Google Sync: Replace Exchange or MobileMe sync for free

Google Sync: Replace Exchange or MobileMe sync for free

I dropped my MobileMe account about a year ago after I figured out that I could replicate nearly every feature it offers for free.  The $99 a year just didn’t seem worth it any more.  We’re hoping to cover as much of that process as possible, starting with Calendar, Contact and Email sync. I will say this, MobileMe is easy (at least when it works) and this guide is meant to be a how-to for the really adventurous types in the audience.  Anyone could follow this guide, but it’s a lot of work — work that most people wouldn’t want to endure (that’s why we can do it for you).  We wouldn’t say that Google Sync is easy to get syncing between all of your Apple devices, but once you’re done… it’s relatively pain free.

Obviously, in order to follow this guide, you will need a Mac, an iOS device and a Google account.  We’re definitely not here to advertise for Google, but if you’re looking for over-the-air sync for calendars, contacts and email… Google is pretty much the only option.  We’re also focusing on the latest version of Snow Leopard (10.6.5 as of this article) and don’t not guarantee the same results with other versions of the Mac operating system.  If you’ve already tried syncing with Google by yourself, we’d suggest scratching that and starting over with this guide.  It has been tested thoroughly and is the “proper” way to get everything in sync.

We’re going to start with Calendars.  We’ll come back to contacts and email in part two and three of this Guide.  Don’t worry; they’ll be here shortly.  Click the link below to read the whole article with images to illustrate the necessary steps.

One more thing… do NOT follow Google’s instructions.  Nothing will work properly.  (Sorry, Google)

First things first, go to Google and sign in.  We’d suggest having this window open in one tab and your Google account open in another to make things a little easier for you.  Once logged in, click over to your Calendar so we can start the configuration.  All individual calendars must be created from the Google website, they cannot be added from iCal or whatever other program you’re using.  You should be able to sync your Google calendar with anything that uses the CalDAV standard, but we’re going to specifically focus on iCal.

If you already have calendars in iCal, don’t worry, we get those easily transferred to Google.  We’ll start with the instructions to import your current calendars.  From iCal’s left panel, select the individual calendar you’d like to export and Click “File – Export – Export.”  Name you calendar and save it to your desktop for easy access.  Click back over to your Google calendar and under “My calendars” choose settings.  The new page will show you all of the calendars that exist on your Google account.  In order to import the information we just exported from iCal, you’ll need to first create a new calendar.  Click “Create New Calendar” add a calendar name to it (generally the same name as the iCal info you just exported) and click “Create Calendar.”  You’re now ready to import your information.  Back on the calendar settings page you’ll see “Import Calendar” right next to the create calendar button.  If you click that, you’ll be able to choose the exported file from iCal and import it into the Google calendar you just created.  Done.  Rinse and repeat for every calendar you’d like to transfer to Google.  By the way, this whole process can be repeated following the same general steps for Calendars from Entourage or Outlook.

If you’re not interested in transferring calendars to Google, you’re life is a lot easier.  All you need to do is create the new calendars in Google’s web interface and then move onto the next step: setting up iCal for Google Calendars.

Head back over to iCal and click “iCal – Preferences – Accounts” from the menu bar.  This will take you to the window you need to add your newly created Google calendar to iCal.  Click the plus button at the bottom left portion of that window.  For Account Type, please select Google.  Put your email address (this can be done regular Gmail accounts or Google Apps accounts) and password into the corresponding fields and then click create.  Assuming all of the information was input correctly, iCal will shake hands with Google and your iCal will begin syncing with your online Calendar.

If you created multiple Calendars on Google, you’ll need to add them as delegates to iCal.  Before closing out the Account windows, click over the “Delegation” tab and check the box next to each Calendar you’d like to sync with iCal.  Remember, new Google calendars cannot be created from iCal.  You’ll need to use the web interface every time you’d like to add a new calendar.  Obviously, events can be modified with iCal… it’s just the creation of calendars that doesn’t work.

That’s it for the iCal setup.  If you’re interested in syncing your calendars with multiple computers, or other users on the same computer… just add your Google account to each computer/user you’d like to sync.  Now let’s get the calendar syncing with your iOS device.

These steps will work on any iOS mobile device that’s running iOS3 or better.  Obviously, we’d recommend using the latest version of iOS (4.2.1 as of this article) in order to get the best results.  iPad, iPhone or iPod touch — the steps should be the same for each device.

Let’s be clear here, there are two ways to get your Google info syncing with iOS: Google Sync which acts like an Exchange server or manually adding Calendars, Contacts and Email to your device.  We’re going to be setting up Contacts with Google Sync, but Calendars and Email do not work properly on iOS devices, so we need to do those manually.  For calendars, we’re going to be using CalDAV.  You can actually sync Calendar events just fine with “Google Sync” but it doesn’t maintain the proper calendar colors that you’ve setup either in Google or iCal.  CalDAV is the only sync option that properly maintains your calendar colors.

On your iOS device, go to the Settings app, tap “Mail, Contacts and Calendars,” tap “Add Account” and choose “Other.”  The next step is to tap “Add CalDAV Account.”  Here you’re going to enter the settings for your Google calendar.  The server is “google.com” – the username is your email address – the password is your email password – and the description is whatever you’d like it to be… I usually call it “Google Calendars.”  Your iOS device will then shake hands with Google and you’ll be syncing.  You’re not done yet though.  If you go into the Calendar app, you’ll notice that only one calendar is showing up.  That’s because we haven’t told Google that we want to see all of our calendars on our iOS device.  Click the link below to do that:

https://www.google.com/calendar/iphoneselect

You can access that link from anywhere; it doesn’t need to be your iOS device.  Sign in and check the box next to each calendar you’d like to sync with your device and then click save.  You’ll see those calendars show up on your iOS device within a matter of minutes.  If you insist on using Google Sync (why would you?) for your Calendars, you’ll need to go to a different URL directly on your iOS device:

https://m.google.com/sync

That page acts as your device manager for the exchange-based Google Sync services.  We definitely don’t recommend setting up your device that way, but if you must… choose your iOS device from the list and check the box next to each calendar.  Then click save and you’ll see the calendars show up on your device.  Again, this method does not properly sync calendar colors.

That’s it.  As we mentioned before, it’s definitely not for the faint of heart but it works consistently once you’re all said and done.  Please let us know if you have any questions about our guide in the comments.  We’d be happy to help.