Saturday, February 16, 2013

Google Contact Sync on Mountain Lion and iOS - CardDAV (Project Contacts 2013)

I'm rather late to this party [6], but around the time Google ended ActiveSync support for unpaid accounts [1] they added vCard 3 (1998) based CardDAV support [3]. Up until then one could sync iOS and OS X mail and Calendars via IMAP and CalDAV, but Contact sync was only via Active Sync. [2]

TUAW has some details and Google's iOS CardDAV instructions are here.

As we all know, synchronization is hell. Even if Apple and Google actually used the same vCard spec (probably vCard 3, 1998), and even if they agreed on newline characters, they still have to deal with distinctions between their internal data models and vCard. Some of those data model gaps are non-computable. [5]. Even thought Google and Apple have similar 'Group' models that relationship metadata is ignored [8].

That said, at least CardDAV is relatively Apple friendly. Most importantly, this standard means, for the very first time I know of [7], there's a somewhat supported way to synchronize Contacts between Google and OS X Contacts and iOS contacts.

I've begun using it on Mountain Lion. Since I use Google two factor authentication I had to use one of their totally-defeats-the-purpose-giant-security-hole-not-single-use-god-i-hate-passwords-humans-are-losing-the-battle alternative passwords. There was some kind of transient authentication glitch but on a second try it worked. After a few minutes I had all 634 of my Google "My Contacts" on my Mac. Because of the long history of my Google/Apple Contact sync efforts (See Also, below) these largely duplicate my Address Book/iCloud contacts -- but Mountain Lion Contacts.app seems to merge the duplicates when I search [9].

This looks promising in a terrifying sort of way. You can drag and drop contacts between the iCloud and Google Contact lists; they'll be copied.

So what about Snow Leopard? Many fine machines run Snowie (and should not upgrade to Lion even if they theoretically can). They're (more or less) cut off from iCloud. Does CardDAV sync work with Google now? I wonder about adopting Hsiaio's technique, but so far the answer is no (same with Yahoo CardDAV). I didn't find much research on this question, but I suspect it's a combination of 10.6 bugs and SSL requirements. [9]. There is some limited Google Contacts sync on Snow Leopard that some still use.

- fn - lots

[1] Google grandfathered my half-dozen Google Apps accounts and recently extended the termination date for non-Apps users.

[2] Google says Google Apps accounts should use "Google Sync", which is their implementation of Microsoft's Exchange Server derived ActiveSync (with different bugs one assumes).

[3] vCard over HTTP/WebDAV. vCard has been Apple's Contact/Address Book export option for as long as I can recall, so it may be a good match to their Contact data model. CardDAV is also used by Apple's ancient Address Book Server. vCard 4 2011 has old-style and XML representations, but I suspect Apple, like Google, is more or less on 1998's vCard 3.

Google's vCard implementation has limits; worse the only partly implement the 1998 vCard 3 spec: "why did Google move the ADR extended address "Oak and Pine" into the street address component? And worse still, why did it separate the two using an '\r\n' (CRLF) sequence? The VCard 3.0 specification clearly states that CRLF must be escaped by the single escape sequence '\n', not by '\r\n'".[4]

[4] Reading the last line of [3], by the way, a penny dropped. Apple changed the way they handled CRLF and vCard between MobileMe and iCloud, with near-disastrous consequences for my OS X Contacts. By Darwin, I hate the ancient DOS/unix/mac line newline debacle.

[5] Meaning data loss is inevitable, transferring a Contact between systems won't return the original. Incidentally, under my TrueName, I've spent 15 years dealing with interoperability issues in healthcare - from HL7 to TermInfo to SNOMED/RxNORM and back again via cCCD and the like. If you understand why CardDAV is hard, then you have a glimmer of a smidgen of a hint of an idea why we don't have true interoperability between EpicCare and Cerner -- and why we won't for decades.

I think the people who trudge away on vCardX are heroic figures who should be carried upon our shoulders. Forget Ive, these people do the work I rely on.

[6] The marketing/interest problem is unsolved -- largely because of the spam/advertising counter-current. I'm very interested in productivity software and I follow a number of related feeds; but I still miss news like this.

[7] Check out "See also" - lots of history here.

[8] Looking at Apple's braindead implementation of iOS Contacts and Groups I'd pin this failure on Cupertino and Apple's corporate silos.

[9] A friend of mine has a 10.6 MacBook and needs to use Google's world (as do we all). I think the easiest way to manager her Contract migration will be to get them to iOS/Google and then use Gmail web on Mac. I may put them on an account on my ML machine to help with cleanup.

[9] So which gets edited when one clicks "Edit" in Mac Contacts.app? Don't ask those questions. OS X doesn't say.

See also - via Gordon's Tech

Yeah, I've been fighting this war a long time. February 2009, almost exactly 4 years ago, was a big series of battles, but the 2008 PalmOS to iOS migration was probably the worst (later there were tools). I've read recently that Apple is an intensely siloed company -- that explains why iOS and OS X contract integration is so very bad.

1 comment:

The ungracious one said...

You might be my hero. This is comprehensive, well researched and documented. If every blog posting on the internet was like this...

Currently I'm attempting to get AddressBook and Apple Mail 'previous recipients' into Google Apps in OS X Lion 10.7.

CardDAV connection to Google Apps does not work. The AddressBook 'sync to Google' option does not work.

I am starting to think it might be easier to access the underlying SQLite3 databases that hold AddressBook and Previous Recipients data, and push the data up to Google Apps using the API.

Getting the data is the easy bit, import and exporting is pretty easy, but syncing...