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How can I transfer or copy music, photos and videos from my iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch to my computer?
By default, Apple's tightly integrated iTunes infrastructure works quite well to transfer or copy music, photos and videos from a Mac or Windows PC to an iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch.
Formal iTunes Abilities & Limitations
With the exception of the "transfer purchases feature" -- which allows one to restore purchased iTunes content from an iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch to a computer -- as well as copy personal photos and videos (which means photos and videos that you have shot with your device personally), Apple's software does not make it easy to transfer or copy content from an iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch.
iTunes 7 and newer allow one to use an iPhone or iPad to transfer songs purchased through iTunes to as many as five authorized computers. This only works for songs purchased through iTunes, though. It does not work for songs ripped from CDs or downloaded from other sources which tend to be more common for those with music collections from the ancient days before music streaming.
This restriction was designed to discourage casual piracy, but unfortunately, it also prevents one from easily copying legally acquired content from one's own device to their own computer.
Apple's Transfer Method & Limitations (iTunes Match)
Apple's preferred method -- which requires iTunes 10.5.1 or newer and an iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch running iOS 5.0.1 or newer -- would be for you to sign up for iTunes Match for US$24.99 per year.
Apple explains that iTunes Match:
Determines which songs in your collection are available in the iTunes Store. Any music with a match is automatically added to iCloud for you to listen to anytime, on any device. . . For the few songs that aren't, iTunes uploads what it can't match (which is much faster than uploading your entire music library). Even better, all the music iTunes matches plays back from iCloud at 256-Kbps AAC DRM-free quality -- even if your original copy was of lower quality.
Once your music is in iCloud, you can play it from any of your devices. Just browse the complete list of all your music stored in the cloud and tap to play to it. You can store up to 25,000 songs in iCloud (more if songs are purchased from the iTunes Store), but only what you play or download is stored on your device. . . So you have immediate access to a huge music library without having to worry about the storage space on your device.
In other words, by signing up for iTunes Match with your Mac or Windows PC, you could replicate music purchased through iTunes that is stored on your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch in iCloud and then later download it selectively with iTunes on your Mac or Windows PC.
However, this does not work for music that was not purchased through iTunes. In fact, Apple quietly notes in support documents that "the music library on your iOS device will be deleted and replaced with your music in iCloud."
Consequently, if you have music on your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch that you have downloaded from other sources -- legal or otherwise -- or have ripped from CD and no longer have another copy of this music elsewhere, it will be deleted.
This also means that (1) all of your music essentially will be permanently stored within Apple's ecosystem and it likely will be difficult to move your music to another service, (2) you will have to pay every year to continue to access your music, and (3) you will need to be online to listen to your music (unless you download all of it or a selection of songs to your device or computer before leaving the grid). It also will not replicate any music on your iPhone that
If these limitations are not an issue for you, iTunes Match is a convenient solution for those who want their own music "in the cloud" but who do not want to switch entirely to a more modern music streaming service like Pandora, Spotify, Rdio, or Grooveshark.
Third-Party Software Solutions
For those who prefer their computerized music "old school" (or at least middle school) and stored locally, but not on physical media like CDs, cassettes, records or wax cylinders, there fortunately are a number of third-party applications that make it easy to transfer one's music, video, and photo collection from an iPhone, iPad or iPod touch to a computer.
Programs of potential interest include Senuti and PhoneView, which are available just for Mac, and CopyTrans, which is available just for Windows. PhoneView and CopyTrans extract songs, videos, and photos (as well as much more), whereas Senuti only extracts songs and videos.
Each program is straightforward -- essentially you install the software on your computer and connect your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch.
If there are other excellent programs that you have used (and you are not a spambot), please feel free to share. Thank you.