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Syncing notes from iPhone to Mac

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Short version: To sync notes that you created on an iPhone to the Apple Mail application on a Mac, it turns out that you need to create the notes in an account on the phone that corresponds to an IMAP mail account, not a POP mail account.


Longer version:

In recent versions of Mac OS X, you can create notes in the Mail application, and you can sync those notes (via iTunes) with an iPhone.

That all works fine for me, and I've been using it for years.

But I noticed quite a while back that when I created a note on the iPhone, it didn't show up on my Mac after syncing.

I recently spent some time researching this online. I was surprised to discover that notes on the iPhone are associated with email accounts; that had never occurred to me. And my iPhone Notes app was set to create notes in its default account, which was my MobileMe account. And it turns out it's been successfully syncing with the MobileMe account all along; that is, I can view those notes in the web interface at me.com.

So I tried enabling note syncing between MobileMe and my Mac, and about half of those old missing notes appeared on my Mac.

And I changed the default notes account on my iPhone to a different account, one that I actually use. But I was still running into a couple of problems:

  • My old notes created in the MobileMe account on the iPhone still wouldn't sync directly from the iPhone to the Mac.
  • Half of my old notes that were in MobileMe still wouldn't sync from MobileMe to my Mac. So between this and the above item, half of my old notes still weren't on my Mac.
  • My new notes created in the other account also wouldn't sync to the Mac.

Nothing I could find online explained why any of those things would happen. So I finally called Apple tech support about it.

And although the tech support guy was largely not helpful (he asked me at one point, “Is Mail.app something that you downloaded from the App Store?”), he said something in passing that gave me an idea:

He mentioned that syncing notes from iPhone to Mac works only in IMAP accounts and MobileMe accounts.

I opened my Mail preferences for MobileMe, and discovered that I had disabled the MobileMe account in Mail. When I re-enabled it, all the notes that had been in my MobileMe account suddenly appeared. I guess they'd been there all along but Mail had helpfully hidden them from me because the account was disabled.

And then I looked more closely at the other account I had tried to sync with, and realized that it was a POP account. Yes, I'm one of the three or four remaining people in the US who still use POP for email. I know I need to change that, but doing so is going to involve making huge changes to all sorts of things, possibly including changing web providers, so I haven't done it yet.

But I tried switching this one particular account from POP to IMAP. And lo! the missing notes suddenly appeared!

So I thanked the Apple guy (his computer had hung, so we were waiting for it to reboot) and he apologized for not having been helpful, and I told him (truthfully) that if he hadn't said various things I wouldn't have thought to try the things I tried, and we ended the call.

And now I know. I suppose the moral of the story is: use IMAP!

Or maybe it's: Syncing with a disabled account doesn't work so well.

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