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iCal Server and Over The Air iPhone Syncing: The Quest Continues

If you arrived here from Google, you might want to check out my latest post - iCal Server + iPhone 3.0 = EPIC WIN

My how things change in just a few months. Recent economic uncertainly, a new president elect…our outlook on the future changes by the minute.

Earlier this year, when I wrote about iCal Server being the "Holy Grail" of collaborative software on Mac, there wasn't much out there for an organization to share their calendar information on Macs. It was truly a revolutionary service, but like all things in technology, it's old news (although that post did push us to #1 in google's rankings for "iCal Server").

Since then, a new quest for the Holy Grail has emerged: syncing of your iCal Server calendar data to your iPhone 3G wirelessly over AT&T's 3G network or Wifi. We've been asked time and time again for a workgroup calendar solution that also allows people to have instant real-time updates to their iPhones without plugging in, called "Over The Air" or "OTA" syncing of iPhones.

So far, this quest has been fruitless. Apple's support of OTA syncing just isn't there on Leopard Server, and it doesn't look likely to change until the 2009 release of 10.6 Server. While Apple does include OTA syncing with MobileMe, their $99 per year online "cloud" service, it's hardly a cost effective option for businesses and doesn't work well with iCal Server.

Until 10.6 Server is launched, we have to work with one of two workarounds to get iCal server accounts to travel over the air to your iPhone.

The first option is a convoluted journey from iCal to Google Calendar then to your iPhone. iCal data can travel to Google Calendar via a program called BusySync, which you can purchase for $25. Once there, you can actually browse Google calendar via their convenient iPhone interface, available at http://m.google.com/calendar (a free Google account is required). However, to get that information to be "pushed" to your iPhone, you'll have to use a service from a site called "Nuevasync," a currently free service in beta mode.

In our testing, this option works for iCal server data to get to your iPhone relatively quickly (within 5-10 minutes), but it has its downsides. Firstly, data posted on your iPhone doesn't tend to make it back to iCal server reliabily. Secondly, each account that you want to set up requires a separate BusySync setup and a separate google calendar (unless you want everyone's calendar information intermingling). Worse yet, each user needs to run BusySync on a computer which is online constantly.

Bottom line: if the iPhone users are laptop users, you have to set up BusySync on "dummy" computers with their iCal and Google accounts programmed in. This makes this option quite limiting if a company wants to support a lot of users.

The second option is to use a script to copy your data from an iCal Server calendar to a MobileMe calendar on your computer's iCal, similar to this post. Since MobileMe accounts allow direct "push" to your iPhone, you don't need to get Nuevasync involved, but you do have to pay for MobileMe. Once again, in order for this to work, you need a computer to be doing this constantly, so laptop users will need to setup dummy accounts on a running computer just to make this work.

In the end, none of these solutions are ready for prime time (and we don't recommend either for a production environment), but if you have a small number of users in your company that need OTA sync with their iPhones and iCal Server, you can probably set up a workable solution for a while until better options come out next year.

Meanwhile, we'll continue to test out various options for getting data from your Leopard Server pushed to your iPhone - and we'll tell you if we make progress with easier and more reliable alternatives.

Comments

iCal Syncing

I recently just upgraded my work office from a PC to an Mac, I have always wanted to try out a Mac but I bought it for a lot of my apple devices as well. I used to own a Black Berry storm but about a month ago I upgraded to an iPhone 3G. The Blackberry was incredibly easy to sync dates etc with other employees but I seem to have great difficulty with the iCal. It seems when I try to sync my calendar along with anothers Blackberry, it only sends across approx 5 days? Do I need to pay for something that will allow me sync more than 5 days on my iPhone to another mobile device?

Thanks,

Chris

iPhone app now available!

The company "Thomas Dingler Softwareentwicklung" has published a first version of a CalDAV iPhone Client today!

Using "RemoteCalendar" you can access your iCal Server calendars directly using your iPhone.

See http://web.me.com/thomasdingler/RemoteCalendar

and

http://itunes.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewSoftware?id=294609...

We look forward for your feedback!

Now Native in the iPhone

It's worth noting that this functionality is now native to the iPhone - as per my newer post: iCal Server + iPhone 3.0 = EPIC WIN.

Alternatives to iCal Server

I believe I heard—in a podcast reporting on MacWorld Expo— that Busysync is now offering, or about to offer, a calendar of its own to compete with iCal. We just invested a lot in iCal server and upgrades to Leopard to support server-based calendars; I wish I had had some lower cost options.

Now if someone will just provide a similar service for the Address Book. Then the Mac can attain the same lever of service that Wintels have had for ten years. (The ten years is a guess, but it's been a long time they have had the Enterprise server and blackberrys.)

Tom Cooper

Busysync

Tom,

BusyMac has offered an alternative to iCal server(BusySync) for sometime - it's more of a "peer to peer" architecture vs. iCal server's "client server" architecture. While easier to implement, it has fewer features compared to iCal server, including the lack of meeting notifications, availability pane, resource management and reservations, and group calendars. In addition, since it runs peer to peer, remote and offline calendar access are much harder to manage, since both peers need to be active to update. While some of these features have workarounds, it's not an real Exchange scheduling alternative like iCal server is. If anything, BusySync is more of an alternative to MobileMe, which works poorly with multiple computers and accounts.

BusyCal, which was the product that BusyMac introduced at MacWorld, is more of an iCal application replacement, which integrates a lot of the BusySync features into an application that has more features than iCal. While I understand why they created a "higher end" iCal, I'm not sure that the product has a real future. After all, Apple won't stop development on iCal just because BusyCal is out there - chances are Apple will integrate (or already has) the same features into the iCal that comes with Snow Leopard.

All in all, it does seem that iCal server and the iCal that shipped with 10.5 opened the gates - there are more and more options for calendar sharing coming out for the Mac. Still, it seems that iCal server, even with its limitations is still best of the class for the Mac... for now.

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