
7 years ago

I followed your directions and lost all my contacts…. Thanks

Marianne Snyder
7 years ago

I read your article and checked both my iPad and iPhone to make sure the settings were the same and the default account for contacts is iCloud. I also checked my groups and all are checked. Here is my problem: I add a contact on my iPad and it does not go to my iPhone. If I add the contact on my iPhone it does go to my iPad. However, when I go to my iPhone to manually enter the contact, it goes over to my iPad and now showsTWO of the same contact on both devices! Sounds crazy, but… Read more »

Louise Sloan
7 years ago

Thanks for this. It was missing the info on how to fix the problem on a Mac (such as my Macbook Pro), though. I found the answer though: Open the Contacts app and then go to the dropdown “add account” menu and add in your Google or other email accounts there, as the info is stored on THEIR cloud servers, not iCloud. The fact that those accounts are all set properly in the Mail app to include contacts apparently doesn’t count. You have to add them to the Contacts app.

7 years ago

Thanks for your sharing.

I have encountered the same problem. Thanks to FonePaw iPhone Data Recovery, I have successfully get them back.

And what David Payette said is quite useful too.

You can have a try and hope you can get back your contacts as me.

Apple Consumer
7 years ago

Thank you for sharing. It was driving me crazy and our IT person did not have solutions. Quick fix.

8 years ago

This SOLVED my problem!!! I have been trying to find a solution for days without having to go to the apple store!! Thanks so much for this it really helped me out! 🙂

8 years ago

What if you have contacts on saved on your iPhone? I have a lot of contacts that are on my iPhone and show up on my iPad without the name attached. I never understood why until I followed the steps. But how do I fix this?

Jeremy Morel
8 years ago

I’d like to point out that if you do find you have your contacts stored across an array of servers, the Mac Contacts application (if you happen to have a Mac) will allow you to add all your accounts as sources. Once you do, you can view them independently. In my case I was able to open, say, my Exchange contacts, highlight and drag them all into iCloud. I hope this helps save someone some time and aggravation!

Ravinder Singh
8 years ago

In step one I discovered that the iCloud account had all my contacts. Google had many, but not all. In step 2, I confirmed that both iCloud and Google are configured to sync my contacts. Here is the real issue – when I logged on to my iCloud account from my PC and checked the contacts, some of teh contacts were not there. How do I ensure that ALL my contacts which are there on my iPhone are there on iCloud? It is important as I might shift to Android (read my comment on your article about heating and battery… Read more »

8 years ago

wow. really awesome.
i am breaking my head why all contacts are not coming to my iphone 6 plus. because i dint config my email yet. so icloud contacts only came to phone. Now going to export mail contact to desktop and import to icloud. its easy to keep all at one place. nice tips. thank you very much

Lisa Strickland
8 years ago

I did the above but I can’t get exchange to show up in my groups on my new phone…

Why Are Some Of My Contacts Missing From My iPhone, iPad, or iPod? | ALICE YAM
8 years ago

[…] via …  Why Are Some Of My Contacts Missing From My iPhone, iPad, or iPod?. […]

Paul Nagele
8 years ago

Another thing to check: you can choose to SORT contacts on either first name or last name. Also you can choose to DISPLAY on first or last name. Use the search option if you don’t “see” your contact. Also if you have a “Group” entry entered in your .live or .msn or other account it will not show up.

Laura Claycomb
8 years ago

Hi, thought you’d want to know that a big (taking over my screen) ad for MacSweeper came up while I was on your site. I don’t know if you have injected files, but you might want to do a scan. I don’t know if it was an anomaly of some ad that came up in the Google ads on your site and I inadvertently touched on it while reading, but thought you should know.

Thank you SO MUCH for these articles – esp. the one to let me back up again to iCloud!!!

John Shipps
8 years ago

Good article, thanks for the helpful insights. However, I seem to have a variation of the problem. All of my contacts are in iCloud and visible on my iPhone, iPad and MacBook Air, but some don’t have the complete information. Oddly enough, I noticed it with my parents contacts. I see my mom’s basic info on my iPhone, but her home address is missing – same with my dad. Yet, when I look them up in Contacts on my Mac, their home addresses are visible. Is my iPhone deciding what info to display from iCloud? Their home addresses used to… Read more »

Sheila Mastrangelo
8 years ago

Thank you for taking the time to pass on all the helpful information.

Ivory John
8 years ago

Great advice

Paula Johnson
8 years ago

I bought a Samsung tablet and AT&T put my aol e-mail on it for me, but my contacts did not sync. There isnt even a tab for contacts at the left when I am on it. How do I get Contacts to show up in my email like they do on my computer?
Thanks for your help.
Paula Johnson
[email protected]

Suanne Gilleland
8 years ago

David, your article was helpful in some ways, ESPECIALLY in calming down my panic. It’s great to meet people like you who don’t go into panic mode when stuff happens. I unfortunately do!

I have checked some random button because I actually have my AOL contacts listed in my iPhone and iPad, yet they are lost on AOL on my Mac. Can you help?

9 years ago

Thanks this is very helpful. I have 2 Macs, new iPhone and old iPad. I will see if this helps. I have lost 100s of contacts over the past 2 years. Also I synced up with LinkedIn about a year ago. It brought over photos of many of my contacts. About 6 months later I noticed that many of my contacts had the wrong pictures and many had duplicates of wrong pictures. I asked LinkedIn and they said it was a Mac problem and Mac and it was a LinkedIn problem … sounds familiar. Rather than them both wanting to… Read more »

I Deleted The App Store From My iPhone! The Fix by Payette Forward
9 years ago

[…] Double-check that all your contacts, calendars, notes, and other personal information is synchronized on iCloud, Gmail, Exchange, Yahoo, AOL, or any other cloud service. If your personal information is stored on the cloud, it won’t be deleted when you restore your iPhone, and it will be immediately come back to your device when you set up those accounts again. To learn more about syncing contacts, calendars, and other personal information on your iPhone, iPad, or iPod, check out my article, Why Are Some Of My Contacts Missing From My iPhone, iPad, or iPod? Here’s The Real Fix! […]