Connecting your iPhone to your MacBook is usually very simple. The exception is if you've got a MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, or one of Apple's (now discontinued) MacBooks, which only offer USB-C. We look at those Apple laptops later in this article. Feel free to jump ahead if that's what you're after.

But before we get to the complicated cases, let's get the simple one out of the way.

Connect iPhone to Mac with a cable

Your iPhone will have come with a cable for connecting to a PC or Mac, and for charging.

If you've got an iPhone 5 or later, it'll be a USB-to-Lightning cable.

How to connect iPhone to MacBook: Lightning cable

This Lightning cable is a bit broken, but you get the idea

If you bought an iPhone 4s or earlier, this will be a USB-to-30-pin cable. We doubt that there are many of these still being used, but you never know!

How to connect iPhone to MacBook: 30-pin cable

It doesn't matter which, because the end that goes in the laptop, the USB end, is the same.

  1. Plug the Lighting end of the cable into the iPhone. (If the plug attachment is still attached to the other end of the cable, remove it so that the USB end is clear). Now plug this into one of the USB ports on your Mac.
  2. At this point various applications may open automatically on your Mac, depending on your settings; on our MacBook it's always Photos, although you can switch off this response. You may also find that iTunes opens automatically. If not, open iTunes manually or bring up its window if it's open already.
  3. Sometimes at this point you will get a message telling you that a new version of iOS is available for your iPhone. (If iOS is up to date, you won't.) If you want, you can download the update and install it now, but we tend to do this wirelessly over the air. To skip past the message, click Cancel.

    How to connect iPhone to MacBook: iTunes

  4. In iTunes you'll see a new phone-shaped icon near the left end of the top bar - just to the right of the Music/Movies etc dropdown menu. This indicates that an iPhone has been detected by iTunes. Click this icon.

    How to connect iPhone to MacBook: Update iOS

  5. You're now taken to a summary page showing various useful details of your iPhone: in the top box you'll see its capacity, phone number and serial number, and your version of iOS.
  6. In the box below you see details of your current backup preferences (and when you last backed up), and the option to back up manually now. Backing up is important.
  7. Finally, the bar along the bottom of the window shows graphically how much of your device's capacity is taken up by audio files (red), photos (pink), apps (light green), documents and data (dark green/turquoise) and 'other' (yellow).
  8. Click the categories down the left-hand side and you can see the apps, songs, video, ebooks, ringtones and so on that are stored on the iPhone, and sync new files to the device.

Connect iPhone to MacBook via USB-C

In recent years Apple has been dropping the older USB port from its Mac laptops and replacing it with USB-C. The irony of this is that the iPhone still ships with a plug for a USB-A port rather than USB-C (Apple assumes people will be able to rely on WiFi when downloading or uploading from their iPhone).

Since 2016 the MacBook Pro and MacBook have only featured USB C, and as of 2018 the MacBook Air switched to the newer standard. That means if you own a new Mac laptop you won't have access to the older-style USB A port. So how can you plug in your iPhone (or iPad)?

MacBook USB C

There's one way around this, and that's to buy an adapter. We list the best USB-C adapters and cables elsewhere, but the most obvious choice (albeit one of the most expensive) would be Apple's own (£19) 1m USB-C to Lightning Cable or (£29) 2m USB-C to Lightning Cable.

All you have to do is use this cable instead of the Lighting/USB cable that came with the iPhone. Open iTunes as before and the iPhone's icon should appear.

Or, don't plug your iPhone into your Mac

Of course there is one other option. Don't plug your iPhone into your Mac. You really don't need to.