A couple of weeks back, I wrote about how I’d switched a big chunk of my home/small business IT to Google Apps and was using it as part of a solution to keep my work and personal calendars separate, but in sync.
Calendar is all very well, but e-mail is still my main communications tool. So how have I found the switch to Google Mail and how do I keep my contacts in sync between devices? Actually, it’s been remarkably straightforward but I have learnt a few things along the way and this post describes the way I have things working.
Switching to GMail was as simple as updating the MX records for my domain but having done so, I needed to get my various devices working together – that means home and work computers as well as my iPhone.
My home computer is a Mac, so I simply enabled IMAP access on my Google Apps mail account and made sure I followed Google’s recommended client settings for setting up Apple Mail. There’s not more to say really – Google provides an IMAP Service and Apple provides an IMAP client.
On a Windows PC I would have used Windows Mail/Outlook Express (depending on the version of Windows) or Outlook to achieve the same thing. Even so, on the Windows PC that I use for work, I have Google Chrome installed, so I set myself up with a Chrome application shortcut for my Google Apps e-mail account. It’s only webmail, but GMail is dripping with AJAX and so highly functional and very usable.
With my PCs set up, that left the iPhone. Again, Google publishes advice for configuring IMAP with the iPhone (as well as recommended client settings) and I followed it.
I’m still a little confused about what is being saved where – my iPhone mail application has a Sent folder with some items in, but there’s another one called Sent Mail underneath [Google Mail] – similarly, I have two Drafts folders – as well as both Trash and Deleted Messages. None of that really matters though as all my mail seems to be in the Google Mail account (automagically… I’m not going to get too hung up on the details). Push e-mail would be nice (at the moment I have to tell the phone to periodically check for e-mail) but I’m sure Google will add that feature in time – the important thing is that it seems to work.
I tend to use the iPhone’s built-in mail application most of the time but the iPhone interface to GMail is pretty good too and has the advantage that it groups messages by conversation, rather than using the traditional approach of showing individual messages.
With e-mail working, I turned my attention to my contacts. Google Mail was doing a good job of identifying the people I’d sent e-mail to and creating associated contacts but I wanted to make that I had the same contact list available natively on the Mac and the iPhone. No problem – the Mac OS X Address Book application includes Google Contact syncing although I’m a little confused why I have it enabled in both the Address Book application and in iTunes (Contact Sync uses iTunes for synchronisation). Then, Address Book and iTunes worked together to make the contacts available on the iPhone (regardless of the Google part of the solution).
It’s worth noting that I didn’t think the address book synchronisation was working, but signing out of Google Mail (and then back in again) seemed to force a refresh of the contact information inside Google Mail.
Importantly, Google Mail’s contact functionality does not destroy information stored for contacts that it doesn’t know what to do with. For example, I’ve followed Jaka JanÄar’s advice for adding Skype usernames to the OS X Address Book and Google Mail just ignores the extra information.
That just left bringing all of my legacy e-mail into my Google Apps mailbox. I haven’t been brave enough to do that yet (actually, it needs a lot of consolidation first) but I will do it eventually – and, when I do, I’ll be sure to blog about how it went…