Outlook Calendar Syncing to iPhone via Google
One thing I’ve been meaning to do for awhile is to get my Outlook calendar synched with my iPhone (actually it’s an iPod Touch, but the distinction isn’t important here). The company I work for uses a fairly standard combination of MS Outlook and Exchange for email and calendaring. That works fine when I’m sitting in front of my work computer, but there are times when I would like to be able to peek at my work calendar without going out to my office. I had a feeling it was possible to make it work, but it wasn’t until today that I finally sat down to make it happen.
Before I describe my somewhat convoluted solution, I should point out that there are some pretty straightforward ways to make this work. First, if I installed iTunes on my work computer and paired my iPhone with that machine I could easily get my Outlook calendar synched every time I docked the phone. This doesn’t really work for me since I already have my phone paired with my Mac.
The other solution would be to get the Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync installed on my company’s Exchange server. With that enabled, the iPhone can sync directly with the Exchange server (that feature was introduced with the 2.0 firmware release). Unfortunately, my employer is far too paranoid about security to enable this feature so this isn’t really an option for me either.
Having dismissed the easy solutions, what is left? Why ‘Google’ of course (isn’t that the answer to most questions these days). Turns out that it is pretty easy to sync an Outlook calendar with theGoogle Calendar application and, with the recent release of the Google Sync, it is pretty easy to sync your Google Calendar with your iPhone. So, the solution is to use Google Calendar as an intermediary between Outlook and the iPhone.
The first step is to make sure that you actually have a Google Calendar. If you have a Gmail account, you have a Google Calendar (look for the Calendar link at the top of the Gmail screen). I’m actually using the calendar associated with my Google Apps account, but this approach will work either way.
Once you’ve verified that you have a Google Calendar, the next step is to get your Outlook data synced with it. This is a simple matter of installing the Google Calendar Sync utility on the machine running Outlook.
When configuring Google Calendar Sync, simply provide the email address and password for your Gmail or Google Apps account and specify the desired sync direction. In my case, I’m only interested in viewing my calendar on the iPhone (not making updates) so I selected the 1-way sync option.
After a few minutes of chugging, you should find that all of your Outlook calendar items are now visible in your Google Calendar as well. The screenshot below shows the Google Calendar view of the same data that’s seen in my Outlook calendar above.
With the Outlook calendar now being mirrored by the Google Calendar, the final step is to get the iPhone to sync with Google Calendar. Luckily, everything you need for this step is already baked into the iPhone (as long as you’re running at least the 2.0 firmware). The steps are laid out pretty clearly in the instructions provided by Google so I’ll only summarize them here:
- Go into the Mail, Contact, Calendars section of the Settings application and click theAdd Account… button
- Make sure you select Microsoft Exchange for the account type. It seems totally crazy to me, but Microsoft has apparently licensed the ActiveSync technology to Google and now Google is giving it away for free.
- Enter the username and password for Gmail or Google Apps account and specifym.google.com as the server (note that you can put any value you like in the Email field, it’s not really used for anything)
- At this point, Google only supports contacts and calendars via ActiveSync so you can go ahead and disable the Mail option on the next screen. If you choose to enable contacts syncing, you’ll find that the address book from your Gmail account will get loaded into theContacts application on the iPhone. I haven’t yet looked at syncing my Outlook contacts with Google so I don’t have a complete Outlook-to-iPhone solution for contacts yet.
Once you have everything configured you can press the Sync button and open your calendar. After a few seconds you should see your iPhone calendar populated with all the data in your Google Calendar. You should check to make sure that Push is enabled on your phone as this will ensure that any changes to your Google Calendar will be immediately synched to the phone. You can find the Push setting under the Fetch New Data section of the Settings application.
Here’s the same data from my Outlook calendar above after propagating to my iPhone.
It’s a little bit of work to get all this set-up, but ideally I won’t ever have to futz with it again – it should just work.