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.
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.
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. firstname.lastname@example.org) 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.
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 email@example.com, you may need to use your own email address e.g. firstname.lastname@example.org. 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?