How to Select an iPhone or iPad in iTunes 12.6

May 17, 2016 - 30 Comments

How to select an iPhone or iPad in iTunes

The latest version of iTunes has re-added the sidebar and made some other user interface changes designed to make using the app a bit easier to navigate. Most of the changes are welcome to iTunes, but one of the more unnecessarily difficult tasks remains selecting an iOS device in the iTunes app itself.

Simply selecting an iPhone or iPad within iTunes, which is necessary if you want to backup or restore a device or adjust other settings, is a little unintuitive. If you click on the sidebar icons of the iPhone or iOS device, it drops down the media for the device playlists, but it doesn’t select the device itself. This leads to a fair amount of confusion for those who aren’t deeply familiar with iTunes on Mac OS X or Windows, but not to be too stressed out, it’s actually really easy to select a device in iTunes 12.4 and later versions (including iTunes 12.6, iTunes 12.7, etc) if not a little strange.

Here is how you select an iOS device in iTunes 12.6

IGNORE the “Devices” sidebar menu item which shows your named iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch. Yes, I know that sounds weird but you need to completely ignore the device in the sidebar sidebar which clearly shows your device, this will not allow you to select your iOS device in iTunes. Doing that shows the media for the device.

Do not click the device in the sidebar

INSTEAD, look for the tiny little icon that looks like an iPhone next to the little dropdown menu in the iTunes menus and tabs area. Click that tiny little icon.

How to select an iOS device in iTunes - click the tiny button icon

That little icon button reveals a pulldown menu which shows your iOS devices – yes the same iPhone, iPad, iPod touch that appears in the sidebar. But the difference is, here is where you can actually select the iOS devices in iTunes.

Select iOS device from the drop down menu

Click on the device in this pulldown you want to select in iTunes, and you’ll be at the familiar device summary screen where you can backup, restore, adjust settings, and do whatever else you want to do with the iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch. Success!

Success the device has been selected in iTunes

This video walks through the process, including demonstrating that when you click on the sidebar items of your devices, you don’t actually select them.

This is a curious user interaction that has thoroughly confused a few casual iTunes users in my family, so it undoubtedly is confusing to other users as well.

Is this weird? Yes. Is it a bug? No it appears intentional. Should it be changed? Yes probably, as longtime iTunes users may recall that is how iTunes used to work, where you could select an iOS device by clicking it in the sidebar. Hopefully such a feature will return again and improve the user experience a bit. And if you don’t see the problem here, try describing that little icon location to select the device to a less technical family member on the phone, you’ll understand (“no, don’t click your iPhone in the sidebar! Yes I know you want to select the iPhone, but don’t click that one. No instead you need to click the tiny button that looks like a vertical rectangle! No it’s not in a dropdown menu. No it’s not there either, no no, click Back, it’s not in the Store. The little button, it looks like a little iPhone, it’s really small! Ok never mind, how about we use screen sharing and I’ll show you. See there it is. I know, it’s not obvious! You’re welcome, have a great day!”).


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Posted by: Paul Horowitz in iPad, iPhone, iTunes, Tips & Tricks, Troubleshooting


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  1. Jeeves says:

    Thank you so much I couldn’t find this for the life of me

  2. Teresa says:

    Hi, helping a friend because my iTunes seems to be ok. When she plugs in her phone , she gets the phone icon, then we go to music and want to see the page SYNC MUSIC to choose the playlist she wants to add to her phone. But that page does not
    Come up. It’s icloud something. How do we get to the sync music page?

  3. Stevekil52 says:

    This still didn’t answer how to move music onto my iphone. I added music to my itunes library from a CD. Now, I cannot get it onto my phone.

    Now I remember why I got rid of my iphone a while back: itunes and photos are difficult to manage.

  4. GSAWOLF311 says:

    The time has come to say goodbye to Apple products! It’s getting ridicolous.
    First they force you to buy a load of adapters, you need to carry in a conference room with HDMI projectors, then they take away the jack for the iphone buds, and now if you are on a version below 10.10 you can’t even back up your phone or ipad! This is truly remarkable with how much arrogance a company can get away. I for my part have enough and will no longer buy any Apple products! It’s time that we customers stand together and if they don’t listen then go to hell.

  5. AnneK says:

    I cannot find the tiny little phone icon on my status bar. In fact the status bar is not there at all. I have gone to the View menu to “show status bar” but nothing shows up. It seems like everytime I upgrade itunes, something changes and I can’t find what I’m looking for. I’m getting very frustrated.

  6. DeeKay says:

    Aha – a 3rd restart of iTunes while the phone was plugged in allowed the iPhone Settings window to appear. Clearly a bug – and a very irritating one at that !

  7. DeeKay says:

    Just as ‘maria’ says – – the icon is present, but it displays nothing when clicked. I HAVE seen the iPhone settings appear in iTunes 12, but whatever I did, I cannot repeat it.

    What in the HELL happened to the iTunes programmers to screw up a good display so badly in these recent versions?

  8. Mark says:

    Apple truly have lost the plot. Not only do they continually change their already ridiculous interface, they make it less intuitive! Genius!

