The Missing iSync in OS X Lion (and what to do about it)

The short answer to someone looking for a solution: just copy over iSync from your Snow Leopard installation back to the /Applications folder in Lion, and also copy the phone plugin you need back into /Library/PhonePlugins folder. Everything will be as it was. Enjoy.

The longer story requires more explanation …

The Problem

I have been looking forward to upgrading to the latest version of OSX (Lion) ever since the announcements were made in the WWDC earlier this year.

However, in the middle of the whole slew of new functions and features (“250+”), Lion is also leaving behind a few things – notably Rosetta (the PowerPC translation layer) – and the iSync and FrontRow applications.

The demise of PowerPC emulation has been long in coming, and was not really a surprise, given that it has been 6 years since Intel became the official CPU for Apple machines. The main impact really seems to be for Quicken users, which might actually be a blessing in disguise, given how pathetic Quicken really was on the Mac.
iSync has been removed presumably because it has been one of the “low usage” applications on the platform. iTunes is the center of most of the Mac based synchronization these days, along with MobileMe for the cloud side of things.

However, iSync has been a key feature of the OS for me, as I carry a non-iOS phone (a Nokia E71 actually), and being able to seamlessly synchronize my contacts and calendars with the phone using iSync made it a key part of my workflow (I even have some Automator scripts to make this easier). And iSync has been able to synchronize over Bluetooth, unlike the tethered experience with the iOS devices so far (though OTA sync is on the way with iOS 5 later this fall).

Alas, OS X Lion removes the iSync application from the hard disk once it is installed, and for a time I thought that this was end of the line for the convenience I had with the E71, and would need to go back to the darks days of manual data entry for the addresses (manual entry of calendar entries is too much of a hassle on the phone, and would need to be dropped all together).

The Solution

Before installation of Lion, I had taken a full disk image of my previous Snow Leopard installation using the excellent SuperDuper! Disk cloner.

This was more from a backup and recovery perspective, but allowed me an unexpected solution to the iSync quandary – on a whim, I attached the Snow Leopard disk to the Mac running Lion, and clicked on the iSync application. Voila! iSync works exactly as it should!

In hindsight, this is not really surprising, since iSync really has been a front end for the underlying sync services (which are still around in Lion), and for managing phone and device specific plugins.

All that was needed was to just copy over iSync back into the “/Applications” folder, and also copy the phone plugins (just one in my case) to the “/Library/PhonePlugins” folder.


In summary, while Apple in its immense wisdom took out a feature that was useful to some (albeit a minority), getting it to work again was surprisingly easy. Will need to check out the situation with FrontRow next time.

[Update on July 22, 2011]

Looks like a similar recovery process exists for FrontRow as well.  See this article at Macworld.


44 thoughts on “The Missing iSync in OS X Lion (and what to do about it)

  1. Glad to hear that re-using a Snow Leopard iSync in Lion is possible. But a few thoughts:

    Some people may not have/keep Snow Leopard media or backups of their previous installation. They won’t have (legal) means to re-install iSync.

    You say that [iSync] was useful to “a minority”. I can imagine that the overlap between Mac users and Nokia/Samsung/Sony-Ericsson phone users could include millions of people – Not everyone has an iPhone. So taking out this feature silently is not a cool move by Apple, to put it mildly.

    Finally, as you say, iSync is a frontend for services (= (syncing to non-Apple devices) “under the hood” – which might be removed at any time, making iSync worthless. I find this situation very uncomfortable. But it’s good to have a working solution for now.

    1. Hello David,

      The issue with not having the Snow leopard media/backup will definitely be a problem.

      The comment about “minority” usage of iSync was meant to be slightly sardonic – I am myself a heavy user of the application – unfortunately, Apple decided that users like myself should be left behind.

      The core sync services frameworks within OS X (and as carried over into Lion) are definitely mainstream, as they support other sync facilities such as the iOS sync from iTunes, and also MobileMe. I do not anticipate this going away any time soon.

      Hope this helps,

    2. Thanks for giving a way-out to what Apple did, which is, to me, just an unfair move against competitors in the smartphone’s area.
      I did it as said: iSync from Time Machine copied/restored into Applications folder, and plugin of Nokia N8 into Library phoneplugins.
      Unfortunately it doesn’t work, yet.
      Someone can help me further?
      Thanks in advance,

  2. Thanks for the info.

    And just a tip:
    You can also download 10.6.8 combo update and extract iSync from there using Pacifist.

  3. can you please share your isync image as i think a lot of people must be struggling to find one only. i am one of them for sure!!!! Please!!!!

    Thank you so much !!!!

    1. Hi Antony,

      I am not sure whether it is completely legal to share the iSync image file online due to copyright issues. However, some of the Mac OSX Combo updates available on their download site do contain the iSync package, and you might be able to use Pacifist to extract it from there.

  4. It is absolutely unfair if not unethical for Apple fans who also use Nokia or such other phones to find to their shock that iSync has been removed arbitrarily only after down loading the new Mac OS after paying the required price. Atleast Apple should have fore warned their fans on their decision.
    Am sure, they will view the sentiments of several millions of their fans and release an immediate update incorporating back the iSync.
    Let us hope & pray for the best.

  5. totally miffed by this bit of Mac skullduggery, and Front Row too? – I think it’s a bit cheeky not letting us know – this sort of obfuscation is not becoming of Apple at all.

