How I Would Fix iTunes, Part 6: Fix Syncing

(This is one of a series of articles looking at elements of iTunes that I think need fixing. I’ll choose one element for each article, and offer a solution. See all articles in this series. If you have any particular gripes about what needs to be fixed in iTunes, drop me a line.)

iTunes syncing is a disaster. I’ve written about it several times on this website, and in my articles for Macworld. Following this article – which is the most popular article on my site, every day – dozens of iTunes users have commented about their experiences. And a Macworld article I wrote about this problem has nearly 100 comments.

The frustration level of users unable to sync their iOS devices with iTunes is quite high, in part because they find little or no help from Apple support or Genius Bar. I’m repeatedly told that users who contact Apple hear that the support teams aren’t aware that this is a problem, and users can spend hours doing what Apple recommends – essentially, restoring their device and re-syncing everything – only to find that the problem re-occurs almost immediately.

To be fair, millions of iOS users have no problem syncing. In fact, I’d wager that most iOS users never sync their devices. They download apps, perhaps some music, but keep it all on their devices (which also means they have no backups). But the sync problems seem to arise once users have a substantial media library. iTunes can certainly handle large libraries, but iOS devices seem to be unable to accept them.

While these problems have existed for many years, it seems that they’ve reached critical mass with the introduction of iOS 8. When I briefly had an iPhone 6, I found that, after the first sync, it was nearly impossible to add any new content to it. I get emails almost daily from people experiencing the same issues, with all types of iOS devices, but the iPhone 6 does seem to be more prone to sync problems.

So, two things need to be done. First, Apple has to recognize that this is a problem, and not have their support teams act as though it’s something new and rare. Apple has a history of pretending that nothing is wrong, until they admit that there was a problem. Remember antennagate (“You’re holding it wrong.”), or the video problem with 2011 – 2013 MacBooks Pro, that the company only recently announced that they would fix? They constantly pretend that there’s user error, rather than deal with the issues, because an admission of a problem in their hardware or software would potentially lead them to an expensive recall or replacement program.

Second, Apple needs to fix syncing, period. If you buy an iOS device, you expect to be able to sync your content. If not, the device is simply not fit for purpose. There’s no excuse for selling a device which Apple claims can do all these wonderful things, whereas something as simple as copying music is fraught with so many problems.

It’s clear that none of Apple’s senior executive sync their iOS devices with iTunes. They probably have everything they want in the cloud, and never experience the type of problems that rank-and-file users encounter. I expect that if Tim Cook, Eddy Cue or Jony Ive had this kind of problem with their iPhone, it would get fixed pretty quickly.