Sync data using MobileMe or Google

Sync data using MobileMe or Google

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One significant drawback to this way of syncing notes is that although you can see them on the MobileMe Website (in the Notes mailbox within the Mail app), you can’t edit them there.

Bookmarks If you select the Bookmarks checkbox in the Sync view of MobileMe System Preferences on each of your Macs, OS X syncs Safari’s bookmarks between them; no further configuration is needed. On an iOS device, tap Settings -> Mail, Contacts, Calendars -> Your MobileMe Account and make sure the Bookmarks switch is set to On. Bookmark syncing via MobileMe applies only to Safari (on either OS X or iOS). See “Other sync options” for a suggestion about syncing bookmarks across Mac browsers.

Troubleshooting Because syncing is inherently complex, errors and unexpected behavior can occur—especially if you frequently go without Internet access on one or more devices. A complete troubleshooting guide would require many pages, but I can give you a few quick tips:

  • Set data change alerts. MobileMe can optionally notify you if a pending sync would change more than a small amount of data. This warning can help you avoid problematic syncs (click Cancel when you see the alert, and reset your sync data as in the next tip). To adjust this behavior, open the MobileMe pane of System Preferences, click the Sync tab, and click Advanced. At the bottom of the dialog that appears, select Show Alert When X Of The Data On This Computer Will Be Changed, and choose an amount (I suggest the More Than 25% option) from the pop-up menu.
  • Resolve sync conflicts. In certain situations—particularly when one of your devices is offline for a while—you could end up changing a particular contact, event, bookmark, or other data on two different devices in between syncs. When this happens, OS X doesn’t know which version you want to use, so it presents a Conflict Resolver dialog. Click Review Now to see what items are in conflict, click the one you want to use, and then (if there’s more than one), click Continue and repeat the process as needed.

In the Advanced dialog, you can configure the Data Change Alert and reset sync data, among other activities.

  • Reset sync data. If you know or suspect that your data has gotten badly out of sync, you can reset it—that is, replace the synced data on your Mac with the copy that’s on the MobileMe servers or vice-versa. To do this, open the MobileMe pane of System Preferences, click the Sync tab, and click Advanced. At the bottom of the dialog that appears, click Reset Sync Data. Then choose the type of data to replace (or All Sync Info, to replace everything) from the pop-up menu at the top, and choose the direction in which the replacement should occur by clicking one of the arrows. Click Replace, and a new sync begins immediately.
  • Use the Sync menu. The Sync menu that you enabled earlier lets you force a sync to occur immediately (choose Sync Now) or stop a sync in progress (choose Cancel Sync). Starting in Snow Leopard, it also has some hidden features. Hold down the Option key while clicking the menu, and you’ll see additional commands. Choose Open Sync Diagnostics to collect data from your system about a problematic sync and send it to Apple for analysis; or, for problems not solved by resetting sync data, choose Reset Sync Services. This command leaves your data intact but erases your sync history, which can solve certain tricky sync problems.

Syncing with Google

For e-mail, contacts, and calendars, Google’s services offer features that closely parallel what MobileMe has—and without costing you a cent. You can sync your data between multiple computers and the cloud; you can access it in any Web browser; and you can choose over-the-air push synchronization for mobile devices. For other types of data (to-do items, notes, and bookmarks), the syncing story is much different, but with some effort, you can achieve much of what MobileMe offers, at a fraction of the price.

Be aware, though, that because of differences between the way Google stores data and the ways Address Book and iCal do, some items (including Address Book groups and the “floating” time zone in iCal) don’t sync at all, while others are subject to occasional mutilation as they try to fit into Google’s categories, and vice-versa.

Basic setup Before you begin, if you haven’t already done so, back up all the contact and calendar data on your Mac, as discussed earlier. If you’re using Google Apps (for a custom domain name), also make sure you’ve enabled Google Sync for your domain by following Google’s instructions. And, if you use an iOS device, be sure you sync it with your Mac using its existing settings.

E-mail If you’re content to use a browser for e-mail, then syncing is a non-issue. However, if you prefer to use a conventional e-mail client such as Mail in OS X or iOS, you can set it up to access your Gmail account. Gmail lets you connect using POP, IMAP, or Exchange ActiveSync protocols, but only the latter two automatically keep all your e-mail in sync across devices. (And, although you can use either protocol under iOS, Google doesn’t currently support connecting from OS X via Exchange ActiveSync. But it’s no problem to use Exchange ActiveSync under iOS and IMAP, for the same account, under OS X.)

Before you can access your Gmail account from Mail, you must turn on IMAP support. To do this, go to (or, if you use Google Apps for a custom Gmail domain name, go to the URL you normally use) and log in. Click on the Settings link, click Forwarding And POP/IMAP, and then, in the IMAP Access section, select the Enable IMAP checkbox. Click Save Changes.

Next, in Mail on OS X, choose Mail -> Preferences, click Accounts, and click the + (plus) icon. Enter your full name, your Gmail address (for Google Apps users, include the @ sign and the domain name), and your password, and click Create. Mail automatically configures the account to use IMAP.

On an iOS 4 device, the easiest way to configure Gmail to use IMAP is to tap Settings -> Mail, Contacts, Calendars -> Add Account -> Gmail, enter your credentials, tap Next, and then (after your credentials are verified) tap Done.

