keep iCloud contacts on Mac

How to Sync Contacts to iPhone 3G from iCloud

In iFix by Michael Allen7 Comments

The Problem

Hardware: iPhone 3G
Software: iOS 4.2.2

Yesterday, I was trying to “Sync” my iPhone 3G that is running iOS 4.2 with my Mac using iTunes. Everything synced except I couldn’t import the contacts from my Mac to my iPhone. In iTunes, under “Sync Contacts”, there were no contacts available to Sync though they were available in the “Contacts” app. Empty Contacts in iTune

After doing some research, I found out that this problem is unique to Apple users who are using iOS earlier than iOS 5 or an iPhone older than iPhone 3GS. The reason there are no contacts available to sync is that the contacts you see on your Mac are actually from iCloud and not from your Mac.

Sync your contacts between your Mac and iPhone

Introduced by Apple as its “digital hub”, iCloud is the preferred way to Sync contents between different devices.  As long as every device has iCloud enabled, all your contacts, emails, and calendars will automatically be synced and available everywhere.

The problem is that if you have an iPhone 3G or earlier or you are running iOS 4.x.x or older, the “iCloud” option under “Settings” is not available to you. However, you can manually set it up if you have an iCloud account. Here are two ways how you can sync your contacts from your Mac to iPhone 3G.

Import Your Contacts from iCloud

One way to Sync the contacts between your Mac and iPhone is to download the contacts from iCloud to your Mac. Once you have downloaded the contacts to your Mac, you can then import them to your iPhone using iTunes. Here is how to do it:

On your Mac, click Apple menu > System Preferences > iCloud, then de-select “Contacts” keep iCloud contacts on Mac

Choose “Keep Contacts” when iCloud asks you “Do you want to keep a copy of your iCloud contacts on this Mac?”. Your contacts should now be available on your Mac and ready to be synced to your iPhone.

The biggest drawback of the above solution is it won’t automatically sync contacts you add in the future; this means, if you add new contacts and want to import them to your iPhone,  you have to go through the above procedures again.

Sync Your Contacts Using iCloud

The best way to keep your contacts up to date on all your Apple devices is to set up iCloud on each of them. According to Apple, iCloud requires at least iOS 5 on iPhone 3GS or later. However, you can use iCloud on your iPhone 3G if you manually connect it to iCloud.

On your iPhone 3G, go to Settings > Mail, Contacts, Calendars > Add Account. In “Add Account…” screen, choose “Other”, In “Other” screen, choose “Add CardDAV Account”
Add CardDAV account on iPhone

On the “CardDAV” screen, enter the following the information to connect to your iCloud contacts:

  • Server:
  • User Name: your iCloud user name
  • Password: your iCloud password
  • Description: enter whatever you like

manually setup carddav on iPhone

After you click “Next”, iCloud will reconfigure the settings and load the contacts to your iPhone automatically. If the contacts are not loaded, you need to disable the “Use SSL” of the CardDAV account you’ve just created. You can enable the “Use SSL” again once the contacts are successfully loaded on your iPhone.

Now you can sync contacts between your iPhone 3G and other Apple devices.

Image Credit: Kelly Sikkema


  1. A Tip …
    If after all the above contacts won’t show, go to contacts app, go to Groups (on the left hand upper side) then select the group named ( Your contacts should show immediately.

  2. I was happy when I found this page, because it is just my current problem. However nothing there works in my situation, probably due to changes cross the time. CardDAV looks nice, but my contact list on my iPhone 3G is still empty. What is worse – when I turn off syncing contacts on my Mac with iCloud, every contacts are deleted from the Mac. I tried to export them and after turn off syncing import them again – no, doesn’t work. I’m unhappy. I have tons of contacts, but I’m not able to transfer them to my iPhone 3G. However I didn’t find any iOS application for export/backup of contacts, which can work on iOS 4.2. Anybody help?

    1. Succesful transfer of all contacts from iPhone 6S to iPhone 3G using PhoneCopy application (for iPhone 3G is PhoneCopy3G version). Finally.

  3. … only that unchecking the Contacts from iCloud does not save them to disk. Whoops. Whew, am I glad that I did a backup…

    In the mean time, I managed to start a huge CardDAV sync over WiFi. That might take an eternity and a half, but eventually it will work out… eventually.

  4. This *almost* works. My ancient iPhone 3G definitely accepts the iCloud login & password for CardDAV and shows as being correctly setup (i.e. contact validated), when SSL is enabled.

    It also correctly updates the server name, from to (the number after the p will be different from each person, and I understand this should change automatically per users).

    But with SSL on, Contacts is empty. Sometimes, it appears that it tries to make a connection when switching to contacts (I get the spinning wheel at the top), but that lasts only a few seconds. There are no error messages; there is just an empty Contacts list.

    Switching to “Use SSL: No” produces a few hiccups. Usually, the iPhone simply forces SSL on again. You can try to force it back to connect without SSL, but then the verification step will fail. You can also try to start everything from scratch again. So, somehow, Apple seems to be blocking non-SSL access to CardDAV, but, when doing so, Contacts simply fails.

    I managed to get “something” going by simply moving “Use SSL” to “No”, pressing Done, and when the iPhone complains that it couldn’t verify the data, just accept it as it is. When switching to Contacts, it started to “do something”, but my problem is, all my contacts take about 1.5 GBytes on the Mac (it’s the images! I wish there was a way to make them all small-sized!), and I have no way of figuring out how long it takes to download them all…

    I’ll try your alternative. It’s a pity, because it requires constant manual updating. But it might be better than waiting eternities for the contacts to appear.

    Thanks for the tip!

  5. Really helpful – thanks! Would the manual option work in reverse ie to connect to my icloud account and then add my existing iPhone 3GS contacts (and notes) to icloud?

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