  9. maria says:

    I can’t click on that icon. :( All I wanna do is click on that icon. It’s there when the phone is plugged into my computer but it won’t allow me to click.

  10. Leigh says:

    Just plugged my iPhone and iPod into iTunes to sync some new playlists and the little device symbol is greyed out and will not let me click so I cannot update my playlists. I tried just the iPod on its own – same issue. Arghhh Apple!

  11. Sandy says:

    Once I enter the iTunes Store, the “Phone” icon goes away. Hence, if I want to go back to my iPhone to make changes I have to unplug it the plug it in to restart the iTunes app. Then the “Phone” icon appears at the top. Am I doing this wrong? What am I missing here?

    • Enag says:

      Click the ‘back’ button or playlists to leave the iTunes Store and go to the other iTunes screen. The sidebar is for playlists and management of iPhone and iOS devices like to select them, manage media, etc.

  12. Alvaro Dias Batista says:

    I’ve notice in this last update of Itunes that the Search function not working well.
    I have an IP6+ and i need to search some musics on the device, simply not works, forcing to look all the music to find an specific i’ve looking for.

    • Laura says:

      I am having the same problem. Once I have selected my device the search bar does not work. I have over 9000 songs on my iPod and having to scroll through them all to find one song is annoying.

  13. ToneHound says:

    What the hell are they doing over there?!
    I can no longer highlight a song/s in my playlist, right click and have the option to convert to mp3!
    This is one of my most used tools. It is even removed from the menu bar.

    • Dan says:

      You can still convert songs in iTunes 12.4. Select the song in the Library view, then go to the “File” menu and choose “Create new version”.

      The format settings are in General preferences for iTunes, “Import Settings”, m4a, aac, mp3, etc are available

  14. dazzw says:

    no difference to itunes 12.3.3 then

    • CJ says:

      Except the annoying drop down menu they now make you use to choose different types of content. It’s one more unnecessary step when you could just put little links or icons in the upper left corner there instead of a drop down menu. When people want to quickly watch a movie or listen to a song, this could get pretty annoying… especially for people who use iTunes a lot.

  15. Phredd says:

    The side bar that is being discussed is the Music sidebar. You can see that in the first screen shot as Music is shown selected in the dropdown menu. Realising that, it is perfectly logical that clicking your iDevice should show the music on the device.

  16. Bill Spivey says:

    I’ve of course noticed the strangeness you described, but I appreciate your idea of just ignoring the side-bar devices. I’ll try the app again with that thought in mind.

  17. Joe says:

    What does this update add, absolutely nothing,mwhst it does is remove user choice, you can longer have a choice over the time for recently added, you have no choice but to use the side bar if you want anything near the usability of the previous version.

    An update just for update sake, Apple really are lossing the plot these days.

  18. WMV says:

    Nobody in my family uses iTunes or connects their iPhone to their computer, they don’t know how, and I don’t want to introduce the complexity to them. Hopefully they never need to restore or do a backup because they wouldn’t know where to begin. Most of them go to the cell phone store and then get a new phone, that is good for Apple stock, bad for the consumer.

    iTunes has gotten more confusing as it takes on more tasks. The inclusion of the whole “Apple Music” thing into the app is unnecessary and really amped up the bloat. iTunes used to be a simple music file manager. Then it became a store. Then it became where you manage your iPhone. It should have stopped there, but instead it became where everything under the sun gets swept. iTunes is design by committee.

    • Fred says:

      You forgot to say it’s a committee of 5 year old who think everything has to dumb downed to the lowest common denominator, and all user choice removed.

    • Bob says:

      It’s really really easy and simple to connect one’s iphone to itunes and perform syncs and backups and whatever. If your family can’t figure it out, and you’re unable to explain it to them (it takes a minute), I’m surprised you were able to work your computer enough to post this, and hope your family doesn’t actually do anything complicated, like driving cars or using electricity.

      • Bob Hubris Isn't Welcome Here says:

        iTunes sucks just like their fan boys.

        The problem with your assertion is that NO ONE thinks iTunes is ONLY for backups.

        And, sync what to what?

        If iTunes were a single button, your assertion would be correct – but it’s not and, again, your hubris, Bob, isn’t welcome here.

  19. Alex says:

    When you search an album or artist in the search field and then you change the view on the sidebar, the search result is being wiped away!

    That’s kind of annoying behaviour!

    And what happen with the “download album artwork” command? Disappeared!


    It seems like Apple is doing things randomly just like Microsoft does.

    • Dude says:

      If you go to your music, album view, and control click on an album it is there at the bottom of the menu. “get Album Artwork”

      • Alex says:

        Thank you.

        In fact I prefer the songs view and had no idea that command could be moved on the album view.

    • impeccable says:

      Completely wrong article to complain about this. This article is about something completely different.

      • Alex says:

        You could be right, but this article starts with:

        The latest version of iTunes has re-added the sidebar and made some other user interface changes designed to make using the app a bit easier to navigate. Most of the changes are welcome to iTunes […]

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