Every time my MobileMe service comes up for renewal, I think about whether or not it’s worth $99 for another year. Of all the services they offer, the only one that I really use is contact and calendar syncing. It really works well. But is it worth paying $99 a year if that’s all I use?

This year I finally did my research and found a better — and less expensive — way to do it.

First, let’s review my objectives:

  • I need to access my contacts and calendars in three different places: desktop computer, mobile phone, and any web-based computer.
  • I want to sync wirelessly and quickly using “push” technology. I don’t want to have to remember to explicitly sync or be forced to use a USB cable.
  • I really like Google Calendar and want to use it for my web-based calendaring.
  • Do all this reliably and at a reasonable cost.
  • And, of course, fully understand what’s going on!

How I Keep My Contacts Synchronized

My main desktop computer is a Mac Pro. Apple’s bundled Address Book application does everything I need to keep track of my business and personal contacts.

I’m also a big fan of Gmail and have been using it as my primary email inbox for years. It made sense to stick within the Google family and synchronize my Address Book contents to Google Contacts. That keeps my desktop email contacts in sync with my Gmail web-based contacts.

Here’s the built-in Address Book preference to Synchronize with Google:

Unfortunately I encountered some limitations using this built-in synchronization option. It has trouble keeping people with multiple names straight. For example, if a person’s name is Vincent van Gogh, Google thinks “van” is his middle name when it’s really just part of his last name. Plus, the built-in syncing doesn’t always transfer a contact’s photo between the Mac and Google.

After a bit of research, I found a low-cost software utility that accurately syncs my contacts: Spanning Sync. Now I’m able to keep my entire address book information online where I can access it from any web browser. Plus, when I change either my desktop Address Book contents — or the web-based Google Contacts — the other one is updated automatically.

My iPhone’s built in Contacts application meets my address book needs, so no special mobile software is needed. Fortunately, Google provides a reliable way to perform push syncing using its Exchange server.

Here’s how I set up my iPhone for contacts syncing:

I enter my Google login username and password; and use m.google.com as the server address.

How I Keep My Calendars Synchronized

I’ve used Apple’s iCal for years, but have just recently switched to a third-party application that has more features, is easier use, and is updated more frequently than iCal. It’s called BusyCal – and it’s built to sync seamlessly with Google Calendars. I now maintain my calendar on either my Mac with BusyCal, or through any browser accessing Google Calendar. They’re always in sync!

Here’s how I set up my iPhone for calendar syncing:

By default your primary calendar is synced to your iPhone. You can sync additional calendars by visiting the following page from any web browser: https://www.google.com/calendar/iphoneselect

Summary

Here’s an overview of my new (non-MobileMe) system for contact and calendar synchronization:

Contacts and Calendars summer