iPhone and iPad Mac

How to Transfer Music, PDFs, and Other Files From Mac to iPhone

Dann Albright 17-11-2016

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said “I just want to put this [insert file type here] on my phone!” Apple doesn’t always make it easy to get things like PDFs, videos, or iWork files 5 Reasons You Should Use iWork Instead of Microsoft Office If you're an Office veteran or a complete newcomer, iWork is well worth your consideration. Here are all the benefits of iWork. Read More  from your Mac to your iPhone. Through a lot of trial and error, though, I’ve figured a lot of it out.


Let me save you the time it takes to stumble your way through the process by sharing what I’ve learned.

Transfer Music to iPhone

This is probably the easiest transfer to make. It’s also probably the one you’ll want to make most often, so it’s good to know exactly what to do. Here’s the process.

To Transfer a Single Album or Specific Songs

Transfer Album iPhone

  1. Connect your iPhone to your Mac with a USB cable.
  2. Open iTunes (if it didn’t open automatically).
  3. Find the music you want to transfer over.
  4. Click and drag it to the left side of the iTunes window.
  5. Drop it on the icon for your phone.

That’s all there is to it. You can select an entire album by dragging the cover art, command-click to select just a few songs, or grab a single song at a time. The only thing to be aware of is that any song that hasn’t been imported into iTunes won’t show up as an option. You’ll need to import your music via File > Add to Library if your music isn’t showing up.

There are also non-iTunes options 5 Ways to Sync Music to Your iPhone Without iTunes Don't wrestle with iTunes to get music onto your iPhone, use one of these alternative methods and workarounds instead. Read More you can use for transferring music, but they require more setup.


To Sync a Playlist

Transfer Playlist iPhone

The best way to transfer a music playlist How to Create, Share & Discover Playlists with Apple Music Playlists make it easier to discover, share and create your own personal collections from Apple's massive library of streaming music. Here's how. Read More to your phone is to click and drag it. All the songs will be transferred over. If you want to sync a playlist, though, and make sure all of the changes in the playlist made since your last sync get automatically updated, you’ll need to go about it differently.

  1. Connect your iPhone.
  2. Open iTunes.
  3. Click on the iPhone icon near the top of the window.
  4. Under Settings in the left pane, click Music.
  5. Select Sync Music, then select Selected playlists, artists, albums, and genres.
  6. Select the playlist you want to sync.

Note that this requires that you trash all the music currently on your phone from other iTunes libraries. Once you’ve done that, you can sync playlists, artists, albums, and genres, making it much easier to keep your phone’s music up-to-date.

Transfer Podcasts to iPhone

Transfer Podcasts iPhone


Because podcasts are also managed from iTunes, it’s easy to add episodes to your phone.

  1. Connect your iPhone.
  2. Open iTunes.
  3. Go to the Podcasts view.
  4. Click and drag a podcast to your phone in the left pane.

Fortunately, podcast apps The Best Podcast App for iPhone and iPad: 7 Top Choices Compared Looking for the best podcast app for iPhone and iPad? Enjoy your favorite podcasts with these great feature-filled podcast apps. Read More tend to sync up pretty well without needing to do this very often, so it’s not something you should have to worry about. It’s easier to manage them from your phone anyway.

Transfer Photos to iPhone

Sync Transfer Photos iPhone

While you’ll usually want to transfer photos from your iPhone to your Mac, there might be cases where the reverse is true. Using iTunes to do this is a little weird.

  1. Put all of the photos you want on your iPhone in a single folder.
  2. Connect your iPhone.
  3. Open iTunes.
  4. Click the iPhone icon near the top of the window.
  5. Under Settings, click Photos.
  6. Check Sync Photos.
  7. Select Selected folders.
  8. Select the folder you just created.
  9. Hit Sync.

Now, anything you put in that folder will be synced to your phone when you connect it. This can be useful if you always want to have family photos available, for example.

