MobileMe, Apple’s online personal information management (PIM) solution, has withstood quite the controversy. While some of the more fortunate subscribers, like myself, have had only positive experiences, others had to wait several months before syncing worked without reporting cryptic errors or silently failing. My only gripe […]

google_syncMobileMe, Apple’s online personal information management (PIM) solution, has withstood quite the controversy. While some of the more fortunate subscribers, like myself, have had only positive experiences, others had to wait several months before syncing worked without reporting cryptic errors or silently failing.

My only gripe was the buggy MobileMe web site. Problems were numerous, such as the page randomly refreshing in the middle of adding a calendar event. Obviously this wasn’t disastrous on its own, but annoying tics add up, and eventually push people to look for alternatives.

Recently, I discovered an offering from Google that challenged the PIM synchronization features of MobileMe and competitors like Microsoft Exchange (what you unfortunately probably use at the office). This new service, Google Sync, offers the same seamless integration between your computer and mobile phone. It’s fast, free, and, most importantly, it works.

Setting it up, as you will soon find out, can be tricky, and takes time, patience, and an understanding of two-way syncing. Unless, that is, you’re starting from a blank slate with no contacts or calendars. However, I assume you already have a digital life, so I will attempt to coach you through transferring your information to Google first. I’m not going to retype all of Google’s own instructions. Instead, I’ll outline shortcuts around the sticky issues I encountered while setting up Sync. Google doesn’t organize its instruction processes well, so hopefully this will save you some time and a few headaches.


  • Google account
  • Contacts organized in Address Book
  • Calendars organized in iCal
  • You do not use an Exchange account on your iPhone

Exporting your Address Book Contacts to Google

  1. I used a Google-recommended application called A to G to export my contacts as a large CSV file, and then import them into Google Contacts. You can get A to G here.
  2. a2gAfter you created the CSV file on your desktop, go to your Google Contacts page:
    Note: For Google Apps users go here:
    https://mail.google.com/a/%5Bdomain name]/#contacts
  3. Click on “Import”, choose the CSV file on your hard drive, and boom, your contacts are now in Google.

Address Book Import

Exporting your iCal calendars to Google

  1. Unfortunately, you have to export your iCal calendars one at a time. You can do this by clicking once on a calendar in the CALENDARS area, and selecting File -> Export.
  2. iCal list

  3. Then, go to Google Calendar:
    Note: For Google Apps users go here:
    https://www.google.com/calendar/hosted/%5Bdomain name]/
  4. Settings -> Calendars -> Import Calendar
    GCal settings
  5. Click “Choose File” to select the exported calendar on your hard drive. Choose which Google Calendar you want to import the information into. I recommend manually creating calendars in Google Calendar with the same names as your iCal calendars. Then, import the iCal files into their corresponding Google calendars. Repeat for each file you exported from iCal. Your calendars are now on Google.

Let’s recap. Your current contacts and calendars are now on Google. However, that information will never change unless you set up synchronization on your iPhone and Mac(s).

Configuring Google Sync

Warning: This is where you begin changing settings. If you’re a MobileMe user, all of your data is safe with Apple and everything you do here is completely reversible.

It’s easy to temporarily disable MobileMe while you set up Google Sync. Go to Settings -> Mail, Contacts, Calendars, select your MobileMe account from the Accounts list. Switch Contacts and Calendars to their OFF positions. If, in the end, you don’t want to use Google Sync, you can remove the Google Sync account you are about to set up, and switch your MobileMe Contacts and Calendars to their ON positions.


If you sync your Address Book and iCal information via iTunes, you should deselect those options in iTunes and resync your iPhone. The goal here is to clear out your contacts and calendar information on your phone. Again, if you decide to not use Google Sync, you can remove your Google information, select the contacts and calendars checkboxes in iTunes, and sync your iPhone with your computer once more to restore your data.

Now you’re ready to get your iPhone syncing data from Google. Follow these instructions about setting up your iPhone to get that working.

Important Google Apps note #1:
Apps users have to enable Google Sync in your dashboard, which can be done following these instructions.

Important note #2:
If you use more than one calendar, you have to configure that on the iPhone, otherwise only one will appear in the phone’s calendar app. After you’re done with the “Setting up your iPhone” section, go to m.google.com on your iPhone and select Sync. If you’re a Google Apps user, scroll to the bottom to select the “Google Apps User?” link. After logging in you can select which calendars you want to sync to the iPhone (maximum is five currently).

