Tim Brookes / How-To Geek

Apple Notes is a free note-taking 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 down to how you’ve organized your notes, or it may be a larger issue that leaves you scratching your head.

First: Ensure That iCloud Notes Is Enabled

For notes to show up on other devices, they need to sync over iCloud. To do this, you’ll need to ensure that Notes is enabled within your iCloud settings, and check that you’re putting your notes into the iCloud account and not storing them locally on your iPhone, iPad, or Mac.

To check whether you have iCloud sync enabled for the Notes app on your iPhone, open Settings on an iPhone or iPad and tap on your name at the top of the list. Choose “iCloud” and scroll down until you see Notes. Make sure that the toggle next to the app is enabled.

Enable Note in iCloud preferences on iOS

You can do this on a Mac under System Preferences (or System Settings) > Apple ID. Choose “iCloud” from the sidebar and make sure there’s a checkbox next to the Notes app. You’ll need to do this on all devices you want notes to appear on.

iCloud Preferences on macOS 12

It’s also worth checking that you have enough iCloud storage available for Notes to sync. Your device will likely warn you that you’re low on space, but you can check manually by looking at the colored iCloud Storage bar in this menu on either device. If you’re out of storage, you’ll need to buy more.

RELATED: How to Check How Much iCloud Storage You Have Left

Next: Check You’re Putting Notes in iCloud

With Notes in iCloud enabled, launch the Notes app and take a look at the top-level Folders screen (iPhone or iPad) or the sidebar (on a Mac). You should see a section titled “iCloud” but also might see another section titled “On My iPhone” or “On My Mac” too.

If your notes are stored on your iPhone, iPad, or Mac then they won’t be synced between devices. You’ll need to move them to iCloud for this to work. To do this on an iPhone or iPad, tap on a folder then use the ellipsis “…” context menu button in the corner of the screen to “Move Note” to your iCloud account. On a Mac, you can simply drag and drop the folder to the iCloud section.

iCloud Notes on macOS

You can also do this for notes in the same way, either by opening the note and moving using the context menu or by dragging them on a Mac.

To ensure that new notes go straight to iCloud by default, check that the “Default Account” option is set to “iCloud” in Notes settings. Access this on an iPhone or iPad under Settings > Notes or on a Mac by launching the Notes app and then clicking Notes > Preferences in the menu bar at the top of the screen.

Default Notes account on macOS 12

You may need to wait a while for notes to sync up, especially if you have lots of images or large attachments in your notes. We recommend giving it a few hours and checking back.

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’re confident you’re 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 due to outdated software.

Software Update on macOS 12

For best results, ensure that your devices are running the latest version of iOS, iPadOS, and macOS before changing anything else. You can do this on an 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 Any VPNs

Problems syncing with iCloud could be explained by a connectivity problem. If you’re using a VPN, consider turning it off to see if that helps resolve your upload or download issues. You can do this using your VPN provider’s app, or whatever third-party app you’re using (like Tunnelblick on macOS).

With your VPN disabled, test for the issue again by uploading or creating a new note. You can also try restarting network hardware like routers or modems to see if that helps.

Kill Apps and Restart Devices

You can kill the Notes app on an iPhone by revealing the app switcher and flicking up on the Notes app. On a Mac, right-click on the Notes icon and select “Quit” or hold the Option key to force quit the app if it’s unresponsive.

Force quit Notes app on macOS 12

At this stage, it’s also worth considering whether iOS, iPadOS, or macOS is to blame. A simple restart of each affected device will rule out problems caused by a system process not functioning correctly and takes only a few minutes even on older devices.

RELATED: How to Force Quit Applications on Your Mac When They're Not Responding

Problems Encountered Transitioning to Apple Notes

If you’re transitioning to Apple Notes from another note-taking app like Evernote or One Note, you may encounter issues with the initial sync. Moving from Evernote involves exporting your notebooks one by one to ENEX files, then importing them to Apple Notes as folders.

Unfortunately, Notes on macOS doesn’t seem too fond of large uploads like this. Sometimes the upload only partially completes and when checking your collection on an iPhone or the web at iCloud.com, not everything has been successfully uploaded.

The first thing you should do is be patient. From experience, we’ve seen a folder of around 150 notes take a few hours to properly show up on all devices. When the notes finally do show up, compare the collection on your iPhone with the collection on your Mac to ensure attachments like images are included.

Fixing the mess left behind by an incomplete export can be time-consuming, but there’s no need to lose data. If the folders you’ve uploaded on your Mac refuse to show up, 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).

Enable "On My Mac" Notes account

Once all of your notes are stored safely 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” in the iCloud tab. You can then turn the feature back on and wait for your Mac to download any notes still in your iCloud account from other devices.

At this stage, be patient. This stage essentially brings your Mac into sync with everything else, so you want to wait for all of your devices to have the same notes library before moving forward. Once complete, you can start moving folders back to iCloud by dragging and dropping.

Since the Mac app doesn’t seem too fond of large transfers, you might want to move slowly and upload folders one by one. As you go, make sure the changes appear on your other devices and iCloud.com. If you encounter problems, you can always drag your folders back to the “On My Mac” account to keep your data safe.

Be Patient With the Mac App

Based on first-hand experience and anecdotes posted online, Apple’s Notes app for macOS seems slow to push changes to the server. There’s no “Sync Now” button you can use to upload and download changes, and the small spinning pinwheel that appears next to the “iCloud” account label shows up seemingly randomly.

This includes both new notes created on the fly, and large uploads initiated when moving notes into Apple’s cloud ecosystem. There’s not a lot that can be done about this beyond exercising patience before getting too frustrated that things aren’t showing up where they’re supposed to.

Unlock locked note in Apple Notes

Fortunately, you can use iCloud.com to see your Notes and get an immediate overview of what is going on. This eliminates the possibility that the iPhone app isn’t working correctly by fetching the latest version of your notes and displaying them in a web interface.

We’ve seen evidence of three versions of an Apple Notes library while a large upload completes. The “complete” library as it was uploaded from a Mac, a partial library that’s not been fully downloaded on an iPhone, and the “true” picture of the current upload status on iCloud.com.

Disable Notes in iCloud (But Be Careful)

You can always wipe the slate clean by removing your iCloud Notes from one device and letting them download again. This is risky, however, since any Notes that have not been uploaded to iCloud or stored locally on your device will be lost. You should be careful when doing this to ensure you don’t lose any data.

On a Mac, you can use a tool like Exporter to grab a copy of your notes in markdown format before doing anything too drastic (unfortunately you can’t restore a Notes library this way, but at least you get a copy of your notes and any attachments). On an iPhone, there’s not much you can do.

Apple Notes Is Great (When it Works)

Unfortunately, Notes isn’t quite as bulletproof as some of its competitors when it comes to cloud functionality which is a shame since the app is a compelling alternative to Evernote with a ton of powerful features that many note-taking apps charge money for.

You can use it to sketch or take handwritten notes, scan documents, collaborate with others, and even organize using tags and smart folders.

Profile Photo for Tim Brookes Tim Brookes
Tim Brookes is a technology writer with more than a decade of experience. He's invested in the Apple ecosystem, with experience covering Macs, iPhones, and iPads for publications like Zapier and MakeUseOf.
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