If you do this on a regular basis, you may want to invest in Waltr ($40) or another drag-and-drop file transfer app 4 Useful Drag-and-Drop Mac Data Transfer Apps Forget menus, buttons, and confusing keyboard shortcuts. Try dragging and dropping for a faster workflow. Read More  for your Mac. It makes the process much simpler.

Transfer PDFs to iPhone

Transfer PDFs iPhone

This one is a pain. I’ve had to look up instructions for this more times than I can say. The tricky thing is that you’ll be using both iTunes and iBooks to accomplish this.

  1. Open iBooks.
  2. Use File > Add to Library to add your PDF to iBooks.
  3. Connect your iPhone.
  4. Open iTunes.
  5. Click the iPhone icon near the top of the window.
  6. Under Settings, click Books.
  7. Select Sync Books.
  8. Select Selected books.
  9. Put a check next to any PDF or ebook you’d like to sync to your phone.

This is a rather roundabout way to do it, but once you’ve done it a few times, it’s pretty easy, and using the Books app for PDFs Best Tips for Using the iBooks as a PDF Reader on Your iPad or iPhone Read More is a good way to keep them all in one place.

Of course, you can always use a file-transfer app or simply sync your Dropbox app to get the file to your phone. This way, however, it’ll be in your Books app and ready to view, whether you’re online or off, as soon as you’ve synced your phone.

Transfer Videos or Movies to iPhone

Transfer Videos iPhone

Much like music and podcasts, you can transfer videos and movies right from iTunes in just a few clicks.

  1. Connect your iPhone.
  2. Open iTunes.
  3. Import your video or movie using File > Add to Library.
  4. Go to the Movies view.
  5. Drag the video or movie to your phone in the left pane.

Note that there are two sections of the Movies view: Movies and Home Videos. You’ll have to find your video or movie in these categories and then move it to your phone.

Transfer Other Files to iPhone

Transfer Files iPhone

Sending other files from your Mac to your iPhone can be a little tricky. It largely depends on the type of file you’re trying to transfer. If you want to send over a file that can be used by an app on your phone, it’s pretty straightforward.

  1. Connect your iPhone.
  2. Open iTunes.
  3. Click the iPhone icon near the top of the window.
  4. Under Settings, select Apps.
  5. Scroll down to the File Sharing section.
  6. Select the app you want to send your file to (such as Pages for Documents or iMovie for video files).
  7. Click and drag your file into the list on the right.

This is an easy way to add things like spreadsheets, presentations, and other usable documents to your phone. You can also use this method to add unopenable files to your phone. For example, I added an EXE file to iMovie. It won’t be able to open it, but I could presumably download it to another computer from my phone.

If you’re just looking for file storage, though, it’s probably best to use iCloud Drive What Is iCloud Drive and How Does It Work? Confused about what makes iCloud Drive different to Apple's other cloud services? Let us show you what it can do, and how you can make the most of it. Read More , Dropbox, Google Drive, or a similar service. That way you can upload the file to the cloud on your computer and then access it from your phone without assigning to an app that won’t be able to open it.

Other Transfers

These instructions should cover the majority of transfers you need to make from your computer to your iPhone. If you need to move anything else over, you should be able to use these methods to figure out the right way to do it. And if not, there are always cloud storage apps. AirDrop is another method AirDrop Not Working? Fix It Fast With These Tips Is AirDrop not working on your iPhone, iPad, or Mac? Here are several troubleshooting tips to fix AirDrop on your devices. Read More that can be effective but also temperamental.

What other files do you need to transfer to your iPhone? Do you prefer to use iTunes or a separate file transfer app? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Related topics: File Sharing, iPhone, iTunes.

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  1. Jonathan
    November 29, 2016 at 4:31 am

    Every time I perform sync, it pop up a box telling me it's going to erase data on my device. So finally, I have to stop using iTunes but pay for a license of AnyTrans to get out. So is ther something wrong with my operation

    • Dann Albright
      November 30, 2016 at 2:45 pm

      You should see that warning the first time you select "Sync," but after that, I don't think it will come up again. That's just one of the things you need to do when you enable syncing. It's annoying, but you can get everything back pretty easily.