Is Your New iPhone Paired To Another iTunes Library? Don’t Freak Out Yet

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About a week ago I purchased an iPhone 5, and after having two models replaced and performing three restores via iTunes, I thought I was ready to rock. A few days later Algoriddim released their new video mixing app, vjay, and in order to pretend I am one day destined to become a superstar VJ, I decided to transfer some media using iTunes.

Much to my surprise (and disgust, having been a long naysayer of the iTunes way) my brand new – and recently restored using my own Mac – iPhone 5 wouldn’t sync without erasing everything first. I Googled for help like a consumer scorned, assuming I’d missed something obvious and there was a quick fix. Once it was all over I was left feeling like a fool.

Leave Me Alone, iTunes

I won’t divulge the words that spilled out of my mouth as I tried to sync my sparsely populated iTunes library (literally about 3 songs I’d imported specifically for this task) with my brand new iPhone 5. The iPhone that I’d restored from a backup using this very Mac, and a device that had a total of 0 songs onboard. Despite the hoo-ha generated by Apple’s decision to go “iTunes-less” with iOS 5, iTunes is still required for a great number of tasks.

Transferring media is one of the few of the shackles that continue to tether your iDevice to a PC or Mac at this late stage in the game. You can now download media files and “Open with…” on your device, but if you want to put that file into your library then you’re out of luck.

I do have a theory as to how my own situation arose, and how it has persisted this long. When I received my first iPhone 4 running iOS 4, iCloud-less and still reliant on iTunes for software updates I was faced with the task of updating to iOS 5 when the update landed. At the time I used my old Windows machine, updated, paired and forgot about it. A few months later this laptop died, and with no backup of my never-used iTunes library I gave up on what I then considered to be the world’s most bloated music player (iTunes for Windows).

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Earlier this year I decided I would start again, repair my broken iOS Camera Roll and specifically not pair the device with any computer until I got the new MacBook I had been waiting for. I restored from iCloud, it didn’t quite go to plan, but things eventually worked out by choosing a different backup. The process took hours and hours to complete on a perfectly acceptable ADSL2+ connection of around 10Mbps. Once complete I checked the Settings > General > iTunes Wi-Fi Sync option in the iPhone’s preferences, and sure enough it told me to connect my phone to a PC to pair with iTunes and enable Wi-Fi syncing. I had a blank canvas, or so I thought, and so it stayed. It wasn’t until I got my iPhone 5 with plenty of storage space that I decided it was time to transfer some media, specifically for use with one app because I use Spotify for music listening on the go.

Not wanting to wait all night long to restore my iPhone from an iCloud backup, I backed up my iPhone 4 locally (I had still not connected to a PC, it was still displaying the “Connect to pair” message). Backup worked just fine, as it does with any iPhone you connect regardless of whether it’s paired to your machine or not. I then connected the new iPhone 5, set it up using iTunes and restored my backup. Everything looked good, until I went to sync music only a few hours ago and was given this:

From what I can gather, iCloud and iTunes have remembered my old iTunes library from my previous experiences with Windows. This is despite factory resetting the iPhone 4, getting it to a “blank” state and setting up then restoring my iPhone 5 using this Mac and this iTunes library. I probably don’t need to tell you this, but that’s beyond infuriating. I was left wondering how is anyone ever meant to remove that old library while retaining personal settings using backup methods?

Fixing The Mess

The irritating thing at this point was that clicking Sync in iTunes actually works fine at this stage. It’s only when “sync apps” or “sync music” was checked that the program threw a wobbly, which is beyond infuriating.

Here’s a list of things I tried that I found with help from my old friend Google:

  • De-authorizing and re-authorizing all computers from within iTunes (no, I don’t know what I expected either).
  • Choosing “Manually Manage Music And Videos” and clicking Apply (gave me the same error as above).
  • Various fiddling with preferences, looking around for a “forget Library” button or equivalent that would let me retain my apps, Photos and other data while iTunes sorted itself out.
  • Swearing.

