Using Google Apps Mail, Calendar & Contacts on iMac, iPad and iPhone

Keeping mail, address book and calendar up to date across different computers can be surprisingly difficult. Once you have a desktop at work and a laptop for out and about and a phone, well, it just gets complicated.

I’m a long time Mac user, have paid my MobileMe dues and tried all sorts of other tricks over time. But never really had it sorted.

Until now – with an iMac, iPad and iPhone4.

I use Google Apps for my mail and calendar. If you haven’t come across it before, Google Apps lets you use a Gmail account with your own domain – plus a whole bunch of other resources as part of a single account (Google Calendar and Google Docs being the main ones of interest). We use Google Apps ourselves, but also set it up for a lot of clients along with their business websites, so I get to see quite a bit of it in action. For reasons explained below, I use Address Book for my contacts, but not Google Contacts.

If you aren’t a Google Apps user, this will also work for a Gmail account (see below).

Here is what I do so that everything is up to date without any complicated/flaky syncing stuff.

Mail

On my iMac I simply use Safari (or Firefox or Chrome) and go to mail.mydomain.com*. This was always better than the Mac Mail app, and now with the Priority Inbox it is even better.

On my iPad I use Safari and the Google Apps webmail client. This is a custom interface for the iPad and is brilliant.

On my iPhone I still use Safari and the Google Apps for iPhone app (download it as an app for free, it mainly works as a set of links to Safari). This is the same interface as the iMac, but without the priority inbox. Works well enough, and has the big, big advantage of working directly off your main mail account.

IMHO, stay well away from POP/IMAP access to email. Life is too short.

Calendar

I use Google Calendar, and can access it via the webinterface (calendar.mydomain.com), or from Apple’s (now useful) iCal. To connect iCal to Google Calendar on your iMac, iPad or iPhone simply:

  • Create a CalDAV Account
    • on an iMac, open iCal, Preferences, Accounts and click the + to add an account
    • on an iPad or iPhone, go to Settings, Mail, Contacts & Calendars, Add Account, Other, Add CalDAV Account
  • Configure the CalDAV Account: use www.google.com for the Server, your full Google Apps username as the username (e.g. me@mydomain.com) and your password

That is it. Whether you are using Google Calendar via a browser or using iCal, you are working with the same calendar information.

Address Book

Apple has done a great job with this. I use Address Book on the iMac as my main address book, and sync that via iTunes with my iPad and iPhone. On the iPhone I have a Phone group, and only sync that group to my iPhone. So if I want a number on my phone I add that contact to the Phone group. Keeps my phone contacts list short and useful, while I’ve got my main address book available as well.

Now, Google Apps … it has a Contacts app. And in Address Book, Preferences, Accounts there is a simple configuration setting to sync with Google. If you want to do that, go ahead. But personally I don’t. Email addresses get handled automatically – the webmail client remembers who you send to and adds them automatically to your contacts, and then autocompletes when you are entering a new address. This works well, and I don’t want my main Address Book cluttered up with lots of automatic email addresses. So I don’t sync Google Contacts – it is purely an email address add on for me.

if you are running additional Macs (such as a laptop) and want Address Book in sync on them, I am using Dropbox and a symbolic link for the AddressBook data folder.

Still on my Wishlist

For business contacts we need access to across the company, we have Saasu (our online accounting system). I *would* like to sync Saasu with Address Book one day, but that would need to treat business contacts as a subset of the total Address Book. Some work to do there, but I’m sure it will happen.

In a strange twist of irony, one of my most useful apps – 1Password – is the one that isn’t working well across the iMac/iPad/iPhone. It is brilliant on a single mac, and a snap to use on other Macs using Dropbox sync. But the implementation on iPhone and iMac is nowhere near as convenient (this is due to restrictions in Safari on iPad/iPhone). So while you can easily sync your passwords to iPad/iPhone, you can’t use them as easily as you can on a desktop/laptop. I’m sure the team at 1Password are trying to find secure ways to get the ease of use happening.

Gmail and Google Apps

For Gmail users: In the instructions above, where I’ve used an address like me@mydomain.com, you may need to use your own email address e.g. me@gmail.com. Let me know if there are any variations for Gmail users and I’ll update.

I included a * at the top next to the URL used to access Google Mail – the URL you use depends a bit on your setup – the mail.mydomain.com URL shortcut requires a bit of configuration in Google Apps, so you may be using the default of mail.google.com/a/mydomain.com. I find the mail.mydomain.com really useful, along with calendar.mydomain.com as well.

What do you use?

Getting a productive set up for mail, calendar, addresses and task lists is something many of us are seeking.

Have you got a nice set up across iMac/iPad/iPhone? What do you do?

Google Mail and the new Priority Inbox

Ok, this feature is good.

I’ve always preferred using the Gmail webmail interface, it just makes everything so much easier.

Now Google has added a smart Priority Inbox that lifts separates important and starred emails out of your general inbox. It is easy to swtich on and use, and it works really well. Just like Google’s spam reporting, you can mark the emails that should / should not be in your priority inbox, and the system learns.

If you are already using Google Apps, you should see a red Priority Inbox link near your Settings link at the top right of your inbox. If you are using Outlook or even Apple Mail, watch this video and maybe consider the zen of Gmail.

