How to sync iPhone and iPad files

Find out the best ways to ensure all your files stay in sync across all your Apple devices.

Why should I sync my iPhone with my iPad?

It’s hard enough to coordinate and manage the files on your computer and smartphone, but add a tablet to the mix and suddenly it’s like you’re navigating your own digital labyrinth. You want to be able to easily access any of your files from any of your devices, but making that a reality can be tricky if you’re going in blind.

Syncing an iPad or iPhone with a computer is fairly straightforward, but syncing the two together can be more complicated. So, let’s take a look at some of the ways to sync your iPhone with your iPad.

An iPad is a lot more than just a larger iPhone, and there are plenty of reasons why you might use one over the other depending on the task or tasks at hand, while wanting the same files accessible on each.

For instance, perhaps you’re an illustrator and you find it’s a lot easier to draw on the larger surface of the iPad. However, once you’ve created your masterpiece you want to share it with the world on Instagram, and because Instagram on an iPad doesn’t offer the most fluid user experience, you might want to use the app on your phone instead. Perhaps it’s the other way around—the camera is better on your iPhone, but you prefer to edit videos on iPad.

It’s not just about being able to easily switch between devices without losing progress, it’s about having the ability to access your stuff no matter where you are. While it’s likely you have your phone with you when you’re out and about, there are probably times you don’t have your tablet. You want to know that all your files, be it your work, photos, music or otherwise, are easily accessible whichever device you’re on.

It’s also just a matter of organization. Sifting through various folders on various devices to find that one photo you need is time consuming and unnecessary. Having all your files together in one place that you can access from all devices is simply more efficient.

Some of the files you’d want accessible on any device include:

  • Your photos and videos: Gone are the days of stuffing your wallet with family photos; having all of your photos on all of your devices means your precious memories can stay with you wherever you go.
  • Your work: These days, our work life isn’t restricted to a desk in an office. Having work files close at hand whether you’re on your iPhone or your iPad means never having to worry about showing up to an important meeting without the documents you need, or getting an urgent request for files while you’re out and about.
  • Your apps: Syncing apps across your iPhone and iPad is useful too. Apps can differ between tablet and smartphone, and you want to be able to take advantage of the unique features of each.
  • Your personal files: Outside of work documents, you’ve probably got personal files that you’d benefit from keeping on your mobile device and your tablet. Things like passport scans, tenancy contracts, insurance files; there are plenty of things you might not necessarily need day-to-day, but are important to have within reach just in case you need to make a sudden booking, payment or appointment.
  • Passwords & Account Details: You can save a bit of time by ensuring all of your devices have account details and passwords saved so that whichever device you’re using, you can get logged in speedily.
  • Your music: If you prefer to use your own personal music library rather than streaming services like Spotify, it’d be handy to have access to all your music across all your devices, regardless of whether or not a device is connected to your iTunes account.
  • Your contacts: It makes sense to have all your contacts together, so you don’t have to search through multiple devices to find the details you need.

Syncing your iPhone and iPad isn’t as simple as it is to sync either of them with your computer, and Apple doesn’t produce any cables that connect iPads with iPhones, so in order to do it, you’ll need to use the internet.

How to sync iPhone to iPad wirelessly using iCloud

Unfortunately, using iCloud to instantly sync everything isn’t as simple as you’d hope. To do so, you’ll need to go through the Settings app on both devices and manually decide which apps and content you want in sync.

You’ll have to first make sure you’re logged into the same Apple ID account on both devices, and make sure both devices have Wi-Fi turned on. In the iCloud section of the Settings app, you’ll see a list of apps that can be synced across all of your devices, and you can toggle syncing on or off for each individually.

You’ll then need to go to the Passwords & Accounts section of Settings to make sure that both devices have the same email accounts linked.

Then, make sure all the settings match on both devices.

With all your settings adjusted, any change made on a synced app updates across the board. For instance, if you add a calendar entry on your iPhone, the calendar on your iPad will update accordingly.

It’s important to note that the above method allows you to sync specific app data between your iPhone and iPad, but not to completely sync all content altogether. If you’ve already been using both devices and have different files saved on each, you can’t instantly merge them. If you wanted to sync everything in one fell swoop, you’d need to restore one device to its factory settings, deleting all of its content in the process.

