Is Google Sync a shot at MobileMe?

And another piece of the puzzle falls into place. On Monday, Google announced its new Sync beta, based on Microsoft’s ActiveSync technology. So now you can sync your Google Calendars and Google Contacts directly to your iPhone, all without the mediating influence of iTunes.

It’s the kind of thing that would look like a shot across Apple’s bow if it weren’t for the fact that the two companies are apparently the best of pals—Google CEO Eric Schmidt is still sitting on Apple’s board, and it’s not as if the built-in Google search bars in the iPhone and desktop versions of Safari suddenly vanished into thin air.

Still, the move means that Google users now join the hallowed halls previously frequented only by Microsoft Exchange users and those $100 per year MobileMe subscribers (among which you can count yours truly). More to the point, it finally gives the average consumer an option to circumvent MobileMe and still get the service’s extremely attractive over-the-air iPhone syncing superpowers.

On the one hand, it could take a bite out of those thinking about becoming MobileMe subscribers, losing Apple some sweet delectable recurring revenue. The other hand, however, is stacked high with the potential influx of all those existing Gmail and Google Calendar users who may have held off on buying an iPhone.

It was possible to sync your iPhone and Google information before this, but doing so still required you to go through the gatekeeper of iTunes and OS X’s Address Book (or its Windows equivalent) and possibly, depending on the extent of your needs, some additional third-party software.

For me, the addition of Google Sync is just another tick in the column of ways to replace a MobileMe account that is increasingly making me feel like I’m just feeding a hundred dollar bill into the shredder every year. Of course, there’s still all the integration with the rest of Apple’s products and services, the temptations of which make MobileMe harder to escape than the Death Star's tractor beam. Despite that, the improved functionality of free offerings like Google's might mean that Apple’s going to have to juice up the service it’s offering for a premium price. 

That’s not to say that the new Sync isn’t without its shortcomings. Sync doesn’t yet support push e-mail, leaving Gmail users forced into the horrifying reality of only getting their e-mail every five minutes. And while you can sync multiple Google Calendars to the iPhone, you’re limited to just five (you have to configure them by visiting Google’s Sync homepage from your iPhone). Sync’s also in beta, as per the Google philosophy, so it’s got the standard serving of bugs.

The iPhone has limitations too: you can also only have one Exchange account on the iPhone, so if you’ve already got one or you have two Google accounts (a normal, vanilla Google Calendar, for example, and one on a hosted domain), you’ll have to pick just one, unless you can set up calendars to share between them, which is often out of end users' control. MobileMe and Exchange accounts can co-exist safely, however.

In the end, it seems like the introduction of Google Sync is probably good for everybody: Cupertino stands to gain iPhone customers, Mountain View expands its reach in the mobile market, and you—the customer—benefit from increased choice. That's a win-win-win situation. 

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