Getting Mac and Android to Play Nicely

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I recently switched from my iPhone to an Android device, the HTC Desire HD. I was happy with it, but syncing Mac and my phone provided some obstacles. So I set out to find a way to replicate the iOS/Mac sync experience for media, contacts and calendars.

Music and Video

For syncing music and video, I found two Mac applications which grab content from iTunes and sync it to your phone: one free and one which costs $40.

The saying “you get what you pay for” definitely applies here, as the free application, DoubleTwist, isn’t exactly feature-rich. When you connect a phone, you get the option to view the music, photos and movies that are on the device, and you can sync your music and videos onto the phone. You can either select Sync all or choose certain playlists to sync. I don’t use playlists in iTunes, but I can imagine that it would be simple enough to set up some Smart Playlists to decide what to sync. There’s also the option to select content from your media library and drag-and-drop it onto your device in the sidebar. Straightforward, but somewhat tedious.

If you’re interested in using DoubleTwist with your Mac and Android device, check out James Kendrick’s screencast on the subject at the end of this post for a more in-depth look.

The $40 application, The Missing Sync by Mark/Space, claims to be much more like iTunes. It can sync everything iTunes can sync, plus it has some extra bells and whistles thrown in, such as Wi-Fi syncing and Proximity Sync, which syncs your phone automatically when it’s near your computer. Looking around the Mark/Space website, I couldn’t find a trial download. Seems like it’s all or nothing with the Missing Sync, so if the feature list and demo video are enough to entice you, take the plunge.

Apps

Since you can’t store your Android apps on your Mac, there’s no way to sync apps in the same way as iTunes does. However, there is an online service, AppBrain, which lets you log into your Google account and set up lists of apps to install on your device. When you open the corresponding AppBrain app on your phone, it’ll go ahead and install those apps for you. The app on the phone will also keep track of available updates to apps you have installed, much like the App Store for iOS.

Contacts and Calendars

Address Book and iCal also can’t sync directly with an Android phone. The aforementioned The Missing Sync can sync your contacts and calendars, but for a free option, it’s simple to set up syncing using a Google account. Android phones effortlessly sync with Google accounts, and you can set up Address Book and iCal to sync with Google, too.

In iCal, open up Preferences and go to the Accounts tab. Add a new account and select Google from the dropdown list. Then add your basic Google information and click “Create.”

In Address Book, go to Preferences and go to the Accounts tab. Check the “Synchronise with Google” checkbox and click Configure. Now simply enter your Google account details and hit OK.

Photos

We’ve looked at ways of getting content onto your device, but what about getting it back off? If you take photos using your phone’s camera, you’ll likely want to transfer them to your computer for later viewing. Once again, The Missing Sync can do this, but there are a couple of free alternatives.  iPhoto can transfer photos the same way as it does for an iPhone. Just plug in your phone, and it’ll appear in the iPhoto sidebar under Devices. You can then go ahead and choose the photos you want to import.

For non-iPhoto users, you can also use Image Capture, which comes with all Macs and can be found in the Applications folder. It’s not as pretty as iPhoto, but it allows you to choose the exact folder to store imported photos in, and also lets you delete photos from your device. Strangely, although it’s called Image Capture, the application also picks up the MP3s stored on my SD card, but other than that, it works as you’d expect.

Backing Up

Anyone who’s had to restore an iPhone knows the importance of iTunes’ automatic backups. By using the MyBackup Pro app on your Android device, you can either save a backup of your content to your SD card, or to the MyBackup servers, where it’ll be available even if you lose your phone. It costs $4.99, but in the long term, it may be able to save you from hours of work getting all your content back if something goes wrong. You can even schedule backups so you can just set up and forget.

Wrap-up

So there are some ways to replace iTunes for use with an Android device. I don’t doubt that there are many other solutions out there, but these are the ones I use. If you’d rather have everything in one place, and don’t mind spending $40, go for The Missing Sync. Otherwise, almost everything else I’ve mentioned here is free.

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