Apple Notes is a free recording solution with some seriously powerful features, but sometimes you may find that notes refuse to sync between iPhone, iPad, and Mac. The problem may be how you organized your notes, or it could be a bigger problem that makes you scratch your head.
First: Make sure iCloud Notes is enabled
In order for notes to appear on other devices, they need to be synced via iCloud. To do this, you’ll need to ensure that Notes is enabled in your iCloud settings and make sure you put your notes in your iCloud account, not store them locally on your iPhone, iPad, or Mac.
To make sure you have iCloud sync enabled for Notes on your iPhone, open Settings on iPhone or iPad and tap your name at the top of the list. Select “iCloud” and scroll down until you see Notes. Make sure the switch next to the app is on.
You can do this on a Mac under System Preferences (or System Settings)> Apple ID. Select “iCloud” in the sidebar and check the box next to Notes. You will need to do this on all devices where you want the notes to appear.
It’s also worth making sure you have enough iCloud storage for Notes to sync. Your device will probably warn you that you are running out of space, but you can check manually by looking at the colored iCloud Storage bar in this menu on any device. If you run out of storage space, you will need to buy more.
RELATED: How to check how much iCloud space you have left
Next: Make sure you put notes in iCloud
With Notes enabled in iCloud, launch the Notes app and look at the top-level Folders screen (iPhone or iPad) or sidebar (on a Mac). You should see a section called “iCloud,” but you could also see another section called “On my iPhone” or “On my Mac”.
If your notes are stored on your iPhone, iPad, or Mac, they won’t sync between devices. You will need to move them to iCloud for this to work. To do this on your iPhone or iPad, tap the folder, then use the context menu button with a colon “…” in the corner of the screen to “Move the note” to your iCloud account. On a Mac, you can easily drag and drop a folder into the iCloud section.
You can also do this for notes in the same way, either by opening the note and scrolling through the context menu, or by swiping on a Mac.
To ensure that new notes go directly to iCloud by default, make sure “Default Account” is set to “iCloud” in Notes settings. Access this on your iPhone or iPad under Settings> Notes, or on your Mac by launching the Notes app, then clicking Notes> Settings on the menu bar at the top of the screen.
You may need to wait a while for the notes to sync, especially if you have a lot of pictures or large attachments in your notes. We recommend that you give it a few hours and check again.
RELATED: How to quickly add links, photos and media to Apple Notes on iPhone and iPad
Update your devices to the latest version
Now that you are sure that you are doing everything right, you can rule out human error. Sometimes iCloud services don’t behave as they should, and one reason for this may be outdated software.
For best results, make sure your devices have the latest version of iOS, iPadOS, and macOS before you change anything else. You can do this on iPhone or iPad under Settings> General> Software Update or on a Mac under System Preferences (or System Settings)> Software Update.
Test your connection and disable all VPNs
Problems syncing with iCloud can be explained by a connection problem. If you are using a VPN, consider turning it off to see if this will help resolve the transfer or download issues. You can do this using your VPN provider’s application or any third-party application you use (such as Tunnelblick on macOS).
When the VPN is disabled, test the problem again by loading or creating a new note. You can also try restarting network hardware like a router or modem to see if that will help.
Quit applications and restart devices
You can shut down the Notes app on iPhone by detecting the app switcher and opening the Notes app. On a Mac, right-click the Notes icon and select “Quit,” or hold down the Option key to force the app to close if it doesn’t respond.
At this stage, it is also worth considering whether iOS, iPadOS or macOS is to blame. Simply restarting each affected device will rule out problems caused by a malfunctioning system process and only takes a few minutes even on older devices.
RELATED: How to forcibly close applications on your Mac when they don’t respond
Problems switching to Apple Notes
If you switch to Apple Notes from another recording application such as Evernote or One Note, you may encounter initial sync issues. Switching from Evernote involves exporting your notebooks one by one to ENEX files and then importing them into Apple Notes as folders.
Unfortunately, Notes on macOS doesn’t seem to like big uploads like this. Sometimes the upload is only partially completed and when checking your collection on iPhone or the web on iCloud.com, not everything is uploaded successfully.
The first thing you need to do is be patient. We have seen from experience that a folder of about 150 notes takes several hours to display properly on all devices. When the notes finally appear, compare the collection on your iPhone with the collection on your Mac to make sure attachments like pictures are included.
Repairing the mess left behind by incomplete exports may take time, but there is no need for data loss. If the folders you upload to your Mac refuse to display, you can move them offline by dragging them to the “On My Mac” section (make sure this is enabled under Notes> Preferences in the menu bar at the top of the screen).
Once all your notes are securely stored on your Mac, disable Notes in iCloud on your Mac under System Preferences (or System Settings)> Apple ID by unchecking the box next to “Notes” on the iCloud tab. You can then turn on the feature again and wait for your Mac to download any notes that are still in your iCloud account from other devices.
Be patient at this stage. This phase basically puts your Mac in sync with everything else, so you want to wait for all your devices to have the same note library before moving forward. When you’re done, you can start moving folders back to iCloud by dragging and dropping.
Since the Mac app doesn’t seem to like big transfers, you may want to move slowly and upload folders one at a time. As you go, make sure the changes appear on your other devices and iCloud.com. If you run into problems, you can always drag your folders back to your My Mac account to protect your data.
Be patient with the Mac app
Based on first-hand experience and anecdotes published on the Internet, it seems that Apple’s Notes application for macOS is slowly initiating changes on the server. There is no “Sync Now” button that you can use to upload and download changes, and a small dot that spins next to the “iCloud” account label appears seemingly random.
This includes both new notes created on the fly and large uploads launched when moving notes to Apple’s cloud ecosystem. There’s not much you can do about it other than patience before you get too frustrated because things don’t show up where they should.
Fortunately, you can use iCloud.com to see your notes and get an instant overview of what’s going on. This eliminates the possibility of the iPhone app not working properly by retrieving the latest version of your notes and displaying it in the web interface.
We’ve seen evidence of three versions of the Apple Notes library as the big transfer ends. A “complete” library as shipped from a Mac, a partial library not fully downloaded to the iPhone, and a “real” image of the current upload status to iCloud.com.
Disable notes in iCloud (but be careful)
You can always delete everything by removing your iCloud notes from one device and letting them download again. However, this is risky because any notes that are not transferred to iCloud or stored locally on your device will be lost. You should be careful when doing this so as not to lose data.
On a Mac, you can use a tool like Exporter to download a copy of your notes in markdown format before you do something too drastic (unfortunately, you can’t restore a Notes library this way, but at least you’ll get a copy of your notes and any attachments) . You can’t do much on the iPhone.
Apple Notes is great (when it works)
Unfortunately, Notes isn’t as bulletproof as some of its competitors when it comes to cloud functionality, which is a shame because the app is a compelling alternative to Evernote with a bunch of powerful features that many note-taking apps charge money for.
You can use it to sketch or record handwritten notes, scan documents, collaborate with others, and even organize using bookmarks and smart folders.