Google Calendar Sync for Mac and iOS

I canceled my MobileMe subscription about a year ago after I figured out that I could sync my contacts, calendars and email through Google… for free. Since I started using Dropbox for file synchronization, the $99 a year just didn’t seem worth it. I’ll cover as much of the setup process as possible starting with Calendar, Contact and finally Email sync.

I will say this: MobileMe is easy (but it can be pretty unstable). This guide is a how-to for the adventurous types in the audience. We wouldn’t say that Google Sync is easy to get syncing between all of your Apple devices, but once you’re done… it’s relatively pain free.

Obviously, in order to follow this guide, you will need a Mac, an iOS device and a Google account. We’re definitely not here to advertise for Google, but if you’re looking for over-the-air sync for calendars, contacts and email… Google is the best solution. We’re also focusing on the latest version of Snow Leopard (10.6.7 as of the last edit) and don’t not guarantee the same results with other versions of the Mac operating system.

If you’ve already tried synchronizing with Google by yourself, we’d suggest starting over with this guide. We’ve vetted this thoroughly with our clients. This is the “proper” way to get everything in sync.

One more thing… do NOT follow Google’s instructions. Nothing will work properly. (Sorry, Google)

Configuring Google Calendars Online

First things first, go to Google and sign in. We’d suggest having this window open in one tab and your Google account open in another to make things a little easier for you. Once logged in, click “Calendar” in the menu at the top so we can start the configuration.

All individual calendars must be created from the Google website, they *cannot* be added from iCal or any other calendar program.

You can sync your Google calendar with anything that uses the CalDAV standard, but we’re going to specifically focus on iCal.

If you already have calendars in iCal, here’s how to export them. We’ll import them into Google later.

  • Select the individual calendar you’d like to export
  • From the menu bar, click File -> Export -> Export
  • Name you calendar and save it to your desktop for easy access.

Click back over to your Google calendar. Look at the left side of the page — under “My calendars” choose “Settings.” The new page will show you all of the calendars that exist on your Google account.

Any time you’d like to create another calendar, you need to create it here.

In order to import the information we just exported from iCal, you’ll need to create a new calendar. Click “Create New Calendar” add a calendar name to it (generally the same name as the iCal info you just exported) and click “Create Calendar.”

You’re now ready to import your information.

Back in the Calendar Settings page, you’ll see “Import Calendar” right next to the “Create New Calendar” button.

  • Click “Import Calendar”
  • Choose the file you exported from iCal
  • Select the corresponding Google Calendar and click “Import”
  • Rinse and repeat for each calendar

If you’re not interested in transferring calendars to Google, you’re life is a lot easier. All you need to do is create the new calendars in Google’s web interface and then move onto the next step.

Configuring iCal for Google Calendars

Head back over to iCal and click “iCal – Preferences – Accounts” from the top menu bar. This will take you to the Accounts tab. Here you add your newly created Google Calendar account to iCal.

  • Click the plus button at the bottom left of the window
  • Select “Google” for the Account Type
  • Enter your Gmail address
  • Enter your password
  • Click “Create”

Assuming all of the information was input correctly, iCal will shake hands with Google and your iCal will begin syncing with your online Calendar.

If you created multiple Calendars on Google, you’ll need to add them as delegates to iCal.

  • Click the “Delegation” tab
  • Check the box next to each Calendar you’d like to sync with iCal.

Remember, you cannot create new Google calendars from iCal. You’ll need to use the web interface every time you’d like to add a new calendar. Obviously, events can be modified with iCal… it’s just the creation of calendars that doesn’t work.

That’s it for the iCal setup. If you’re interested in syncing your calendars with multiple computers, or other users on the same computer… just add your Google account to each computer/user you’d like to sync. Now let’s get the calendar syncing with your iOS device.

Configuring iOS Devices for Google Calendar

These steps will work on any iOS mobile device that’s running iOS 3.0 or better. Obviously, we’d recommend using the latest version of iOS (4.3.2 as of the last update to this article) in order to get the best results. iPad, iPhone or iPod touch — the steps are the same for each device.

Let’s be clear here, there are two ways to get your Google info syncing with iOS. ”Google Sync” acts like an Exchange server and automatically syncs Contacts, Calendars and Email… Configuring your device with “Google Sync” causes two problems: emails cannot be moved from one account to another and Calendars do not show the proper color-coding. Head down to “The Google Sync Way…” section and see if syncing via Exchange is right for you. If not, continue with these directions.

If we separately configure Calendars, Contacts and Email, we can get them to work perfectly on your device. We’re going to be setting up Contacts with Google Sync, Calendars with a CalDAV account and Email with regular Gmail IMAP.

Since we’re focusing on Calendars in this guide, we’ll tell you how to get them setup properly via CalDAV.

  • Open the Settings app
  • Tap “Mail, Contacts and Calendars”
  • Tap “Add Account” and choose “Other”
  • Tap “Add CalDAV Account”
  • Enter the server:
  • Enter your username: your gmail address
  • Enter your password
  • Enter a description: Google Calendars

Your iOS device will then shake hands with Google and you’ll be syncing. You’re not done yet though. If you go into the Calendar app, you’ll notice that it’s only syncing one calendar. That’s because we haven’t told Google that we want to see all of our “delegate” calendars on our iOS device.

Click the link below from any device… it does not need to be your iOS device. Sign into your Google account and then check the boxes next to each Google Calendar you’d like to sync to your iOS device. Finally, click/tap the “Save” button at the bottom right.

You should see those calendars show up on your iOS device within a matter of minutes. The Calendar app does not ping the server every time you open it… so it could take a while. You can try closing the app: double tap the home button, press and hold the Calendar icon, tap the red minus. After relaunching the app, it should talk to the server and start syncing your other Calendars. If you’re still having not seeing them, tap “Calendars” in the top left corner of the app and make sure that all of the Google Calendars have a checkbox next to them.

The Google Sync Way…

If you insist on using Google Sync for your Calendars, just set them up via Exchange.

  • Tap into Settings
  • Tap “Mail, Contacts, Calendars”
  • Tap “Add Account”
  • Tap “Exchange”
  • Enter your gmail address
  • Leave “Domain” blank
  • Enter your username: again, your gmail address
  • Enter your password
  • Enter a Description: Google Sync

In the next screen, you can flip the switch to “On” for Contacts and Calendars (Surprise! We gave you a peak into the contacts setup). If you’re feeling lazy, go ahead and turn Mail to “On” as well.

We definitely don’t recommend setting up your device this way. Here are a couple possibilities that could exempt you from the complicated setup listed above:

  • Calendars – If you only want to sync one calendar, you can configure Calendars via Exchange.
  • Mail – If you only have one email address, you can configure Mail via Exchange.
  • Contacts – You will always configured Contact sync through Exchange.

If you’re going to sync more than one calendar, head back up to the “Configuring iOS Devices for Google Calendar” section above and continue through those steps.

That’s it!

As we mentioned before, it’s definitely not for the faint of heart but it works perfectly… if configured properly. Please let us know if you have any questions about our guide in the comments. We’d be happy to help.

Please see our other Google Sync articles to maximize your syncing potential:

Google Contacts Sync for Mac and iOS

Configure a Gmail account for Mac and iOS

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