Now, any changes you make in Google Contacts or Google Calendar will be reflected on your iPhone. Also, any changes you make to your iPhone’s contacts or calendar information will be reflected on Google’s corresponding sites. Do you use IMAP for your Gmail account? Then consider yourself 100 percent synced.

If you’re satisfied with using Google’s sites and your iPhone to manage your information, then you’re done. However, if you want your current information to appear in iCal and Address Book, then you have a few more steps:

  1. Importing your Google Contacts into Address Book
    This requires setting up built-in Address Book preferences.
  2. Importing your Google Calendars into iCal
    This uses software called Collaboration.


Congratulations on making it this far. Hopefully, you’ve successfully set up Google Contacts and Google Calendar with your existing information, and both your iPhone and Mac(s) are now synchronized with Google. You can now make changes to or add contacts and events from any computer or your iPhone, and all without spending a dime. Please leave a comment below if you have any questions!

You’re subscribed! If you like, you can update your settings

  1. The Address book portion of this does not work. Once you start syncing Contacts from your phone to Google, you are no longer able to sync address book contacts with google, because syncing contacts is now disabled in iTunes. Everything else works though. I’ve had it like this for a while with no issues, although I use nuevasync, because I have more than 5 calendars.

  2. Hmmm. I use Google Contacts and the iPhone to maintain my address book. Are you saying I’m unable to update contacts using the Address Book app in OS X?

  3. In the past I’ve only had bad experiences trying to synchronize address book and google contacts. The fields didn’t seem to work in the same way. Just noticed that google have added fields (such as birthdays and anniversaries) to the contacts which could swing it for me.

  4. too bad apple did not include “notes” as a basic app available to sync with a workstation/laptop -email, calendar, and contact sync-ing is all fine and good but a simple journal app that i can sync WITHOUT going to a web page is the ticket for me-
    filemaker bento is about as close as to what i am looking for but a bit overkill (and i will admit i have not searched nearly enough)
    any suggestions would be great

  5. @ David Klein: No, not saying that. What I’m saying is that if you use Google Sync to automatically sync your phone contacts with Google Contacts, then Address Book stops syncing when you connect your phone to your computer. If you use iTunes to sync your contacts, then yes, Address Book, your phone, and Google will all have the same info. They will only sync when you sync your phone, however.

    At least that’s been my experience. If someone knows of a work around, I’d love to see it.

  6. I just thought I’d chime to mention Fruux which does Contacts, iCal and bookmarks syncing. It’s still at Beta stage so there’s some room for improvement, but works rather fine globally and I’m happy with it.

  7. @CB Interesting. I’ll have to look into that. I turned off iTunes syncing altogether. I’ll double-check that Address Book is up to date. I thought selecting “Synchronize with Google” was a two-way street.

  8. @David: Cool. I’ll check back and see if you can get it to work. I’ve tried in vain for a while with no luck.

  9. Free MobileMe Alternative: How to Set Up Google Sync for Mac and iPhone | Ten One Hundred Wednesday, May 13, 2009

    [...] via Free MobileMe Alternative: How to Set Up Google Sync for Mac and iPhone. [...]

  10. The author’s left out a couple of details… Yeah, I’m some guy posting here, but Google’s own documentation fills in some of the blanks but for one point posed here.

    To wirelessly sync the Address Book app to your Google account, you’ll need to grab and install Calaborator, a Google app specifically created to connect the two as a conduit.

    The fields issue isn’t an issue. Google uses CSV delimiters and not vCard data. Google’s using *two* address fields in place of Address Book’s one address field. For example, using “Suite XXX” or “Apt. XXX” after a street address, the sync would be perfect. In my Google Account’s Contacts, I use one line for each item and add a hard return with no text before the return and I’m good to go – my entries look just like this:
    Joe Smith
    123 First Street

    and Address Book just gets it. Anytime you edit your contact in Address Book, however, will likely muck things up in Google’s Contacts. It took me a few tries to figure it out, but I’m syching my iPhone (using Exchange), BB Storm (using Google Sync), Address Book, and one free and one Premier Google Apps account seamlessly now.

    My 2¢.

Comments have been disabled for this post