Syncing Personal Data: Apple's Self-Serving Actions Expand The Gotchas And Errata
Monday and Tuesday, I was at the Embedded Systems Conference in San Jose. And Wednesday morning, I spent several frustrating hours re-plumbing my PIM (personal information manager) setup, prior to a looming next-day and Apple-mandated upgrade-or-shutdown edict. As regular readers may recall, I’ve long used Spanning Sync to bridge the copies of my calendar and contacts data residing on Apple and Google’s servers. Specifically, the copies of iCal and Address Book running on my primary system, a MacBook Air, act as the data nexus; Spanning Sync coordinates them with Google’s services, while built-in MobileMe connectivity handles the Apple server handshake. From there, MobileMe propagates the data to my other Macs and iOS-based devices, while Google’s sync services spread the updates to my Android-based handsets and tablets, and my Chrome OS-based netbook.
That all changed effective yesterday, as a post on the Spanning Sync blog explains in detail. Basically, while contacts synchronization remains (at least for the moment) as-is, Apple has migrated its calendar data approach to a CalDAV-based system. Formerly, the primary calendar databases resided on individual systems and were sync’d to the server; now they primarily reside in Apple’s walled cloud. But, as Spanning Sync notes, and unlike with the developer-inclusive approach taken by Google and other cloud-based PIM providers:
Apple does not allow developers to sync calendars to CalDAV. Since Spanning Sync does its job using Apple’s Sync Services system, the change effectively breaks Spanning Sync’s ability to sync with these calendars.
What this means in practice is that the iCal database stored on any Mac OS X-based system is now read-only to Spanning Sync. If I make a calendar entry addition, deletion or edit via Apple’s MobileMe, that change will propagate to Google Calendar as before. Conversely, any calendar changes made to Google Calendar won’t make it to MobileMe.
Apple initially announced its beta-form CalDAV embrace in early July of last year; when the calendar service ‘upgrade’ exited beta three months later, the company said its use would be optional, but Apple subsequently changed its mind in late February. And the story gets even better (or, more accurately, worse). The ‘new’ MobileMe Calendar requires Mac OS 10.5 (where it ‘is not fully supported’) or 10.6 (where it’s still buggy for some). And iOS-based devices such as the iPad, iPhone and iPod touch must be running at least v4.2.1 of the O/S.
The Mac OS 10.5-minimum requirement precludes MobileMe Calendar access on any of my old PowerPC-based Macs unable to (hack-free) run that particular O/S generation. Similarly, since I’m stubbornly still running iOS v3.1.3 on my iPhone 3GS and iPod touch, they’re not invited to the new MobileMe Calendar party, either. Nothing like forcing hardware and software upgrades on your customers, eh, Apple?
For now, since my MobileMe subscription doesn’t expire until mid-September, I did the following:
- Got my server-side Apple and Google calendar databases sync’d up, then just-in-case backed up iCal and Address Book on my MacBook Air
- Converted my MobileMe Calendar on Apple’s server farm, which…
- Automatically converted iCal on the MacBook Air (Mac OS v10.6) and Calendar on my iPad (jailbroken iOS v4.2.1) to sync with the new MobileMe servers, and
- Sorta-converted iCal on my OS 10.5 systems (it deleted all of my existing calendar entries and changed the server info for me, but I subsequently needed to re-enter my password)
- Converted my iPhone 3GS and iPod touch (which, remember, aren’t running a sufficiently high iOS version for continued MobileMe compatibility) over to sync with Google’s Exchange server, and
- Converted Spanning Sync running on the MacBook Air to a one-way iCal-to-Google Calendar sync mode, which thankfully didn’t subsequently result in any redundant Google Calendar entries
I’m also still also using Spanning Sync on the MacBook Air for two-way contacts sync between Google Contacts and Address Book, thereby enabling me to keep Google Contacts and MobileMe Address Book in sync. And I’ve confirmed that, as Spanning Sync told me would be the case, calendar changes made on MobileMe Calendar will propagate to Google Calendar. Unfortunately, I’ve also confirmed that the reverse data propagation path no longer exists.
Come mid-September, or whenever I get sufficiently annoyed at being unable to make calendar changes on any Google-cognizant device, I’ll need to decide whether or not to continue my MobileMe subscription. Admittedly, I use also MobileMe for other things; iDisk enables me to share hefty image files with my writeup-editing peers on the East Coast and receive audio recordings from a meditation group whose website I manage, for example, although I could alternatively use Dropbox for both purposes. And I also use my iDisk space to host several websites, although at $99/year for MobileMe, I suspect I could find less expensive hosting services elsewhere.
Even if I drop MobileMe, I could continue using Spanning Sync to sync iCal and Address Book with their Google service counterparts. And since the Spanning Sync license is per-user (specifically per-Google account), not per-system, I could add Spanning Sync to my Macs on which it’s not currently installed (all the way down to Mac OS 10.4, to boot). However, for those who haven’t already dropped $65 on a lifetime license to Spanning Sync (or alternatively $25 for a one-year subscription), I can’t necessarily advocate going this route, no matter that the company’s Charlie Wood and Larry Hendricks offered up some tempting motivations in response to an email dialogue I had with them in recent days:
- We have real tech support
- Our service is more reliable
- We keep up with Google’s eccentricities
- Mini features like one-way syncing, date trimming, etc.
- Upgrades are always free
After all, as previously mentioned, iOS-based devices can sync with Google Calendar and Google Contacts via either earlier-mentioned Exchange or CalDAV protocols (the latter for for calendar-only setups). Macs can do the same thing; iCal has CalDAV support beginning with Mac OS 10.5, while Address Book also added Google Contacts support in Mac OS 10.5.3 (you might need to employ this workaround if you haven’t sync’d an iOS device with your system). Once again, Mac OS 10.4-and-earlier systems would be shut out, but…