Sync Google Calendars, Contacts Over-the-Air For Free

nuevasyncI admit it: my phone is never more than an arm’s length away from me during every waking second of my day. My job is to be connected and a handset allows for that. I used to use a Hosted Exchange server with a Windows Mobile phone and the experience of having my mail, contacts, calendars and more synchronized over the was simply superb. Moving over to Google for those same items has left me slightly disappointed, mainly because I don’t connect my iPhone to a PC or Mac. Over-the-air synchronization is the way to go in my book; after all, isn’t the phone able to wirelessly connect to my data on Google’s servers?

The problem has been one of support. Gmail is obviously available over-the-air although Google has just enabled offline support on the web as well. Getting my many calendars on my iPhone is really what I need. I can live without contact synchronization, but that would be nice too. There are options I could explore, such as MobileMe, BusySync and even the GooSync service James just demonstrated on a video. They all cost money though. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could sync your Google Calendar and Contacts over-the-air for free? Turns out that you can.

Some Googling yielded a beta service from NuevaSync. It’s free for now and it sounded like it would do the trick for me, so I gave it a go this week. It didn’t take long for me to be sold on the service… if you can be “sold” on a free service that is. ;)

In terms of data, NuevaSync currently supports Google Calendar for events and both Google’s Gmail and Plaxo for contacts. I haven’t tested the contact synchronization yet, but that’s mainly because I’m not thrilled with Google’s offering in this area. From a device standpoint, NuevaSync works with Apple’s iPhone and iPod Touch 2.0 as well as Windows Mobile devices. BlackBerry handsets should also work with NuevaSync, but the company points out that there’s already a decent solution directly available from Google. Nokia E- and N-series devices that use Mail for Exchange are also supposed to work with this synchronization service. Obviously, there’s no need to support the G1 Android handset since it natively supports Google’s services.

nuevasync-setupCreating an account with NuevaSync was a simple process; not much more than registering an e-mail address and password. Before setting up my iPhone to use the service, I configured NuevaSync’s features on their web site. The configuration page is mobile-friendly, so you can edit settings from your handset.

Here in the screen-shot, you can see I only have the Calendar service active. There are options for Email and Tasks, but selecting them only gives you the Disabled option. NuevaSync is still working on these and that’s fine for me: e-mail is working perfectly fine with the native Mail application on my iPhone and I’m currently testing Things! to manage my tasks.

The Calendar synchronization I’m using with NuevaSync supports either a regular Google account or a Google Apps account. I have both as I’m using regular Gmail for personal use and my GigaOM e-mail, which is a Google Apps account, for work. Unfortunately, you can’t synchronize calendars on two different Google accounts. I’m still deciding which is more important to me: personal or work.

The good news is that you can sync up to eight calendars per account. That’s great for me since everyone in my family has a shared Google Calendar. There’s mine, Barb’s, Tyler’s, Sydney’s and even my ex-wife’s. We use this method because we’re all scheduling different activities with the kids, some of which fall on weekend’s when Tyler is with me and some when he’s with his mom. It’s a great system for us and I can use NuevaSync to have all of these calendars sync both ways on my iPhone over-the-air.

For my testing, I actually opted for my work calendars. In Google, I have access to my own work events, the ones that James has on his GigaOM calendar and events on the global or main GigaOM company calendar. This comes in handy for times like CES when James and I are running different directions: each of us knows where the other is based on the calendar.

Initially, I was concerned about using a third-party service for this. I figured that I’d have to provide NuevaSync with my GigaOM Google Account credentials. If that was the case, I wouldn’t have done it. However, I was pleased to see that NuevaSync never asks for those credentials; instead, they use OAuth to communicate with Google on your behalf. This is an open protocol to allow API authorization. When you set up your NuevaSync services, Google will ask you to provide permission for NuevaSync to access your account, but they never actually have your account credentials. I recommend you read the NuevaSync Privacy Policy if you’re unsure about using a third-party with your Google account as there is minimal data storage involved to use the service.

The service actually works over as a Microsoft Exchange account, so there’s about ten steps to get it going on your iPhone. They’re simple and took me all of five minutes to run through. If you’re already synchronizing with a Microsoft Exchange server, you can’t use this service in addition to your current setup. Then again, if you’re using an Exchange server, it’s unlikely you really need this. ;)

google-calendars-iphoneSo how is it working? Stellar for me so far! I opted to sync all three GigaOM Google Calendars, although I could have picked just my own or any combination of two, and in less than two minutes, all of the calendar data was on my iPhone. I’ve created new events on the web and they flow right down to my handset over-the-air. Although I don’t typically set reminders for my events, I tested that by setting one on the web. Sure enough, the reminder popped up at the appropriate time on my handset. It was no different than setting a local reminder.

One HUGE word of caution before you run off and try this service on your iPhone. Using NuevaSync will completely wipe out your Contacts or Calendar events (or both if you use both services) the first time it synchronizes. This isn’t exactly their fault: they indicate that iPhone is designed to clean the slate when you set up a new Exchange account. Since I wasn’t using the native Calendar app at all (for 19 months, mind you!), this didn’t affect me.

NuevaSync solved a long-standing problem for me and best of all, it’s currently free. Yes, it is a beta so you may experience issues. However, it beats the constant need of physically tethering my iPhone and leverages the strengths of the data connection in my handset. Isn’t that what it’s there for?

If any readers give this a try on another supported device like Windows Mobile or a Nokia handset, I’d love to hear if your experience is as positive as mine.

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