Sunday, November 02, 2008

iPhone sync to Google contacts - 3 methods and work/home implications

[Before you do this, ready my update!]

Why, among all the OS X blogs I read, have I not come across much discussion of this July 2008 iTunes 7.7 Apple knowledge base article: iTunes: Syncing address book contacts with your Google contacts?

For that matter, why does iTunes OS X have no relevant Help articles on the topic?

Maybe it's because synchronization in OS X/XP/Address Book/Outlook/iTunes/iPhone/MobileMe/Exchange/Google Apps/Yahoo! is just ... you know ... a wee bit complex? Maybe I'm not the only one lost in the mine field?

Well, it's time to explore this particular quadrant. I hope to update this post over the next few days, but here's the first draft.

I have made progress lately with Work/Home integration. I use Google Sync to one way sync work calendar information to a secure calendar outside my family domain. I found traditional "subscription" (.ics) to this calendar failed due to Google Calendar problems, but that I could acquire the data via either iCal CalDAV support or Spanning Sync. The latter seems faster and more reliable and I'm using that.

So what about Gmail contacts?

There are several options:
  1. gContacts for iPhone - pulled from the App store but supposedly to relaunch without trademark issues. I have this, I use it for read-only access to my Google Contacts. No search however.
  2. Spanning Sync for OS X: This will pull Google Contacts into the OS X Address Book. The problem here is duplicate resolution -- I don't know how it works. Note that OS X Address book has a Merge facility I've never tested.
  3. iTunes 7.7+ will supposedly sync Google Calendar contacts to the iPhone directly (not via the Address Book). On XP this will replace your iPhone Address Book, but on OS X it apparently creates a separate "account" so you can sync the iPhone via iTunes and the USB cable to both the OS X Address Book and Google Calendar. Note the iPhone Contacts has a limited search capability.
I'm going to try #3 after I back up my OS X Address Book and my Google Contacts. Be warned, however, that the Google Contacts backup is CSV based and does not include relationships to mailing lists. It is impossible, given the format, to completely restore the data should anything go wrong. At best you will restore an approximation to your original Google Contacts.

The interesting possibility is that one could synchronize Outlook work contacts with Google, then sync that to the iPhone via iTunes, and, on OS X iPhones only, have some integration of work and personal Address Books/Contacts.

Did I mention than Synchronization is Hell?

PS. Despite the lack of documentation, the very existence of this option, and it's implementation as a separate 'account', is encouraging. It suggests Apple may eventually support Google Apps synchronization as a (far better) alternative to MobileMe. Maybe.

Update 11/2/08: Ok, didn't work. I've restored my OS X Address Book from backup.
If you active iTunes sync with multiple sources, it combines them ALL into a SINGLE source, which it then broadcasts back to all sources. So my OS X Address Book, iPhone and Google Contacts all had the sum of all addresses -- without much attempt at reconciliation (though OS X Address has an interesting "detect duplicates" function). I left my Gmail contacts as the sum of all sources, it's never been a very controlled data set so this probably won't cause too much harm. I turned of Gmail synchronization. Someday I'll fix things up, but for today the project is on hold.

Update 12/1/08: See the comments for a bad outcome from one experiment. Synchronization is Hell.


Anonymous said...

Just bought an iPhone 2 days ago. was told I could sync my contacts out of Google. Now that I've spent considerable amount of time online trying to figure it out and speaking to tech support, I don't know what to do & have no idea where to start. HELP! Yes, syncing is hell.

Anonymous said...

I forgot to ask if you have any ideas for a lay person who really knows very little of the terminology normally used in these discussions. E.g., OS X, gCal, etc....

bittersweetie said...

I did it two days after I got my iPhone and have regretted it very much.

For one, right after syncing my Google contacts with my iPhone, suddenly I had entries in my iPhone for every single person I've ever emailed using my Gmail account. The sync does not allow you to select specific Contact Groups, but syncs even the "Suggested contacts" group from your Gmail account.

Secondly, after the sync, suddenly Gtalk does not work for me either within the Gmail UI or within Adium (the IM client I use for Gtalk). None of my contacts are listed as online in the Friends list, although I know they are online, and none of my friends can see me as online, even though I am signed in.

I have tried contacting Google for answers on how to fix the latter issue, but have not heard from them yet. Will post an update when I do.

Anonymous said...

bittersweetie- Is there a way to undo this?

Daniel M said...


If any one know how to chose which contact from gmail will be sync with iPhone. i will be more than happy yo hear it. i have 1000 contacts in my iphone.. that i truly do know.

JGF said...

Google just altered their API to distinguish between auto-generated and user-created contacts, so sync vendors are now enabling that distinction.

I think Missing Sync allows control by group and maybe type, but I haven't tried them yet.

Chris R said...

Just remove all "Suggested Contacts" from the Google Contacts before performing the sync. This is a stupid idea from Google and they don't allow you to turn it off. I have to clear mine out every so often b/c it gets cluttered.

Anonymous said...

try NuevaSync --

Aloha Jason said...

feb 9, 2009 google launched over the air sync with gmail and the iphone. so it uses ms exchange server

i just, after many hours of cleaning up old contacts, synced my gmail contacts with my iphone. even the gmail contact photo imported to my phone!

i started with phone numbers from a few phones and then synced them to outlook, since i have a few email addresses on outlook and because i used outlook to sync both of my phones. then exported the outlook contacts to gmail, which mainly use for email. so i have to pretty much manually merge phone numbers and emails together. gmail recently came out with a merge feature, which helped. i had to keep in mind that the My Contacts group was the group that will sync to my iphone. any contacts that i didn't think i would need to call or email, i moved out of the My Contacts group.

as far as chat, i've been using fring for skype and gmail contacts. havent tried to skype voice yet or any sip.

btw, i'm on a unlocked jailbroken 2g iphone with tmo on the $20/month internet package. i don't think the $5.99 tzone deal will work the new gmail iphone sync solution since it uses ms exchange.

hope this helps someone

Richard Gunther said...

Very glad I found and read this post. I almost tried option 3 myself, and I was concerned about the very problem you discovered--creating a mass address list that ends up everywhere. I really wanted my Gmail contacts to remain isolated, but I want them on my iPhone.

Unknown said...

BTW-there is a better way!!! Check Nuevasync. I have no connection to this company but happened on their free product that will let your iPhone think it's syncing via microsoftclient and actually connect it to google for both contacts & calender. It supports different colors and will push new contacts/events in either direction (add new items online or on the phone). Plus it updates in real time via the network so no syncing to your computer and relying on iTunes.