Gotta Be Mobile

How to Sync Photos Docs and Data on iPhone and Mac With iCloud

iCloud offers a clean and simple way to sync email, calendars, contacts, reminders, photos, Safari data and documents between a Mac and an iPhone.

With OS X 10.9 and iOS 7, Apple updated iCloud and made it more robust, stable and useful so we decided to update our original guide to iCloud sync focusing this time on syncing between a Mac and an iPhone. These steps work on any iPhone or iPad running iOS 7 or higher and Macs running OS X 10.9 or higher. Be sure to update to the latest versions of iOS and OS X before proceeding.

Setting Up iCloud on a Mac

There’s an important choice to make before getting started. Some people buy music, movies, TV shows, books and apps that they share with others, like their family. My wife, sons and I use one iTunes account to buy and share content. However, we each use our own iCloud account to sync data. Users must set up a second account to sync their own data and enter login info for that account in the steps below.

Go to Settings on the Mac and click on iCloud. The box below pops up. People who want to create a new iCloud account should click the link below the box on the left which reads Create new Apple ID…. Follow the onscreen instructions.

Anyone who doesn’t want to create a new account can just enter their current Apple iTunes ID, usually an email address, and password. Those who can’t remember should click the Forgot? link below the password box.

Once the person clicks Sign In the computer will show a screen with two check boxes. The top box turns on syncing of the personal data listed in the dialog box. The other turns on Find My Mac, a service like Find My iPhone that helps people find a lost or stolen machine. We recommend selecting both. Click Next.

The machine will ask for the user’s password and then ask to turn use the Mac’s location for Find My Mac. Click Allow if you want it turned on or Not Now to keep it off.

The next box offers three options related to iCloud Keychain. The iCloud Keychain syncs things like passwords and settings.

To turn on iCloud Keychain OS X will request approval from another device already set up to use iCloud Keychain. If a user doesn’t own another device then choose Reset Keychain. This erases anything stored in the account, which won’t matter on a new account since it’s blank, and turns on the feature. Users with a device already setup should select Request Approve. The Cancel option turns off Keychain syncing.

For those who chose the approval process, the OS will send a request to the other device. The other device shows a notice on the screen and requests the account password. Sign in and iCloud Keychain sync will turn on the Mac.

This takes care of the basics. Apple offers a more detailed support document that shows how to handle unique situations and what to do when the above doesn’t work.

Users can then select which options to sync or turn on. Here’s what each item on the list in iCloud settings does.

Notice the button on the lower right marked Manage…. Click it to manage the data stored in iCloud. A user can buy extra storage from Apple, delete content for the various apps that use iCloud and view their account details.

Set Up iCloud on an iPhone

Open the Settings app and swipe down to iCloud. Tap it to see the login screen. The link at the bottom of the screen that says Get a Free Apple ID lets users create a new account, which we covered above in the Mac section.

Readers that already have an Apple account can just enter the account user email address and password into the sign in screen. It will look for the account online and begin with most of the items on the list set to sync by default.

We recommend turning all the items on. Do this by tapping the slider switches so they all show green. Three of the listed items don’t offer switches (see below).

iCloud Keychain

Tap Keychain and a new screen shows up. Tap the slider switch and the phone asks the user to sign into their Apple iCloud account again. The ensuing screen offers a message explaining that the user will need to approve the request to turn on Keychain syncing from another device already approved. Since we set Keychain up on the Mac, use that option.

People who skipped the Mac section should confirm their identity using an SMS message sent to the mobile number used when the they signed up for the Apple ID. They can also use the iCloud Security Code created while signing up for the account.

Photos and Photo Stream

Tapping Photos opens another screen with three more slider switches. The first turns on My Photo Stream, which uploads all photos to iCloud to share with others or to see on other Apple devices.

On iPhone 5s or newer there’s an entry asking to upload photo bursts from the camera. This option tells the operating system to upload all the photos shot using the new Burst Mode on the iPhone 5s. Burst Mode fires off a bunch of shots and prompts the user to pick the best. This option lets the user sync all the shots taken by Burst Mode, if the user turns on this option, or just the favorite if the user the option turned off.

Please See How to use Burst Mode in iOS 7 for more information.

The third option lets users share photos via iCloud with their friends or family. Turn it on to allow this and keep it off to not allow sharing from the phone.

Documents & Data

Tap on Documents & Data to show the next screen.Turn it on to sync documents and data from apps that support it, like the Apple iWork apps, Pages, Keynote and Numbers.


Once the feature gets set to sync, the user can change the setting for each app listed. In the screenshot above notice that two apps can share data over iCloud. Reclouder records audio notes and syncs across iOS devices.

The last option lets the user choose whether to sync using cellular data or not. Turn it on to allow it and off to disallow it.

When an app offers iCloud syncing of documents, files or data, the app will usually ask permission to use the feature when the app gets installed or when the user first launches it.