iPhone and Google Syncing

It’s been well documented on the web already, but I figured since I had a few posts on iphone and Nokia syncing, I figured it was worth re-posting that Google announced yesterday that they now supported mobile syncing with iPhones, among other platforms. I haven’t switched from my previous set up yet, but all indications are that it is the same procedure, simply skipping the 3rd party, which is always a plus.

3rd party web services come and go; there’s little doubt in my mind Google isn’t going anywhere. It uses the same Exchange server technology, so the same caveat that the previous solution had still exists. You are only allowed one Exchange server connection, so if for some reason you are using it with say, Exchange, you won’t be able to sync your Google calendar or contacts.

Late to the Party—My 99 Dollar iPhone

Though the fact that most who know me consider me to be a “Mac fan boy”, over the years I’ve become quite the hesitant buyer due to the common malady of being always afraid of a new and better version being right around the corner. Add to that my disdain for the requirement of signing a long term contract with cell phone carriers, I have been living with antiquated mobile technology. That is, until AT&T offered $99 refurbished 8 gig 3G iPhones in a post Christmas promotion (the offer was only good through 12/31/08). I figured at that price, no matter what might come around the corner, I wouldn’t feel bitten if a new model came out 3 months after buying. Couple that with the fact that the non-contract plan I had with AT&T was creeping up close to the lowest iPhone plan, I took the plunge. The phone arrived already set up, much to my surprise. I didn’t have to go through any registration to speak of, I plugged it in, named it, updated the software, and it was ready to go. The phone came with the standard headphones, the USB connector, the wall charger attachment, and I would have never known it was a refurbished item aesthetically. The refurbished phone even has the same 1 year warranty that a new iPhone comes with. I haven’t checked on extending the warranty with Apple Care; I’m not even sure if it’s an option.

Primary Hurdle

hurdleAs I’ve blogged about recently, , I have been using Thunderbird 3.0 and the nightly build of Lightning calendar extension, and didn’t want to change that system. The same issues that I had with the Nokia are present with the iPhone. However, goosync wasn’t an option for the iPhone. Something to do with Apple not allowing access to the built in calendar. Some extensive Googling didn’t turn up many options, save using NuevaSync, yet another 3rd party “beta” service. Some of the initial concerns people had with NuevaSync were sharing their Google username and password, however that’s long since been remedied, as they use Google account authentication. Meaning, once you register with Nuevasync, you only provide your Google user name, and Google will authenticate your account with the Nuevasync account, no password is ever passed to Nuevasync. The only downside is if you are already using an Exchange account (for email for instance), you will not be able to also use Nuevasync, as the iPhone only supports one Exchange server synchronization. Set up for Nuevasync is well documented on their site, straight forward and very simple. I did have a bit of trouble actually getting the iPhone calendar to sync with my Google calendar, and quite honestly, I’m not sure what I did to finally get it to sync. Disabling, then re-enabling the account might have been the trick, but as I’ve been suffering a cold, it could have been user error, however, within their documentation, they have several troubleshooting tips and nothing I did was outside their suggestions.. Needless to say, my iPhone calendar is synced to my Google Apps calendar, desktop iCal, and Thunderbird 3.0/Lighting 1.0pre. Unlike with goosync and my Nokia, there is no need to manually sync the calendars. Nuevsnyc also supports sync contacts within your Google account, but I have no need to use that service, as I also believe iSync supports Google contact syncing (something I’ve kvetched about previously in that you have to have an iPhone/iPod to enable that feature).

Moving from calendar, next was email. I had previously used Apple Mail.app with my Google Apps IMAP accounts, so they synced directly to the phone on first sync. I did need to modify some advanced settings regarding mailboxes for things like drafts and sent mail, but that’s common when setting up IMAP accounts and email clients. Google has well documented the settings, so I won’t rehash the obvious. Previously I was using Google’s mobile mail app on the Nokia, and was a bit hesitant about using the native mail client, but so far I’ve been quite pleased with it, and have no qualms.

Syncing my contacts, along with email addresses in my Google Apps account was also a seamless process. It also the catalyst I needed to do a much needed cleaning of my address book. I’ve been a user of the (neglected) Google service Grand Central for some time now, and though it’s a handy one, it’s support for mobile devices leaves more than something to be desired. My only attempt to play a voice message via their mobile site failed to play the .mp3, and from previous use on the Nokia, is all but useless. However, I found a handy iPhone app, Grand Dialer, which allows you to call a contact directly from your address book with your Grand Central number, so for the occasion you need to call a client and do not want to expose your personal cell number, you’re covered. (Google, if you are listening, please, no, make that pretty please give Grand Central some love, even if that means a nominal monthly fee).

LIke any new iPhone user, I spent a fair amount of time perusing the App Store. Again, I won’t rehash the obvious and common popular apps. I didn’t really test any of the alternatives to the mobile versions of the desktop apps I knew I wanted. As I use NetNewsWire on the desktop, it was an obvious choice for the iPhone. My unread feeds are synced with my desktop, so I’m never reading feeds I’ve already read. Also, for Twitter, I simply chose the ad supported version of Twitterific, same as on the desktop.