However, if one of your devices is brand new, then it’s easier to just replicate content from the other device by creating an iCloud Backup of the source device and restoring that backup on the new device when you set it up. This will sync almost all data between your two devices, except for any files already stored in iCloud (e.g., Contacts, Notes, iCloud Photos, Messages), your Touch ID and Apple Pay settings, and your iCloud Music Library.

iCloud Photos and iCloud Music Library are separate parts of iCloud that you’ll need to manually turn on. There are some disadvantages to using iCloud to sync your photos, videos, and music across devices, though, which we’ll explore below.

Drawbacks of using iCloud to sync iPhone and iPad

While you might assume iCloud to be the most reliable way to sync your iPad and iPhone, that’s not necessarily the case. As we mentioned, the process is not as seamless as you might expect, especially if you already have different content on each device.

Plus, iCloud is not the most user-friendly service if you’re using a non-Apple device. Keeping everything in iCloud can become an issue if you were to switch to an Android device down the line, or if your computer isn’t a Mac. You can still use iCloud to some extent on non-Apple devices, but it’s limited.

While iCloud storage offers 5 GB of free space, that space is used not just for your personal files, but also for other large files like backups, so it quickly adds up. Once you run out of free space on iCloud, keeping your devices in sync becomes unfeasible.

When you use iCloud Photos, you’re given two options for how you’d like photos to be stored on your device. If you select “Optimize Storage,” your photos are saved to iCloud, but lower-quality versions are still stored on your device, meaning your photos are still taking up space even if you’re using iCloud. If you select “Download and Keep Originals,” then your photos are kept at full quality on your phone as well as on iCloud, not saving you any space at all.

Regardless of which option you choose, with iCloud Photos, if you delete a photo from your iPhone or iPad it’ll also be deleted from iCloud, and vice versa, which can lead to you accidentally losing important photos and videos.

iCloud Music Library poses similar risks. It doesn’t support Family Sharing—iCloud is designed primarily for personal use, so sharing and collaborating on files is limited. Things can also get complicated if you’re trying to upload duplicate songs or songs not downloaded from iTunes. Like with iCloud Photos, it can become difficult to decipher which files are stored locally and which are in the cloud, and if you had different songs downloaded on each device, merging them can be tedious.

You may still want to keep certain things in sync using your Apple ID. You can still sync contacts from iPhone to iPad, as well as things like your calendar, notes, and apps, but for your personal media and documents, there are other options that allow for more seamless, flexible file management.

Using Dropbox to sync iPhone and iPad

The easiest way to ensure your iPhone and iPad stay in sync would be to use Dropbox as your primary means of storage. With the Dropbox iOS app, you can seamlessly transfer your files from your iPhone or iPad directly to your Dropbox.

Then, all of your files will be contained in your Dropbox, which you can easily access on any device with internet connection. This not only allows for more flexibility, but it saves a lot of space on your device. You can keep all of your files stored in the cloud and only download files to your device if you need to edit them or need them temporarily available offline. Microsoft Office files can be edited directly through the Dropbox iOS app, so you won’t even need to store them locally while you work on them.

You can also turn on camera uploads, which allows Dropbox to upload photos even with the app closed, so you can delete them from your device entirely once they’re secure in the cloud.

The file recovery feature means there’s no risk of deleting a photo or song from your iPhone and losing it altogether like there would be if you were to use iCloud. Dropbox is also designed to make sharing and collaborating on files easier than ever.

You can use Dropbox as your photo library, too. That way, not only are your files synced between your iPhone and iPad, but you’ll also be able to access them from any device with internet connection.

Access Dropbox using the Files app on iPhone and iPad

Every iPadOS and iOS device comes with Apple’s Files app pre-installed. Whenever you create or download a file on your iPhone or iPad, it’s saved to the Files app, whether it’s stored locally or in the cloud. What you may not know is that you can also add your Dropbox folders to the Files app, so that you can access all of your files from one place.

Adding Dropbox to Files makes it easier than ever to keep your files on the cloud while still allowing quick and easy access. Through the Files app, it’s also easy to move files from your device or from iCloud over to Dropbox.

To do so, first make sure you’ve downloaded the Dropbox iOS app.

As soon as you’ve downloaded the Dropbox iOS app and logged into your account, a Dropbox folder will be automatically created in the Files app. You’ll find it under “Locations” in Files. Your Dropbox folder will remain in the Files app and will continue to be automatically updated so long as you have the Dropbox app on your phone.

Through the Files app, you can browse, view, download, copy, move, rename, and edit files in your Dropbox, and upload files directly to your Dropbox folder from supported apps.

With your iPad and iPhone files moved over to Dropbox, you’ll be able to access them from not just those two devices, but absolutely any device that can get online.

Sync your iPhone and iPad to aid versatility

Learn more