Friday, September 05, 2008

iPhone work/home synchronization and dual machine sync - not impossible

I wrote a few weeks ago that the iPhone was unlikely to support work/home calendar integration. I previously wrote that you can't sync via the USB cable to two different machines.

Wrong on both counts.

First Alan Faichney tells me he follows this routine:
the [home] iTunes machine is the "primary" machine and gets to do the backup. The route I use to synchronise uses Entourage:
  • Exchange Server
  • <- work network ->
  • Entourage on laptop
  • <- laptop sync services ->
  • iCal on laptop
  • <- USB / iTunes sync ->
  • iPhone
The whole Entourage calendar is synched to a single iCal calendar (called "Entourage"!) It means that iCal can't see Outlook categories (Groupcal tried to do this better on Tiger, but it always ended in tears for me), but it does mean that you can keep personal iCal / iPhone calendars out of Exchange Server.

I'm pretty sure I don't follow Alan's setup completely, but it seems the secret is using iCal between the iPhone and Entourage.

So that tells us what's possible if you hack the loopholes, but David Pogue's iPhone Tips and Tricks tells us that Apple has a supported framework for work/home synchronization and an approved method for synchronizing at multiple machines. (Yes, I bought the book. I hate to pay $25 for a computer book, but Pogue had me with these tips. It's a beautiful book and he has the deep knowledge.)

First of all, if you set iTunes to only do manual sync (no auto sync), then you can configure it to sync some things at one machine, and different things at another machine. It can do the backup at home, for example. You probably can't safely sync the same items at two machines however. So this is good for syncing iTunes at home and for what Alan does, but it doesn't get you to easy work/home calendar unification.

To get work/home integration you must abandon the old world of physical connections for calendar and contacts synchronization. Yes, Apple has a vision, and it doesn't involve the USB cable.

The iPhone has a concept of wireless calendar (and contact) providers. So you can have one provider that's MobileMe (personal data) and one that's Exchange server. Both can coexist. I haven't tried this yet myself, but I will research it.

When you go this route I don't think you can sync your iPhone with iCal any longer -- the world of physical cable based synchronization is gone. On the other hand iCal will sync (hourly) with MobileMe, and iCal will sync via Spanning Sync with Google Calendar, so if you're feeling very brave I suppose iCal might bridge gCal and MobileMe, and MobileMe will bridge to the iPhone, which can also connect to exchange server ...

What's the chance of that all working?

Seems low, but the fact that there is some path to work/home calendar sync is heartening.

Now if MobileMe would introduce calendar sharing/subscription or a connection to gCal, or if Google introduces an MobileMe like calendar service for the iPhone ...

Update 11/2/08: North221 has a good comment explaining how Entourage enables selective sync, but it's pretty much read only. I have a later article on work home calendar sync using Google Calendar and Spanning Sync.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Entourage has a setting which causes its appointments, tasks, and contacts to sync to iCal and Addressbook. Since iCal has no "categories" (field in Entourage/MSExchange/MsOutlook) all Entourage calendar entries are in a separate iCal called "Entourage") you can then cable or mobile me sync to the iCal data. BUT don't two-way it. i.e. don't also sync the office machine to MobileMe (now barred anyway). Or you can use pocketmac gobetween which will preserve categories when syncing between entourage and ical.