Sunday, September 27, 2009

iPhone Google Sync - Mail and Google Apps

I've been a pretty happy Google ActiveSync (Exchange services) customer since they saved my iPhone last February. The only downside has been that you can only have one Exchange account per phone, so if my employer ever enables Exchange support for iPhones I'll have some touch choices.

Today I've got some updates based on configuring Emily's new 3GS yesterday. One update is that you can now configure this for Google Apps accounts like our family domain, another is the difference between IMAP email and ActiveSync email.

Since Emily's primary email is through our family domain (free) Google App suite I had to learn the Google Apps configuration. It's a bit obscure, but not too bad.

First, your Google Apps domain admin has to go to Mobile Services setup and enable synchronization.

Then you have to follow Google's Exchange services setup directions on your phone. It's a bit weird, since it's easy to miss the step where you get the option to enter the Google server address.

So far, not so bad. But, of course, you're a power user. You have to push it, don't you? You want to be able to sync all your subscribed calendars to your iPhone, not just your primary calendar.

This is where it gets weird. I'll tell you what I did ...
  1. In iPhone Safari enter the URL from the phone.
  2. Look for the link that does setup for Google Apps. It's easy to miss, I think its towards the bottom of the screen you see.
  3. Do the Google Apps setup. NOW when you enter you see a new Google Apps section. Look for "Sync" and click it.
  4. Now you get to see all your Google calendar subscriptions and you can add all of them.
Clearly this is a beta type configuration, I assume Google will fix it up some day (though sometimes they don't fix things!).

So far this is much like what I did for my personal Gmail setup, just with a few odd quirks. Mail, however, is new. You can enable an ActiveSync connection to Gmail instead of the older IMAP connection I use.

For Emily I enabled ActiveSync mail. If you're doing Contacts and Calendar it's an easy way to add email. From what I'd read I assumed it would behave very much like IMAP, but that's wrong. If you have Mail sound on in Settings then every time email hits your inbox your phone "pings" -- even if it's asleep. So your email behaves more like instant messaging (or BB email). The mail icon always shows the current unread message count, and it updates within a second or two of email transmission. [see update]

We turned off the "ping" sound -- though it would be "nice" to be able to configure that for certain senders.

One last comment that's probably most relevant to BlackBerry users. Until we retired Emily's Pearl she used 'Missing Sync for BlackBerry' to sync to Address Book, and Google Sync/BlackBerry to sync to Contacts. This meant she had one address book.

Now things aren't so neat. Her Google Contacts sync to her iPhone Exchange account, her Address Book syncs to her iPhone 'on my mac' account. So her old pool of one set of contact has just become two! I have the same problem; I need to explore some solution for the both of us. (Maybe I’ll return to Spanning Sync).
Update: When browsing Emily’s iPhone Contact Groups I found this novel entry at the end of the Groups list: “Google apps Global Address…”. It lets me search all contacts – I wonder if it’s the precursor for some kind of Google Apps Domain directory (an obvious need). As of today there are NO Google hits on this string with “iPhone”, so it must be quite new.

Update: I reverted Emily to IMAP. The Exchange mail setup was saving drafts her emails to the trash folder every few seconds. This feature needs more work.

Incidentally, Google's IMAP directions, esp the recommended IMAP client settings are badly written. In particular they do a poor job of explaining why one shouldn't use Apple's default Gmail setup. I've done it both ways, and I prefer the way Apple's setup works.

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