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


google_syncMobileMe, Apple’s (s aapl) 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 (s goog) that challenged the PIM synchronization features of MobileMe and competitors like Microsoft (s msft) 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:[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:
    Note: For Google Apps users go here:[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.


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 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!



Google Sync is all good and great but it’s limited to Calendar syncing and Contact syncing. That’s it. You can’t access files on an iDevice remotely, you can’t upload files from an iDevice into the cloud. Basically, Google Sync is a VERY limited version of MobileMe. I’m not going to pay for MobileMe (which should be included free when you spend so much on an Apple device) but I would like to access my files remotely from numerous devices, mobile or otherwise. GoToMyPC is too limited for Mac. Any suggestions on what would allow me to access my computer files on multiple different devices?


MobileMess has been a adversity for my father-in-law, and a depression bow to Mr. Analyst for activity this eager rank by travel handbook.

Pasquale Robustini

I recently learned that the bookmark synchronization can be achieved through the Xmarks plugin for Firefox, IE, Chrome, and Safari (only for Mac)


This is probably a stupid question, but can you track your phone if you lose it, like on mobileme?

Heiner Kruse

i report three things that i didnt find in the net before after testing mobile me today:

1.) i have an own domain. i want this to be my sender email, so im not a junkie of whose ever mails ervice till the end of my life, as people use this email (zb and ill always be scared to delete the account as i might miss important emails. doesnt allow this, google does. i hate this apple policy.

2.) the mac-google adress sync does not work for groupings. thats a reason to use me com. on the other hand, wants 10.5.8 and who knows when thats gonna rise. if you want to sync an older macs adress book with something, then its probably easier with google than with apple.


Thanks people,
3 Questions….

Using new iMac with Snow Leopard OS 10.6 (i think…)
What I’d love to know is

a) is there a way to sync Google contacts with Mac address book without using iTunes? Or Mobile Me?
Simply just using Google and my Mac address book?
(btw iSync looks for a mobile device so doesn’t seem to work. I think they want you to use/sign up for Mobile Me)

b) I’ve managed to do some Sync’ing but iCal has 2-3 inherent calandars as ‘standard’ i.e. work and personal etc.
When you create the Google Sync this creates an additional calander which does not Sync the original iCal ones. Can you add these to the Google Sync?
Otherwise all calanders can be added and Sync’d OK between iPod Touch and iCal in Mac but do not get reflected in the Google calendar.
Therefore the other Calandars (such as ‘work’ etc) become redundant.

c) I’ve Sync’d my address book once but I’m not sure I’m seeing the changes reflected back in Google contacts after.
i.e. got the list from Google to Mac address book. Then deleted a contact in my Mac but not sure I’m seeing this update back in Google.
Must I sync my iPod for this to happen??

Love to hear some feedback if anyone is kind enough!



I am using both Dropbox (as a much better iDisk replacement) and fruux for Addressbook, iCal and Safari syncing. Both work great and it’s free :-)


MobileMess has been a disaster for my father-in-law, and a deep bow to Mr. Klein for writing this great step by step guide.

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