    I have the installation apps DVD for Snow Leopard – can I install it from there?

    1. Yes. This is unfortunate. Apple does seem to do this with technology they believe is not being used by a “sufficient” number of people.

      I think you should be able to extract iSync from the installation DVD for Snow Leopard using the Pacifist tool, as long as you can locate the iSync package file on the DVD. The easier way however is to just copy over the application from any other Snow Leopard Mac that you may have, or from your old installation backup.

  6. I have an iphone and an iMac. After upgrading to Lion my iphone would not sync to ical in my Mac. I took your advice and found isync in my Time Machine folder and, except for a lot of duplicate entries, all is syncing.
    I think this is a bigger problem than Apple realizes.


  7. Hi, I have indeed the same problem. As you suggested I copied the isync application into the application folder. However, if I wanted to to let it run I got the message that isinc does’t run in Lion OS. Installing the Nokia plug-in was OK. So I did not achieve the synchronisation between my iMac and Nokia phone. What do you suggest? Thanks

    1. Gijsbert,

      This is interesting. I tried copying iSync again just to see if I could trigger the error message you received. Did you copy iSync from an older OSX version, or from Snow Leopard?


  8. Thanks for this comment! It raised the idea to pick iSync just up from my Time Capsule and it worked. Just like that! Nothing to do with libraries or what so ever, my phone was still in the list.

  9. Hi there and thanks for the tip (I used it a while ago). Now with 10.7.2 and iCloud though, there is a new problem. Setting “iCloud” as the default account in Address Book preferences, kills iSync.

    Changing the default account to “On my Mac”, at first created duplicate entries (which do not update) with iCloud and now (that I troubleshooted this issue “On my Mac” is just blank.

    I guess I could stop using iCloud and copy back everything but I’d rather find a way to keep both. Any ideas around this? Is everyone having the same problem?

    PS: I’m having similar issues with Calendar..

    1. Dimitris,

      I faced similar problems with both iCloud and Google sync (as sync services from the Address book and iCloud preferences). At this point, I am better placed to use Google’s address book, and hence have switched off the iCloud version. Not sure if you can keep using both.

      iCloud also was messing up the calendar sync.

      1. I though so… but then again I was hoping that there’d be a way around it. If I happen to come across it I’ll post here.

        Thanks very much.

    1. Thanks John. I had Nokia E52 (which I still like very much for the battery long life time, up to 10 days – not beaten yet by phones like this one).
      I got iSync from the link you showed and it does work!!! And even my old phone plugin was still there (in plugin folder) after upgrading to Lion from SL. Well, it is no so bad anyway with this Lion. Pity it is not automatic.

  10. Here’s what I wrote to Apple:
    See the discussion at:

    I have been a Mac user from probably before you were born! This is the first time I have ever felt shortchanged and outraged by an Apple move.

    Why would you not let a Nokia cell phone connect via Bluetooth in 10.7, when you did in 10.6??? It does not make sense, was not anticipated, and frankly makes me wish I’d never upgraded.

    I doubt I’m the only Nokia phone user who feels this way. So, please give SERIOUS consideration to fixing this — one way or another — in your next version of 10.7 [don’t wait for 10-.8]!

    1. Although not a Mac user that long I feel exactly the same way as John and regret having upgrade to lion OS.

  11. I have a similar problem upgrading to Lion and iCloud from Snow Leopard and MobileMe. Because the Lion upgrade made my iMac incredibly slow, Apple advised me to reinstall Snow Leopard. Fine, the iMac returns to normal, but now my iPhone and iPad won’t sync iCal or Contacts with the iMac because 10.6.4 isn’t compatible with iCloud. They won’t do it manually through the USB either. Have you got a solution that would make a sync work?

    1. i realise this is old stuff but it seems the syncmate application does this for android, symbian, ios and many more other devices. the free version of it is nice.

  12. Hi all,

    Same issue here.
    But/And… I still see the iSync icon on the top of my screen. I can click on it, and it tells me there are no devices to sync (that’s ok).
    However, if iSync is no longer available in Lion, how come it still appears on my screen?
    Where is it hidden?


  13. Guys… Got to your blog at the right time. As for me, I have completely shelved my plans of upgrading to Lion.
    By the way how does one write to Apple (reliably enough to get them read you). There are quite a few issues they should take a note of.

  14. Using the iSync provided here worked great for me. It even ‘remembered’ the E52 and found the plugin, apparently not deleted in the Lion installation. What junk from Apple!

  15. I had the same problem but eventually from the Nokia Support page I spotted someone has kindly provided a link to download iSync that worked for me with Lion -if you click it downloads iSync:

    1. @Gustavo, this link provides “only” the plugin, not iSync itself. There is a link above which provides iSync, but honestly, I don’t like to download from a shortened URL and unknown guy.

  16. Yeah, that is terrific, no doubt, for your phone, but I have a Nokia C3-01, and there’s no such download. What do I do???

    1. the syncmate application which is free does all of this. the issue though is you cannot access the nbu archives made by the nokia ovi suite on windows where one might have, sms, contacts and so on.

  17. Thanks for the tip! I now have isync running on Mountain Lion. A lot of effort just to transfer the contacts from my wife’s Nokia so she can start using her new iphone!

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