However, you can also access your Gmail account on your iOS device using Exchange ActiveSync, which gives you the option of push e-mail and automatically syncs your Google calendars and contacts without any further hassles. The instructions for setting up your iOS device to access Gmail using Exchange ActiveSync are somewhat lengthy, but Google spells out all the details on its Website.

Contacts in OS X To sync Address Book with Gmail Contacts’ My Contacts list, open Address Book, choose Address Book -> Preferences, click Accounts, select On My Mac in the Accounts list on the left, and then click the Account Information tab. Select the Synchronize With Google checkbox, and then click Configure. If you’re setting up Google syncing for the first time, an alert appears explaining about the synchronization process; read this and click Agree. Then, in the dialog box that appears, enter your Gmail address in the Google Account field and your password in the Password field, and click OK. You may see a warning that Address Book can’t verify the identity of the server; if so, click Continue.

Next, make sure the Sync menu appears in your Mac’s menu bar, as discussed earlier. Choose Sync Now from the Sync menu. During the initial sync, if the Conflict Resolver window appears, click Review Now, decide which version of each contact to use, and then click Sync Now. After the first sync, OS X should sync changes once per hour, although you can sync manually at any time by using the Sync Now command.

Calendars in OS X To sync iCal with Google Calendar, open iCal, choose iCal -> Preferences, click on Accounts, and click the plus (+) button. Choose Google from the Account Type pop-up menu, and enter your full e-mail address (whether ending in or your custom domain) in the Email Address field and your password in the Password field, and click on Create. You may see a warning that iCal can’t verify the identity of the server; if so, click Continue. Your primary Google calendar then appears in iCal. To sync additional Google calendars, click the Delegation tab in the Preferences window and select the Show checkbox for one or more calendars.

To sync iCal with Google Calendar, enter your Gmail credentials in this dialog, and then follow the prompts.

This procedure syncs existing Google calendars with iCal, but not the other way around. To move your existing iCal data into Google Calendar, find one of your calendars in Google on the left side of the screen, click the Settings button beneath it, click Import Calendar next to the Create New Calendar button, and then in the dialog box that appears, click Browse, navigate to the iCal backup file you created earlier, and select it. In the Import Calendar dialog box, select the calendar to which you’d like to add the events (if you have more than one) from the Calendar pop-up menu and then click the Import button to bring your calendar info in.

By default, iCal syncs with Google Calendar every 15 minutes (or when you add, delete, or change an event on your Mac), but you can change the interval if you prefer by clicking on the Account Information tab in the Preferences window and choosing a new value from the Refresh Calendars pop-up menu.

When you’re finished configuring a Gmail account on your iOS device to use Exchange ActiveSync, the screen should look something like this.
Calendars and contacts in iOS To sync contacts and calendars on your iOS device, go to Settings -> Mail, Contacts, Calendars and tap Add Account at the bottom of the Accounts list. Tap Microsoft Exchange, enter the full e-mail address associated with your Google account in the Username field and your password in the Password field; leave Domain blank. Tap Next. If an Unable To Verify Certificate message appears, tap Accept. In the Server field, enter, and tap Next again. Make sure Contacts and Calendars are turned on (plus Mail, if you want to sync your Gmail e-mail using Exchange ActiveSync) and tap Done. When prompted to choose how to handle existing data, tap Delete. Synchronization begins momentarily, and everything happens wirelessly.

To-Do items Whereas Apple considers to-do items to be calendar data, in Google’s world, Tasks (to-do items) are part of Gmail, not Google Calendar. Partly because of this difference, and partly because Google doesn’t use a standard mechanism (such as WebDAV) to provide access to task data, there’s no direct way to synchronize your iCal to-do items with Gmail Tasks.

However, there is a third-party Mac application called iGTask for iCal that can sync to-do items between iCal and Gmail Tasks (see “Other sync options”). Alternatively, you can skip iCal altogether and simply manage all your tasks in Gmail Tasks in a Web browser.

On iOS devices, Apple provides no way at all to sync or view to-do items. However, if you visit in Safari on your mobile device, Google presents you with a special version of your task list that’s optimized for small screens. This method doesn’t store your tasks for offline access, but in other respects it’s a good way to access Gmail Tasks on your mobile device.

Notes Google has no service that corresponds closely to Apple’s notion of notes. However, if you use IMAP to access your Gmail account, you can see (though not edit) notes you create in Mail, or in the iOS Notes app, in Gmail (marked with a Notes label).

If you set up your Gmail account to use IMAP (as is the case when you tap Gmail when choosing an account type), go to Settings -> Mail, Contacts, Calendars -> Your Gmail Account and tap the switch next to Notes to turn it on.

However, if you use Exchange ActiveSync to access your Gmail account, the Notes option doesn’t appear. Therefore, to get this capability you must set up an additional account on your iOS device. Tap Settings -> Mail, Contacts, Calendars -> Add Account, and then Gmail. Enter your Gmail credentials and then turn on Notes but turn off Mail and Calendars (to avoid duplicate data on your device).

Bookmarks Google can sync bookmarks from its Chrome browser between computers, and can also provide an editable list of bookmarks at that you can access within any browser window. However, unlike MobileMe, Google offers no option for syncing Safari’s built-in bookmark list (either the desktop or iOS version). For an alternative, see “Other sync options.”

[Senior contributor Joe Kissell is the senior editor of TidBits and the author of the e-book Take Control of MobileMe (TidBITS Publishing, 2010)].

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