February 28, 2011 at 5:41 pm

How To: Switch an Old iPhone to a New Computer

Laptops get stolen. Desktops are regularly damaged by every conceivable household assailant, from the inconsiderate roommate to the out-of-control pet. Meanwhile, laptops malfunction if you like to carry them around without shutting them down — an easy mistake to make, because they’re designed to be carried around.

So what’s an iPhone owner to do when they need to migrate their existing iPhone to a new computer — assuming that they don’t want to re-download all of their apps, music, movies, and so on?

First, most of us need to come clean and admit that we don’t back up our phones and computers nearly as much as we should, because we’ve heard about the importance of backing up nearly as many times as we’ve been told to brush our teeth. If you’ve been syncing your iPhone to iTunes and then backing up your entire computer on a regular basis, switching your iPhone to a new computer is not a problem.

But we’re only human, and humans have a tendency not to back up. It’s in our DNA.

With that in mind, here’s the best way to get your existing iPhone to sync to your new computer (or its reformatted hard drive) without losing your contacts or having to remember which apps you had downloaded and finding them again in iTunes. This tutorial, developed using the recommendations of Apple Genius Bar employees who will remain nameless, also addresses the music, movies and books you’ve purchased.

The first thing to know: those content tabs within iTunes are great for transferring stuff from your computer to your iPhone, but they’re useless in the other direction, from iPhone to computer. Here’s how to move your apps, contacts, movies and music from your old iPhone to your new computer:

1. Authorize Your New iTunes

Install iTunes on your new computer and then Authorize it in the Store tab. If you failed to de-authorize your old computer before it was stolen or otherwise became unavailable, see Apple’s instructions on how to de-authorize your old computers.

2. Back Up Your iPhone

Just in case anything goes wrong with what you’re about to attempt, back up your iPhone, so that if all else fails, you’ll be able to restore it to the way it is right now. To do this, connect your iPhone to your computer with its USB cable, right-click your iPhone (CTRL+click on a Mac) and choose Back Up.

Back up your iPhone before transferring apps, contacts and everything else to your new computer.

3. Transfer Purchases

Now you’ll want to transfer all of your iTunes purchases (including free apps, paid apps, songs, books and movies) from your iPhone to your new computer. To do this, right-click (CTRL-click on a Mac) your iPhone within iTunes and choose Transfer Purchases.

4. Send Your Contacts to the Cloud

Open the App Store on your iPhone, find the iDrive Lite app, and install it. This free app grabs all of the contacts on your iPhone and moves them to a secure locker in the cloud, making it easy to restore them to your new phone, should anything go wrong — and it works regardless of whether you use a Mac or Windows machine, because your computer has nothing to do with it:

5. What About Music and Movies You Didn’t Buy?

Hopefully, you have these stored somewhere, because it’s far easier to reload them into iTunes on your new computer than to transfer them from a corrupt hard drive or from your iPhone’s media memory. As for movies and photos you shot yourself, you can transfer those into iPhoto on a Mac (open iPhoto and click the Import All button at the top right of the screen) or copy them onto your Windows computer (from Computer\iPhone\Internal Storage\DCIM\[FOLDER_NAME]).

6. Decide What to Sync

Now that all of the stuff you want to be on your phone is either within your new iTunes install, iDrive’s cloud-based locker, and/or on your new computer’s hard drive, you’re ready to decide what you want to sync back to your iPhone. This may seem odd, because all of this stuff is already on your iPhone, but it’s all part of getting your old iPhone to play nice with your new computer so you can install new stuff and keep your phone backed up in the future, so stick with us here.

In iTunes, go through the tabs for Apps, Music, Movies, TV Shows, Podcasts, Books and Photos, deciding which stuff you want on your iPhone.

7. Sync Your Old iPhone with your New Computer

Hit the Apply button in iTunes with your iPhone selected to start everything syncing back to your iPhone.

8. Reorganize Your Apps

If you have organized your apps into folders, sorry — you’ll have to do that again. Hopefully, you were planning on doing some app housekeeping anyway.

reorganize your apps

9. Re-Download Your Contacts If Necessary

The contacts on your iPhone should be intact, but if they’re not, for whatever reason, open iDrive Lite and select Restore Contacts.

And there you have it: your old iPhone is now friends with your new computer. Have your own tips on how to make this process even easier? Send us a tip.

  • niiccckkk

    with transferring music onto iTunes from your iPhone, you say it’s easier if it’s stored somewhere, but don’t say what to do if it’s not. Mines not, it was all stored on my own laptop and is now on my iPhone as the only storage of the songs. How do I transfer these or store them?

  • http://www.leawo.com/ Leon Williamson

    Thanks for the helpful tips.
    Here I’ve also found another tutorial on “How to Transfer iPhone to New Computer”.

  • kiki

    You are an absolute dreamboat! This worked liked a dream, by the end of it i still had my contacts, all my notes, calendar entries and my apps. Thank you so much for bothering to write this up, you’ve saved yet another “life.”
    Damn technology for making us so reliant.

  • Nassar

    notes are automatically synced to icloud

  • bmann8808

    My iphone recently got disable by my brother and I no longer have the computer how can Indisable It with my new computer

  • Dave West

    You can also take a look at this guide about “how to sync iPhone with new computer“.