Free MobileMe Alternative: How to Set Up Google Sync for Mac and iPhone

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.

Requirements:

  • 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:
    https://google.com/contacts
    Note: For Google Apps users go here:
    https://mail.google.com/a/[domain 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:
    https://www.google.com/calendar/
    Note: For Google Apps users go here:
    https://www.google.com/calendar/hosted/[domain 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.

mobilemesettings

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.

Conclusion

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!

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