Is this the end of Google Wave?

Source: wave.google.com/about.html

Mid last year Google Wave was unveiled to the world, causing a lot of hype and discussion in Australia for several reasons:

  • it was developed by a talented team of Sydney-based Google developers.
  • Google Wave was a unique concept that pushed the envelope in terms of web application features.
  • it was positioned as the “next best thing since email”.

More than a year on, the dust has settled a little.

I know plenty of people who have tried Google Wave, however none of them use it regularly as part of their day-to-day routine. And it seems that Google agrees, announcing this today on the Official Google Blog:

“…Wave has not seen the user adoption we would have liked. We don’t plan to continue developing Wave as a standalone product, but we will maintain the site at least through the end of the year and extend the technology for use in other Google projects.”

Source: Official Google Blog

It is hard to pinpoint exactly why people haven’t made Google Wave a part of their daily routine, but here’s a few thoughts:

  • Google Wave was a developer (invite only) preview for almost 12 months. This meant that it was quite difficult to actually obtain a Google Wave account and begin experimenting with it. And now 3 months after opening it to the public, Google has decided that the product isn’t popular enough.
  • Google Wave attempted to push the boundaries of how people fundamentally use the web. People were given the impression that email would be no longer because people would be using Google Wave instead. Humans are creatures of habit. Some of us have been using email since the early 1970’s (not me – I wasn’t even born then!), and it takes time for people to change their habits.

Personally, I thought Google Wave was very interesting, but I struggled to find real life uses for it. I didn’t have very many friends who were using it. Apart from a few initial “this is cool” type conversations, I was happy to continue using email and Skype.

At the end of the day, even if Google Wave has failed, it has done a great job of encouraging innovation on the web – in Google’s own products such as Gmail and Google Docs, and in web applications in general.

What do you think? Did you try Google Wave? Are you still using it today? Why do you think its user adoption hasn’t met Google’s expectations? Feel free to leave a comment below.

Google Apps / Gmail: Fixing the "Invalid Credentials" message using Unlock CAPTCHA

Every now and then one of our clients using Google Apps comes to us saying that their email client (eg. Outlook, Apple Mail, iPhone, etc) won’t accept their email username and password. Common error messages are:

  • invalid credentials’
  • ‘web login required’

The first thing to check is that you’re using the correct username. For Google Apps users, your username (for POP/IMAP access) is your entire email address (eg you@yourdomain.com).

If you still have problems, Google may have “locked” your account.  This can happen for any of the following reasons:

  • your password has been entered incorrectly multiple times
  • your mail client is configured to check for emails too often (Google recommends only once every 10 minutes)
  • your password isn’t strong enough

To unlock your account, you need to go to https://www.google.com/a/yourdomain.com/UnlockCaptcha
(be sure to replace yourdomain.com with your actual domain name)

If you’re a transitioned Google Apps account user, you should use this link to clear your CAPTCHA.

The page should look like this:

Google's Unlock Captcha Screen

Google's Unlock Captcha Screen

Type in the first part of your email address (eg type in “you” if your email address is you@yourdomain.com), password, and CAPTCHA. After submitting the form, your account should be unlocked.

If your account seems to get locked often, some people have suggested that using a strong password will help. You can also check the Last account activity details link at the bottom of your Gmail inbox. This should list all the systems that are attempting to access your account.

For more information, see Google’s help article: I’m having trouble logging in with my username and password.

Rich Text Signatures in Googlemail

Using Images in your GoogleMail Signature

Well it has taken a while but finally Google Mail / Gmail includes support for images in their signature files.

I’ve always liked simple text for signatures in email, but after setting it up in my own account to see how it looked, I have to say I like it a lot more.

To use this facility, you’ll first of all have to prepare a properly sized version of your logo or image – about 100px or 200px wide is fine, and make sure you’ve reduced the size of the image so it is nice and small. Then upload the image to your website so you can use it from the Google editor. If you have your own WordPress website, use Dashboard, Media, Add New to upload your logo to your own website, and click Edit to get the File URL for your image. Copy that and have it ready to paste in to the Google editor when editing your signature.

This is the post from Google introducing the feature: Rich Text Signatures

Google Apps calendar and contacts sync available for iPhone, Windows Mobile and more

Update May 2010: Google Sync now supports push email, not just calendar and contacts. More info

We have previously recommended Google Apps as a great solution for your business email needs.

Google Apps works great while you’re in the office, but what about when you’re on the road?

For years it’s been possible to access your Google apps email on your mobile device, but until now there hasn’t been an easy way to keep your calendar and contacts up to date on your computer and your mobile.

Google has recently announced a new feature  – Google Sync:

Google Sync (beta) is now available, and allows two-way push sync of Google Calendar and Gmail contacts data to iPhone and Windows Mobile devices through ActiveSync. Two-way contacts sync is also available for devices that support SyncML.

This allows you to easily keep your mobile phone’s contacts and calendar up-to-date with your Google Apps calendar and contacts.

Need to schedule a new meeting while out of the office? Add the meeting to your phone’s calendar and it will automatically be added to your Google calendar.

Just added a new phone number to your mobile? It will now be available on your Google contacts when you return to your desk.

No longer is it necessary to maintain two separate address books and calendars.

More information on how to set this up on your mobile device is available here.