Move, copy and sync contacts from Android phones to iPhone / iPod Touch

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iOS and Android are the two leading mobile operating systems. Each mobile OS today has evolved to entire ecosystems, with everything from media and app purchases, to contacts and other settings tying into the platform and syncing within.

This is convenient when you stay within a single ecosystem – which is what its developers want you to do. Stay in iOS and add iPhones, iPads or iPod Touches to your account and data moves across them all seamlessly. Ditto for Google’s Android ecosystem. But when you want to move from one ecosystem to another – between Blackberry, iOS, Android or Windows Phone – the biggest headache is moving all your contacts, purchased content and SMS.

Moving the former is a lot easier than the other two, as I found out when I recently moved from an Android phone (Samsung Galaxy S2) to an iOS device (iPhone). Thanks to the wonders of DRM, moving content might even be impossible, but contacts can be moved and kept in sync – all with the right tools and services. Gone are the days of clumsy export to SIM -> insert SIM into new phone -> import contacts from SIM to phone, which was my routine, even on phones like the Nokia N95, as they simply did not have good contact syncing options in the cloud.

Now, cloud sync is everywhere, and you can use it to move contacts from Android to the Apple ecosystem – sync your iPhone with your Google account. The alternative old-school, non-cloud based method is a manual export from Google Contacts and import to the iOS device. Each method has its own benefits, as you’ll see shortly.

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Moving contacts with Google Account sync

Here’s how to use your Google or GMail account to sync contacts from Android phone, and then sync it back to the iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch.

  • On your Android device, sign in to your preferred Google account and set up contact sync. This will upload all your contacts onto the cloud (Google Contacts service), if you haven’t done so already. It is also available at google.com/contacts
  • Connect your iOS device to your computer and fire up iTunes.
  • Click Info, select Google Contacts as the sync service. Log into your Google account. This should download contacts from your Google account (which had previously synced all Android contacts) to your iPhone or iPod Touch.

If you move between devices frequently, or use multiple devices, then keeping everything in sync by connecting your Google account is the best method. The downside is that sync requires connecting to iTunes, unlike in Android where wifi is all you need for a sync. Sync in iOS is also wire free now, thanks to the wireless sync option on iTunes. Wireless sync has been less than reliable for me, and rather flaky at times, so I’ve moved my contacts to iCloud now.

Manual export-import

The alternative is more manual, but if you are moving from Android to iOS ecosystem for good (read ditching Android completely), then this works just as well. Also, if you are paranoid about privacy, and would rather that you didn’t have to upload contacts to a Google account, this is your alternative.

This method cannot be used to sync between iOS and Android devices, however – this is a one way transfer from Android to iPhone.

The easier option is to hit sync on Android, visit google.com/contacts and export contacts. Plug in your iPhone, open iTunes and import this file into iOS via iTunes. For the privacy paranoid among us, the longer route is to export all contacts as a VCF on Android phone, move that file from the device onto your computer, and then do the import via iTunes.