When iTunes says to “restore your iPhone,” do you have to?

A bug in iTunes can be generally bypassed by quitting the app and relaunching.

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You have a perfectly functioning iPhone and you plug it via USB to a Mac. When you switch to iTunes, you see the message:

iTunes cannot read the contents of the iPhone “phone name”. Go to the Summary tab in iPhone preferences and click Restore to restore this iPhone to factory settings.

Depending on how recent your last iTunes or iCloud backup of your device is, this might be a little panic inducing. Do you really need to restore your phone?

It’s unlikely. I and others have routinely experienced a bug in which this message appears even when our iPhones (and iPads) are perfectly fine. The solution is extremely simple: quit iTunes and relaunch it. If that transient bug is what you’re experiencing, iTunes now properly recognizes your iOS device.

Other people have had a harder time of it, but there are more possibilities you can try before resorting to restoring your iPhone or iPad, especially when you’re see no errors except from iTunes.

You can also create a new account in macOS to test if the problem is your device or iTunes in your main account. Log into this other account, plug in your iOS device, and see if iTunes recognizes it and shows its contents. If so, the problem isn’t the phone or tablet. This may point to a file corruption issue. Kirk McElhearn, an iTunes guru, documents how to rebuild an iTunes library on his blog.

Some iOS device owners have tried all of the above, and still experienced problems. In some of those cases, deleting a song from the Music app appears to rebuild an internal iOS directory, which eliminates the problem the next time the phone is connected to iTunes.

Finally, in what appears to be a very small number of cases in which the iOS device works on its own, but iTunes produces this error, you will have to restore your iPhone or iPad to get the message to stop appearing and use your device with iTunes.

Because iTunes won’t recognize your device, you need to make a backup with iCloud.

If you have iCloud backup already enabled:

  1. Launch Settings.
  2. Tap your name and then iCloud > iCloud Backup.
  3. Tap Back Up Now.

However, if you haven’t turned on iCloud backup, check that you have enough iCloud storage before enabling backup.

  1. Launch Settings.
  2. Tap your name and then iCloud. See how much storage remains in the iCloud storage visualizer at top.
  3. If you need more storage to back up your device, tap Manage Storage and then tap Change Storage Plan. Follow prompts to upgrade.
  4. Now back in the iCloud settings, tap iCloud Backup and tap On. This will proceed to make a backup if you’re connected to a Wi-Fi network.

Now proceed to follow Apple’s instructions for restoring an iOS device from backup.

This Mac 911 article is in response to a question submitted by Macworld reader Carlan.

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