Apple Notes is a free note-taking solution with some very powerful features, but sometimes you may find that your notes refuse to sync between your iPhone, iPad, or Mac. The problem may be how you organized your notes, or it may be a bigger problem scratching your head.
First: Make sure iCloud notes are enabled
For notes to appear on other devices, they must sync via iCloud. To do this, you’ll need to make sure Notes is enabled in your iCloud settings, and make sure you’re pasting your notes into your iCloud account and not saving 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 application is enabled.
You can do this on a Mac in System Preferences (or System Settings)> Apple ID. In the sidebar, select “iCloud” and make sure there is a check box next to Notes. You’ll need to do this on all the devices where you want the notes to appear.
It’s also a good idea to make sure you have enough storage on iCloud to sync your notes. Your device will probably alert you that you are low on space, but you can check it manually by looking at the iCloud color bar in this menu on both devices. If you run out of storage space, you will need to buy more.
RELATED: How to check how much storage you have left on iCloud
Next: Make sure you’re annotating iCloud
With Notes enabled on iCloud, launch the Notes app and look at the Top-Level Folders screen (iPhone or iPad) or the sidebar (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 be synced between the devices. You’ll need to move them to iCloud for this to work. To do this on an iPhone or iPad, tap the folder and then use the three-dot context menu button “…” in the corner of the “Move Note” screen to your iCloud account. On a Mac, you can simply drag the folder to the iCloud section.
You can do the same for notes in the same way, either by opening the note and dragging it from the context menu, or by dragging and dropping on a Mac.
To ensure that new notes go directly to iCloud by default, make sure “Default Account” is set to “iCloud” in the Notes settings. To access it, on iPhone or iPad, under Settings> Notes, or on a Mac, launch the Notes app and then click Notes> Preferences in the menu bar at the top of the screen.
You may need to wait a while for notes to sync, especially if you have a lot of pictures or large attachments in your notes. We recommend giving it a few hours and checking.
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 may be outdated software.
For best results, make sure your devices use the latest version of iOS, iPadOS, and macOS before changing anything else. You can do this on your iPhone or iPad in Settings> General> Software Update, or on your Mac in System Preferences (or System Settings)> Software Update.
Test your connection and turn off all VPNs
Problems with syncing with iCloud can be explained by a connection problem. If you use a VPN, consider disabling it to see if it helps resolve your upload 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).
With VPN disabled, test the issue again by uploading or creating a new note. You can also try restarting network hardware such as routers or modems to see if this helps.
Kill the applications and restart the device
You can close Notes on iPhone by revealing the application switcher and flicking up in Notes. On a Mac, right-click the Notes icon and select “Quit” or hold down the Option key to force the app if it doesn’t respond.
At this stage, it is also worth considering whether iOS, iPadOS or macOS are to blame. A simple restart of each affected device eliminates problems caused by a malfunctioning system process and only takes a few minutes on older devices.
RELATED: How to force apps to quit on your Mac when they don’t respond
There were problems switching to Apple Notes
If you’re switching to Apple Notes from another note-taking application, such as Evernote or One Note, you may experience issues with the initial sync. Moving from Evernote involves exporting your laptops one by one to ENEX files and then importing them into Apple Notes as folders.
Unfortunately, Notes on macOS don’t seem to like recording very much like this. Sometimes the upload is only partially complete, and when you check your collection on your iPhone or iCloud.com website, not everything was successfully uploaded.
The first thing you should do is be patient. Experience has shown that a folder with approximately 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 ensure that attachments, such as pictures, are included.
Fixing a mess after an incomplete export can be time consuming, but you don’t have to lose data. If the folders you’ve uploaded to your Mac refuse to appear, you can take them offline by dragging them to the “On My Mac” section (make sure this is enabled in the Notes> Preferences section of the menu bar at the top of the screen).
Once all of your notes are securely stored on your Mac, turn off Notes on iCloud on your Mac in System Preferences (or System Settings)> Apple ID by clearing the check box next to “Notes” on the iCloud tab. You can then turn it back on and wait for your Mac to download all the notes you have 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 continuing. When done, you can start dragging the folders back to iCloud.
Because Mac applications aren’t very popular with large transfers, you may want to go slow and upload folders one by one. Along the way, make sure that the changes take effect on your other devices and on iCloud.com. If you’re having trouble, you can always drag your folders back to your “On My Mac” account to keep your data safe.
Be patient with the Mac app
Based on first-hand experience and anecdotes published online, it seems that Apple Notes for macOS is slowly making changes to the server. There’s no “Sync Now” button you can use to upload and download changes, and the small rotating pinwheel that appears next to the “iCloud” account label appears to appear randomly.
This includes both new notes created at runtime and large uploads initiated when moving notes to Apple’s cloud ecosystem. There’s not much you can do about it, except patience, until you’re too frustrated that things aren’t showing up where they are.
Fortunately, you can use iCloud.com to see your notes and get an instant overview of what’s going on. This eliminates the possibility that the iPhone application is not working properly by loading the latest version of your notes and displaying them in the web interface.
We’ve seen evidence of three versions of the Apple Notes library as the big upload completes. The “complete” library as uploaded from the Mac, the partial library that was not fully downloaded to the iPhone, and the “real” picture of the current upload status on iCloud.com.
Disable annotations on iCloud (but be careful)
You can always clear your Slate by removing your iCloud notes from one device and having them downloaded again. However, this is risky because any notes that were not uploaded to iCloud or stored locally on your device will be lost. You should be careful to ensure that you do not lose any data.
On a Mac, you can use a tool like Exporter to get a copy of notes in markdown format before you do something too drastic (unfortunately you can’t restore your notes library this way, but at least you get a copy of your notes and any attachments). You can’t do much on the iPhone.
Apple Notes are great (when it works)
Unfortunately, Notes is not as bulletproof as some of its competitors in terms of cloud functionality, which is a shame because the application is a compelling alternative to Evernote with a number of powerful features that many note-taking applications 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.