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Google Drops Google Sync for Most iOS Users

by Michael E. Cohen

For a while now Google’s Help pages have been steering users away from using Google Sync, which uses Microsoft’s Exchange ActiveSync technology for mail, contact, and calendar syncing. Now the future picture of device syncing with Google services is clear, albeit not particularly rosy: in a page titled “Google Sync End of Life,” the company says, “Starting January 30, 2013, consumers won’t be able to set up new devices using Google Sync.” Instead, users are instructed to set up new devices using the following protocols for device syncing: IMAP for email, CardDAV for Contacts, and CalDAV for calendars.

For those who have already set up their devices to use Google Sync, the end of the world is being postponed indefinitely: Google states in the same document that the service will continue to work for existing Google Sync devices, and that Google Sync will continue to be offered to new users of Google Apps for Business, Education, and Government. (Note that we haven’t found a good way to convert a regular Gmail account to a Google Apps account.)

Though Google Sync has never progressed beyond beta status, on iOS it has been the only syncing method for Gmail accounts that provides push email to iOS devices; the open-standard IMAP service offered by Google does not. In the early days of iOS (before it was even known as iOS), device owners who wanted push email and who had both Gmail accounts and Exchange accounts (the latter perhaps through work or school) faced a difficult choice: the operating system allowed only one Exchange ActiveSync account per device, so device owners had to choose which account to use on their devices. Recent versions of iOS have provided for multiple Exchange ActiveSync accounts on one device, so users could set up multiple Gmail and Exchange accounts on their devices and get push email through all of them. Those were the glory days.

And those days are coming to an end. In fact, those days are already over for Google Calendar users: Google Calendar Sync was made unavailable to new (non-paying) users on 14 December 2012, although it will continue to function for those who have already set it up on their devices. New users instead will have to set up CalDAV accounts to access their Google calendars on iOS devices. They can do that, of course, through the Gmail setup assistant on iOS as described in Google’s current Calendar Help document. Similarly, those who wish to sync their Google contacts on iOS via CardDAV can also use the Gmail setup on their devices as described in Google’s Contacts Help document, even though the Google Sync option for contacts still remains available to new users until the end of January 2013.

The fact that Google now supports open protocols for mail, contacts, and calendars is a good thing, of course, but that goodness is not unalloyed. As noted earlier, IMAP does not provide a push email capability, so iOS users will have to set up a fetch schedule for it on their devices to be alerted to new messages in a timely manner. And with CalDAV instead of Google Calendar Sync, new calendar invitations will be seen only when users open the Calendar app on their devices — CalDAV does not push them.

For those of you who have a new iOS device and want to receive push email from Gmail on it, time’s a-wastin’: you have until the end of January 2013 to set it up.


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Unless otherwise noted, this article is copyright © 2013 TidBITS Publishing, Inc.Published in TidBITS on 2012-12-18.
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