Nothing seemed to work, so here’s what I did:

1. Transfer Purchases & Backup The Phone

I’m not sure where I got the idea for this, but I decided I’d let iTunes do what it wanted to my phone in order to transfer those few songs I wanted in the first place. My current iPhone library is a barren wasteland with no music in it, so if it deletes my library then what do I care? If it deletes everything on the phone I have a backup, and potentially the exact same issues once restored.

2. Attempt To sync Music With iTunes

This is the part that was giving me the nasty error in the first place. Absorb those words fully – “erase this iPhone” and “replaces the contents of this iPhone”. What does that mean to you?

3. Click Erase and Sync

Something I’d never do had I not backed up the phone, screenshotted my home screen (in case I forgot which apps I was currently enjoying) and checked my iPhoto library to ensure all my pictures were safe.

4. Wait For About 15 seconds.

What… it’s done?

Lose No Data

So in about 15 seconds the operation that promised to “erase this iPhone” and replace the contents of the phone with my blank iTunes library was finished. Did I lose data? Nope. Was I overjoyed? Of course. Did I feel like an idiot? Absolutely. Was it really my fault? Well…

Faced with a dialogue box that warns of the complete removal of data from your most-relied upon device in order to sync music, quite possibly the reason you’d opt for the device in the first place, I’m confident I’m not the only person who would approach with caution. From my understanding of what iTunes was telling me, I stood to lose everything and “start again”. Couple this with a backup made while the problem was prevalent, I had little faith in a solution that didn’t involve a lot of hoops and many, many jumps. In short, I took a chance (or so it felt) and the solution was painfully simple and fuss-free.

So yes, it was my fault. But then again, I don’t feel alone in my idiocy because there are people responding to threads created in 2010 from as recently as this month (November 2012) who are unwilling to click that button and find out the good news. Yes, if you have music on your device then it will be removed. No, it’s not the headache you think it might be – you can just put it back on there. Have faith in Apple’s poorly worded warning labels and you too can transfer media to your iPhone once again.

Have you experienced something like this yourself?

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Comments (41)
  • Nathan Zeitner

    Wow – I had the exact same experience as you, and so glad I came across your post! That is the most terribly written and frightening dialogue box that Apple could have produced, for such an innocuous task as trying to get music from iTunes to my iPhone! Like you, I was definitely not prepared to erase my entire iPhone and risk losing settings, data, etc., etc., and going back to square one just for some music. So annoying.

    • Tim Brookes

      Hi Nathan,

      Every time iTunes updates I wonder if Apple has clarified this to the many people it still seems to catch out, and every time I get a comment like yours letting me know they haven’t.

      It’s been over two years since this post was published!

      Glad you got it sorted in the end,


  • G

    THANK YOU! I was worried this would erase my entire phone including Apps and App Data, e.g. 2-Step Authentications apps, etc.; thankfully, that was not the case. I wouldn’t have had the guts to do this without having read your article! Sincerely Appreciated

  • AMy

    Thank you for this article! After dropping my hard drive and losing my iTunes library I was freaking out at the idea of erasing my ‘whole’ phone. I had no multimedia to loose so I hit that erase button and needless to say my phone is still exactly the same as before, all apps still in place! Although I have realized that if i sync an app that will erase all the apps :S

    • Tim Brookes

      Not necessarily! You can transfer purchases from your iPhone so that might do the trick. With your iPhone connected and visible in iTunes, click File > Devices > Transfer Purchases From (Your) iPhone.

      It’s all about the associated Apple ID. If you bought those apps with the same Apple ID you use in iTunes, you should be able to copy everything over without problems.

      Good luck.

  • Anonymous

    You, sir, are a scholar and a saint.

  • Sam Peña

    Thank you so so much for this!!!! It had been over a year of avoiding pushing that “DELETE EVERYTHING IN YOUR LIFE” button! THANK YOU!!

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Affiliate Disclamer

This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.