The Camera

I’d become accustomed to being one of the few people left on the planet to not have a camera on their cell phone, and didn’t think it would be something I’d take much interest in now that I did, but I did explore some of the apps available. Merlin Mann blogged abouttaking pictures with his iphoneright about the time I ordered my phone, so I booked marked the app he mentioned, Camera Bag. It was actually the first app I purchased. My next search for was for an app that would allow me to upload my camera shots to Flickr. Flickr does have the native ability to email photos directly, however the combination of the email client and Flickr (not sure which does it), the images are resized to 640×480. Granted if you get a really good shot and want to post the bigger one, you’ve got the image on the camera, could snyc it to iPhoto, and then upload it, but if an app could save that step, why not give it a shot? So far, the free Klick app seems to fit the bill. Due to the aforementioned cold, I’ve not really explored the Klick too extensively, but I was able to upload a full size image via the 3G network with no problems, though I haven’t figured out if I can add an image to a set via the app. The other app I’ve download is Dark Room (App Store link). This app uses the accelerometer for a “steady cam”. Basically it waits until the camera isn’t moving to snap the pic, which is handy for low light situations. A case I’m curious about is the Griffin Clarifi, which has a built in macro like lens for taking close up shots. Apparently the iPhone lens doesn’t do well at focusing below twelve inches. This would be handy as the technology and apps evolve on snapping UPC codes and doing info/price comparison queries. Also for going paperless, and just snapping business cards, receipts, etc.

The Final Frontier

Like most people, I struggle with being organized and actually productive, and often fall into the trap of perpetually tweaking a system, rather than actually getting things done. I’ve yet to find the right piece of software that just fits, seemingly having tried them all, Actiontastic, Omni Focus, Things, the list goes on. However, I’m leaning towards Remember the Milk, and am testing a combination of using Fluid.app to run RTM on the desktop, and the iPhone app. I’m not sold yet. One iPhone app I found is CheckOff, a relatively simple list app. What is nice about it is something I’ve not really seen in another list type app. You can create templates for often repeated tasks. So each time you want the list, you do not have to recreate it. I’d actually love to have a desktop app that does the same thing. I’m still searching for the set of tools that fit like that favorite pair of jeans, and would sincerely love for any and all suggestions. I’d even entertain scrapping my use of Thunderbird and Lightning if the shoe fit.

Calendar Syncing: Lightning, Google, iCal and Nokia e62

syncI’m still railing against signing a contract with a cell carrier, so I haven’t purchased a new phone in some time, but the bigger need to have a more robust cell phone these days had me revive my Nokia e62. All in all, it’s a pretty good phone, with a decent built in browser (based on Webkit if I recall) and works well with my existing pay as I go plan. I even managed to coax an unlimited data plan out of AT&T. The e62 also plays pretty well with my Macs—bluetooth syncing of contacts and calendar, the Nokia Media manager will sync an iTunes folder directly to the phone, so a 2GB card gives me a decent amount of music for on the go.

Anyway, I recently began using Thunderbird 3.0, aka Shredder, which is still pre beta. That meant to really use it, I had to use the nightly build of Lightning, 1.0pre. As with any Mozilla alpha product, you can expect most extensions to not work, which certainly is the case with these two. I really like the combination, despite the occasional glitches, and wanted to find a way to sync Lightning with the phone. What an adventure that turned out to be.

Everything I found searching the web suggested using an extension for syncing the Google Calendar with Lightning, which obviously wasn’t compatible with these versions, and even testing it with the stable releases, I couldn’t get it to work, so off I searched for another way. Enter GCALDaemon, something I’d seen written about on several ocassions but had never quite investigated.

Using the Mac OS X installation guidelines (installing in Applications vs usr/local/sbin), and being sure to use the the shell script config-editor definitely is the simplest way. I’m certainly not a black belt in unix-fu, but following the instructions for syncing with Sunbird/Lightning and the config-editor even I was able to get Lighting 1.0pre synced with a Google Apps calendar fairly effortlessly.

The next step was to sync iCal (or so I thought) with the Google Calendar so I could then sync it with my phone. I briefly toyed with GCALDaemon for that too, however my impatience led me to give Google’s Calaboration tool a spin. Fortunately it was quick and painless, and I was soon syncing the same Google Apps calendar with iCal that was synced with Lightning.

However (there’s always a but, isn’t there), I soon found out that you can’t sync from the phone’s calendar to a network calendar. So anything I were to add to the phone, would need to be transferred to the network calendar. I’m pretty lazy as it is, so adding a step like that seemed like a recipe for losing an important date. For iPhone users, this also seems to be the case. So now what?

Another search turned up this post on syncing a Nokia calendar with iCal and Google, and suggested Goosnyc. I wasn’t keen on using a 3rd party service, but I figured I’d test it out at least, and see where it goes. Their SMS to automate the sync settings never arrived, so I followed the Nokia e61/e62 manual syncing instructions, which were spot on (once I figured out that I needed to look in “Office” for the Sync settings), and within a few minutes, my Nokia e62 was synced to my Google Apps calendar which was synced to LIghtning and iCal.

I still need to sort out a few minor issues with the phone now syncing with iCal, as I had some holiday calendars and what not synced to the phone, which then added the dates to the Google Calendar, so in iCal I was getting the same holidays showing up multiple times. That’s easily remedied by not displaying those calendars, but conveniently gives me all of the holidays on the other calendars. I also need to make sure that when I sync the phone to iCal, I don’t get duplicate entries in the local calendar, but again, I think I can get around that by simply creating a “phone” calendar, and hiding it in iCal.

Goosync does require a manual sync to Google Calendar, but that’s less of a hassle than migrating entries from one calendar to the other. All in all, I’m quite pleased now that I can add items directly from an email into my calendar, or right into my phone, and it will conveniently appear in all of my calendars.

If anyone knows of a more seemless method, I’m all ears.