First look: Mobileme vs. Google Sync

Posted on Oct 7, 2009 in Featured, iPhone, Mac, Opinions

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In my post Free alternatives to MobileMe earlier this year, I looked at some free alternatives to Apple’s MobileMe service. One crucial piece was still missing though: The seamless over-the-air syncing and push email experience offered by MobileMe on the iPhone.

Google Sync – the Missing Piece of the Puzzle?

MobileMe’s biggest advantage to date has been its support for push email and over-the-air syncing, which ensures that emails and changes to calendars and contacts are synced to iPhone users instantly.

But with Google Sync, Google aims to offer GMail and Google Calendar  users the same over-the-air syncing feature that MobileMe does. To accomplish this, Google is basically taking advantage of the fact that the iPhone (and most other smartphones) natively support Microsoft Exchange syncing. So Google are offering their own Exchange-compatible service, that acts as an intermediary between your data stored in Google’s services and your iPhone. Configure Google Sync as a new exchange account on your iPhone, enable Push support and Google will Push any new email messages, calendar or contact updates to your phone.

When you consider that iCal, Address Book and Mail on the Mac also natively support syncing with Google’s services, Google Sync starts to look like a very interesting alternative to MobileMe. Change a contact in Address Book or add an appointment to iCal  and those changes should be synced right up to your phone, without requiring a slow, USB iTunes sync – just like MobileMe. Emails should also be delivered right away, circumventing the 15 minute fetching interval limit. Or as Google sums it up it a cutesy comic:

sync-comic

But how well does it work in the real world?

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Setting up Google Sync on your phone isn’t particularly difficult and Google offers easy step-by-step instructions. Enter your details, ignore a certificate warning, enter some more details and you’re done.

Emails

But mysteriously my Gmail inbox would only show 3 messages I had received this morning, with no sign of any messages I had received earlier in the week or later today. The same problem affected my other mailboxes as well. I was able to coax a few more messages off the server by selecting to only sync a week’s worth of email messages, but that does severely limit habitual emails hoarders such as myself. A know current limitation of the service is also the fact that drafts can’t be edited, once synced.

Contacts

My Google contacts showed up fairly quickly in my Contacts application. But new contacts didn’t seem to sync back up to Gmail, no matter how often I tried to coax Google Sync into action.

Conclusion

Judging by the discussions going on over on the Google Sync messageboards, it looks as though the service has been pretty flaky for users the last few days, so these are most likely serious teething issues. But until these reliability problems are sorted out, it’s hard to realistically see Google Sync as a serious MobileMe alternative anytime soon.

Having said that, it’s promising to see Google taking the initiative and trying to offer an Exchange-like experience for non-corporate / non-MobileMe user – so Google gets a gold star for trying. It’s also worth remembering that MobileMe (a $99 per year service) had its own fair share of teething issues, so let’s hope Google is able to really challenge Apple in this area in the near future.

But for the time being, I’ll be sticking with regular Gmail IMAP syncing for my emails and MobileMe syncing for my contacts and calendars.

3 Comments

  1. Thank you so much for your post. Very succint, yet comprehensive. I would love to switch from my current iphone & carrier (cost related issue only) to a new pda and carrier, but I do not want to loose the mobileme feature which wirelessly syncs my phone and two pcs. I believe I will hold onto to what I have for the immediate feature – thanks to your info.

  2. I recently moved everything from MobileMe to Google Sync. I tried it a few months back and the service was not that great at the time but not it works great. All my stuff is pushed instantly and push email is very reliable now. On the Mac I have found the built in Google Contacts Sync to not work that great, it doesn’t seem to update stuff instantly even when you try and force a sync. I am also not that keen on CalDAV. So for contacts I use SpanningSync which does a great job and I use BusyCal Family Pack which is a step up from iCal and syncs great with Google Calendar. Gmail is also push in Mail.app as it uses IDLE. BusyCal and SpanningSync combined probably cost as much as MobileMe for one year. However, if I stick with Google and Mac then it will pay for itself many times over unlike MobileMe which I have to pay for yearly.

    For disk space I use DropBox which works better than iDisk and you get 2GB free. Then for photos you can share them on somewhere like Flickr, Picasa Web, Facebook etc. The added bonus of those sites is the social features. If I share my photos I want people commenting on my photos and it also gives me an opportunity to look at their photos etc.

    It is not as elegant as MobileMe, but if you are a student or just frugal then you can save yourself a packet, plus SpanningSync and BusyCal are just optional extras, I got them because I have mild OCD.

  3. Great article and feedback. So nice to read vs. the other tech bloggs. You know, it’s bad enough that I have to live in the Mac AND PC world running together (due to my industry), but this Mac and GOOGLE syncing/email is also a conundrum…. I spend more time figuring out the solution….

    Any updates on this thread would be great! As I read, I am in the midst of Mobile ME for my iPhone to Mac and maybe Google Sync for Mac to Google. I have learned the lesson of synchronization feedback. LOL