Of all the processes Apple manages under the hood of macOS, few are as mysterious as MobileDeviceUpdater. When macOS requires a driver update to talk to a USB-connected iPhone or iPad, this software agent launches an installer that doesn’t look like any other macOS activity.
Despite MobileDeviceUpdater’s alert sometimes causing people to wonder if it’s malware or a phishing attempt, it’s a real and necessary update that you must install to enable your Mac to talk to your iPhone or iPad. Because you might update your devices on different schedules, it’s common to end up in a situation where an older version of macOS doesn’t know how to interact with a newer version of iOS or iPadOS.
When you see this alert after plugging your iPhone or iPad into your Mac, go ahead and click the Install button. You’ll see a progress window for downloading and installing. When it finishes, all will be well—or should be!
The installation can fail. What do you do in that event? Apple provides no suggestions about how to resolve the problem if you see this dialog at the end of the installation.
I hadn’t experienced this problem until about a month ago when I plugged my iPad Pro into a 2020 27-inch iMac running macOS 12 Monterey. I wasn’t even trying to sync; I just wanted to charge. Although I never sync my iPad or iPhone over USB, I figured I’d agree to the installation to prevent future dialogs from nagging me. So you can imagine my irritation when an installer that I didn’t even want to run failed. I tried restarting the iPad and the Mac, but neither made any difference.
By happenstance, TidBITS reader James Weil posted a solution on TidBITS Talk a few days later. It was my lucky day, and now it may also be yours. Follow these steps:
- In versions of macOS before macOS 13 Ventura, open System Preferences > Sharing; for Ventura, open System Settings > General > Sharing.
- Uncheck every service that’s enabled. For me, it was Media Sharing, Content Caching, and AirPlay Receiver.
- Unplug the iPhone or iPad and then plug it back in.
- When MobileDeviceUpdater prompts you again, click Install. This time the software update should download and install correctly. Interestingly, the download took significantly longer to complete than when it failed, with a several-minute progress bar. That suggests the problem relates to the download.
- Enable the services in Sharing that you previously turned off.
Because I successfully ran through this process in December, after James first posted, I was a little surprised when the same error cropped up again just now. It seems that the error can recur, forcing you to repeat this process each time new software updates cause your Mac and iPhone or iPad to fall out of sync.
Confusingly, it didn’t appear that any one of the enabled services was at fault. I turned off the three services I had enabled one at a time, attempting an installation before re-enabling the service and moving on to the next. I didn’t expect Media Sharing or AirPlay Receiver to be the culprit, but I could imagine a connection between MobileDeviceUpdater and Content Caching. But no: leaving any of the services running caused MobileDeviceUpdater to fail. As soon as I disabled them all, it downloaded and installed fine, just as James said it would.
This solution is deeply unsatisfying, along the lines of voodoo fixes of yesteryear like rebuilding the Desktop or zapping PRAM. I’m open to suggestions for what might cause the problem, but without such an explanation, I can’t guarantee that this solution will work for you. At least it’s easy to try. (And if it doesn’t work, post in the comments below, particularly if you find another solution.)
Apple should put in the time to fix this problem once and for all.