Sync’ing Google calendars with iCal and iPhone

December 3, 2008

Google now officially supports the CalDAV interface for iCal. Thanks to a little tool they provide, it’s a breeze to set it up. However, it does have two rather inconvenient disadvantages:

  • So far I’ve been using iCal locally to manage my various calendars. If I wanted to use Google Calendar from now on (through iCal, of course), then I’d first like to import all my data into Google Calendar. It’s not obvious to me whether this is now possible out of the box and if so, how.
  • A quick test revealed that working with the calendars is possible offline. iCal will synchronize with the online calendar once you’re connected again. That’s nice and certainly the Right Thing ™ to do here. The Google-based calendars are also synchronized to my iPhone. Again, this is what I’d expect. However, the iPhone won’t be able to add or modify an event in any of the Google-based calendars. Since I add appointments and other things right away to my iPhone’s calendar when I’m on the road, I wouldn’t want to give up this feature just to have my calendar available through the Google web interface.

While experimenting with this, I grew rather fond of the idea of being able to access my calendar through the Google web interface and synchronize it with multiple machines. So I started investigating alternative solutions that wouldn’t cripple the iPhone’s possibilities:

  • Spanning Sync and NuevaSync are over-the-air synchronization services. While NuevaSync seems to be a general service for any platform, Spanning Sync is specifically designed to work with Macs. Both services have one thing in common, though, and that’s their means of synchronization. Your PIM data will go to their servers where it’ll be processed and what have you, and then be synchronized with, say, Google Calendar or the other devices you want it to synchronize. Given that I already have to trust one company with my personal data (Google), I’d rather not involve yet another one, thankyouverymuch. Oh, and the service isn’t free, obviously.
  • GCALDaemon is an open-source command line tool written in Java, thus cross-platform, that allows you to synchronize your Google Calendars with local ones, for instance ones that you have on the file system or ones that it publishes via HTTP, so that your CalDAV client can the subscribe to it. Setting it all up is quite straight-forward, thanks to its graphical configuration editor. However, after half an hour of trying to synchronize a calendar between iCal and Google Calendar and finally giving up, I came across several reports saying that it doens’t work with Leopard’s iCal (because the newer iCals save calendar data in a different manner, apparently) or that it only works if you use some Perl hackery. I think NOT.
  • gSync is mentioned positively in several blogs, but apparently it’s no longer being developed. The main site is down (hence no link). Avoid.
  • BusySync is a little piece of software that installs a new pane in the OS X System Preferences. It allows you to either subscribe Google-based calendars locally or publish a local calendar to Google. The difference to CalDAV is that to iCal, the calendars will always look like a local one. That means the iPhone will work just as before. I’ve tried this now and it works like a charm. (BusySync will also do more, for instance publish your calendar over LAN, but I don’t need that).

BusySync isn’t free, it’s $25 per computer. Right now I’m using a demo version, but I’m considering purchasing it. I only need it on one machine, the one that I use to synchronize my iPhone with. The other machines that I might want to access my calendar from could simply subscribe to the calendar via CalDAV.

One thing that BusySync doesn’t seem to do is synchronizing contacts from Address Book. If it did that, I’d be getting out the checkbook right now…

6 Responses to “Sync’ing Google calendars with iCal and iPhone”

  1. Fred van Dijk Says:

    I have both busysync and mobile me active on my laptop: busysync pulls/pushes events between google and iCal and MobileMe syncs iCal and my iPhone. Only drawback is that I have to have my laptop online.

    You need this double sync because Mobile Me won’t sync CalDav accounts in Ical with Mobile Me.

    As soon as the iPhone has a direct google CalDav sync and the address book stuff is solved I might quit my Mobile Me subscription again.

  2. Ran Says:

    If you can handle the idea, Plaxo can help with your address book data.

    Also, as a happy BusySync user, you might be glad to learn that there are BusySync discounts – like this one: Google turns up others if that one has expired.

  3. philikon Says:

    Ran, thanks for the discount link.

    If by any chance you’re trying to subscribe to your Google Calendars with Google’s tool (“Calaboration”) and all the calendars but the main one appear with a “locked” icon, then worry not. This is just a bug that can easily be circumvented, as described here:

  4. philikon Says:

    Hmm, too bad BusySync only supports one Google account. I actually have two Google apps accounts whose calendars I’d like to sync… Oh well.

  5. Brian Says:

    Here’s a workaround for syncing with multiple Google accounts:

  6. Andrew Says:

    There’s a decent application for Mac syncing – SyncMate. It is free and seems to perform reliably. I quite like it.

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