Syncing the iPhone to more than one computer

Q: I’m about to get an iPhone that I will use mainly for personal use, but will probably start using for work as well (ie, for contacts, calendars, and e-mail). Should I setup the iPhone on my Windows PC at work rather than on my Intel iMac at home? I know that Windows-formatted iPods can connect to iTunes on a Mac just fine, but wasn’t sure about the iPhone.

– Matt

Syncing the iPhone to more than one computer

A: Actually, with the iPhone there are no “format” issues like there are with the iPod models. Since the iPhone now uses a synchronization protocol with iTunes that is not based on any kind of “disk mode” access, there are no compatibility issues with using the iPhone on both a Mac and a Windows computer. You can therefore set the iPhone up on either your iMac at home or your Windows PC at work, and it can be synchronized to either machine.

However, it is important to note that the iPhone is not currently designed to synchronize the same content with multiple computers, so you will not be able to sync your contacts to both machines, or load music or podcasts from either machine. This is exacerbated by the lack of any kind of “Manual” mode for the iPhone as well, meaning you can’t even drag in a single track or two from a secondary computer.

What you can do, however, is sync your music and video content from your iMac at home, and then sync your information such contacts and calendars from your Windows PC at work. This would allow you to have your work-based calendar and contact information, but not have to manage a media library on your work PC.

To do this, simply connect the iPhone to your iMac and select the appropriate synchronization options for your media content, but leave the settings on the “Info” tab alone until you get to your work computer.

When you later connect your iPhone to your work PC, you will notice that none of the synchronization options are selected. From here, you can simply go in and select the options on the “Info” tab to collect your calendar, contacts, and any other information you want to sync from your work PC, such as bookmarks. You won’t be able to add music, podcasts, photos or videos to your iPhone from your work computer without replacing the content already on the iPhone, but you can easily move the iPhone back and forth between the two computers, and it will remember which content is being synced from which machine.

The bottom line is that all synchronization settings are handled independently of each other, and unlike an iPod, iTunes will not bother you with any warning messages unless you actually try to select content that is already being synchronized with another computer.

If you do try to synchronize media content (ie, music, podcasts, photos or videos) that has already been synchronized from another computer, iTunes will warn you that doing so will replace existing content:

Syncing the iPhone to more than one computer

On the other hand, if you try to synchronize calendars, contacts, or bookmarks when the iPhone already contains data from another computer, iTunes will instead offer you the option to either merge the content already on the iPhone with the content on your computer (in which case content from the iPhone will be added to your computer, and vice-versa), or to erase the content on the iPhone and replace it with the content from your computer:


Syncing the iPhone to more than one computer

Note that in terms of e-mail, there are really no synchronization issues to be concerned with.