Sync Contacts From iPhone to Gmail

I see an incredible number of facebook posts along the lines of “omg lost phone last night pls text me ur number” or “iPhone died! Lost all numbers!” or so on. Anyone who is active on facebook knows exactly what I’m talking about. What I’m curious about is why so many people seem to set up their contacts totally wrong. Who in their right mind would store their contacts on their phone which is easy to lose, easy to break and usually not backed up? I know I wouldn’t. I’m going to show you a simple way to fix this problem on iPhones: using Gmail to sync your contacts. As a disclaimer, I know that you can sync your contacts other ways. But I find the Gmail method to be the simplest, most portable and easiest to set up if you already have a gmail account (who doesn’t?).

The first thing you need to do is set up your gmail account as an Exchange account. I don’t know if the contact syncing method works as a Gmail set up. The Exchange method is superior anyway. Also, if you have an exchange account, you can skip down to where I say “First, click on the Contacts icon” a few paragraphs below.

To set up your gmail as an Exchange account, go to “Settings” then “Mail, Contacts, Calendars” click on your gmail account and then click “Delete Account” at the bottom. Don’t worry, you won’t lose your emails. Then go back to the “Mail, Contacts, Calendars” and click “Add Account”. Then select exchange and put info in this format — note that this is what it looks like after it’s set up:

You won’t see a “Server” box until you fill out the first screen. Leave the “Domain” blank and make sure you put in your full email address. The description can be whatever you want but it’s probably best to call it “Gmail”. When you do enter your info and the “Server” box pops up, put in like I have in the screenshot above. Now you need to make sure that at least your Mail and Contacts are set up to sync. You don’t have to do Calendar but I suggest it as well. Here’s a screenshot:

Okay, now you’re set up to do this whole thing properly. Moving on…

First, click on the Contacts icon. In case you’re confused about what I’m talking about, I’m referring to this one:

Once you click on that, you should see something like this pop up. The difference is that it might not say just “Contacts” at the top. If you’re seeing “All Contacts” that might be a problem. We’ll fix that now. Granted, you might not know as many famous people as I do (obv brag) but you should see a list of people in 99% of cases.

At this point you should click on the “Groups” button in the upper left. You’ll see something like this, minus the red/green stuff:

Here’s where you need to do some exploring. Click on the “All from My Mac” option (this may say something different if you have a PC, I’m not sure). If you see anything listed, you’re doing it wrong. It should look like this:

Why? Basically anything here is being synced through your mac. It’s not being sync’ed through Gmail. Syncing through your mac technically works but it’s not as nice as being able to edit your iPhone contacts directly through the Gmail web interface. Now get to work deleting all of your contacts listed in “All from My Mac” and putting them into your Gmail account. The nice thing is that you can do the data entry via the “Contacts” screen in Gmail. Just make sure that you put the contacts into the “My Contacts” group if they don’t exist already. There are fancier/quicker ways to do this but for the purposes of this tutorial, just find a way to get the contacts out of “All from My Mac” and into your gmail “My Contacts” group. Make sure your “All from My Mac” screen is empty like the screenshot above.

Now go back to the “Groups” screen and select “Contacts” under the “Gmail” header (ie, the one with the big green checkmark). You should see all of your “My Contacts” group from your gmail contacts listed there. When you make changes, they will sync to your gmail account. When you make changes to a contact on the gmail web interface, they will sync on your iPhone. Whenever you’re in your contacts screen on your iPhone, just make sure you’re looking at the right list. If you’re not sure, go back to Groups and then select Contacts under Gmail to make sure. Only initiate new contacts via the + button on the correct list — otherwise they will save to your iPhone only and they won’t sync to gmail.

And most importantly, if you lose your phone, it’s just a matter of setting up your gmail account as an Exchange account again and all of your mail, contacts and so on will show up on your phone shortly. No need to broadcast your noob status on facebook ever again.

If you didn’t understand this tutorial, you can also read the official Google tutorial to do the same thing. They also have tutorials for other devices.

12 thoughts on “Sync Contacts From iPhone to Gmail

  1. Mary

    Hi, are there any easy alternatives to the Gmail or Outlook sync? I’d like to sync my contacts directly to the PC, but recognized that some telephone numbers are lost when I use Windows Contacts. :-( Help please!

  2. Maria

    I am on a PC an I followed through the instructions – all went just fine. In addition, I used this tool:

    To edit the contact group my iphone contacts were found in after the sync. With it, I also created a backup copy of my iphone contacts list to my PC just in case. Now I have my iphone contacts loaded both to my Gmail and my computer. Thank you.

  3. Harmeet

    Thanks so much for this post. I wonder why contacts dont sync when you use the standard Gmail account but this way using Exchange as Gmail, works nicely.

  4. Daniel

    The end was the part that I was so lost about. The fact that to add a new contact, you HAVE to go to Contatcts, the right list, then the + button.

    I have bee aut adding to contacts by letting them call or email and pressing the “add contact” or “add to existing contact” instead of doing the manual entry. Sounds like a lot of copy and paste in my future when adding people now :-/

    But thanks for the info!

  5. Ian

    I finally figured all this out, but I have a number of contacts that are on the wrong contact list. Is there any way to move the contacts from my iPhone contact list to my Gmail contact list?

  6. Nat Post author

    Yes, you can export them from your iPhone (I think after syncing them to your computer) and import them into gmail. Then, if you have duplicates, gmail has a way to check for and eliminate duplicates.

  7. Pam

    Well I followed the instructions on my iphone5, but not all “my contacts” came into my iphone???? What did I do wrong?

  8. Pam

    Hmm.. I think my issue was that I have another exchange account set up with the firm I work for. Once I changed the setting on my iphone that the firm exchange account was not the default account, and instead selected the gmail exchange account, the rest of my contacts imported. Has anyone had to deal with syncing 2 exchange accounts (the personal gmail and the corporate outlook)

  9. Nat Post author

    No, you won’t lose any texts. You will “lose” your emails for a brief period until they resync from the gmail servers when you set it up as an exchange account. But they will be safely on the gmail servers the whole time, they’ll just be gone from your phone for a few short minutes.

  10. John

    First of all, thanks for posting this helpful information.

    I did this on my personal iPhone 4, which runs iOS 6.0, and it all worked great!

    HOWEVER, I’m trying to do the same on my other iphone 4 (which runs iOS 5.1.1) and my sister’s as well (which runs iOS 5.0.1) and the “my contact” thingy does NOT appear in the contacts app….only “All from my PC”….this drives me crazy!!

    Any suggestion\tip?

    Thanks a lot in advance.

  11. Jocelyn

    Thanks for this – I had been set up to sync my Gmail contacts to my phone, but the ones I entered on my phone weren’t going to Gmail. I deleted my Gmail account and set it up as exchange, but the 32 contacts that were only on my phone are still only on my phone, even though I got a “do you want to sync your contacts to Gmail as more than 25% have changed” message on my Gmail account on my computer and I said “yes”. Is there something I’m missing doing to send the iPhone contacts over to Gmail rather than figuring out which 32 they are and emailing them to myself one by one? Thanks so much – this has been the clearest tutorial I could find, and I’d really like to get it finally set up properly!

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