Harmonize iPhone & iCal with Google Calendar

As it becomes more common for people to have information spread across multiple devices, it becomes increasingly difficult to keep track of all your data. It is for this reason that many people are making the move to keeping everything in one central place – the cloud.

You can already sync iCal and your iPhone together each time you plug your phone into your computer, but if you don’t regularly sync your iPhone, then this wireless alternative may be perfect for you. This how-to will teach you how to keep your iPhone or iPod Touch calendar and iCal in perfect sync using Google Calendar, removing the need for a costly Mobile Me subscription.

Set Up with Google

If you already have Google Calendar up and running you can skip this step and move on to the next. For those that do not, here is a quick run down on how to set it up and import any existing events over from iCal.

Head over to the Google Calendar site and log in using your Google ID. If you don’t already have an account then you’ll need to create one.

Once you’re in, the first step is to go about and create all of the various calendars you want and color code them all. You can do this by clicking the ‘Create’ button under the ‘My Calendars’ box, and then give it a name. You can adjust the colors by clicking the downward arrow next to each calendar.

Calendar Colors

Calendar Colors

If you have been using iCal on your Mac and wish to upload calendars into your new google account, fire up iCal and select a calendar. Then from the menu bar choose ‘File > Export… > Export…’ Save the file and repeat this with all the other calendars you may wish to upload.

Once done, head back to Google Calendar, and in that same ‘My calendars’ window we were in before, click the ‘Settings’ button. Now click the ‘Import calendar’ button and locate the calendars you exported. Choose which calendar to import each one in to, and you’re done!

Sync with iCal

iCal is very easy to sync with Google Calendar thanks to some improvements that came in Snow Leopard. To sync, simply open iCal and then browse to the iCal Preferences (‘iCal > Preferences…’).

In this window, navigate to the Accounts tab and press the plus sign in the bottom left corner. In the window that slides out, change the Account type to Google, and enter your Google email address and password.

Under your new account options that follow, click on the Delegation tab and check all of the calendars you want to appear in iCal. All of your Google Calendar events should now show up in iCal.

iCal Setup

iCal Setup

Sync with iPhone

To get the iPhone talking with Google, we’ll be setting up an Exchange account. To do this, open up the Settings app on your iPhone or iPod Touch and choose ‘Mail, Contacts, Calendars’. In the screen that follows, press ‘Add Account…’ and then choose Microsoft Exchange.

A new window will reveal itself where you need to enter your settings. Type your Gmail address in the Email field and leave the Domain field blank. In the Username field re-enter your full Gmail address and then your password. Give the account a Description such as your account name or ‘Google Sync’ and press the ‘Next’ button.

Exchange Settings

Exchange Settings

When the Server field appears, type “m.google.com” and press Next again. In the following screen, make sure the ‘Calendars’ slider is switched to ‘On’. Feel free to also switch on ‘Mail’ and ‘Contacts’, which means that your Gmail and Google Contacts will also be synced with their corresponding iPhone apps.

Hit ‘Done’, and you should find your new Google calendar settling in to the Calendar app on your iPhone. You may, however, find that only your default calendar has made it’s way there so far. You’ll also most likely find that the colors are all different to what you are used to seeing for each calendar. If you’re experiencing either of these issues, move along to the next step.

Fixing the iPhone Calendars and Colors

On your iPhone, open up Safari and point it at m.google.com/sync. Tap the ‘Sign in with your Google Account’ button and log yourself in. Once you’re in, follow the advice on the page and bookmark it for later use as you may need to come back later.

Tap on your device which should appear, and you’ll notice a list of all of your calendars that you created in Google Calendar. Checking these will activate them on your iPhone.

Calendar Checklist

Calendar Checklist

But there’s a catch. If you’re like me and prefer to color code your various calendars, you’ll find it annoying that the iPhone has a mind of its own when it comes to coloring in. There is an easy way around it, but it’s a little tedious.

Basically, the iPhone colors each calendar a specific color, in a specific order. So if you tick the calendars in the Google Sync iPhone web app one at a time, then to an extent you can customize the colors of each calendar. Who knows why this couldn’t be simpler, but for now, this appears to be the only way around such a trivial issue.

The order of the colors go:

  1. Red
  2. Orange
  3. Blue
  4. Green
  5. Purple

Check the calendar that you want to be red first, save, then close Safari and open up Calendar. With a little luck, your chosen calendar will be red! If luck isn’t on your side and you get dished up another color, then just start from there on the color list above and progress down before jumping back to red again.

Once the iPhone Calendar app has refreshed itself, you can head back into the Google Sync webpage and tick the next calendar in order of color. Save, and go back to Calendar, wait until refresh, and repeat.

It’s slow and boring, but after a little trial and error you should get there. You may need to create a couple of new calendars to your account on the computer so that you can skip a color when you need to. You are then free to delete these later on with no impact on your color scheme.

iPhone Colors

iPhone Colors


After following this how-to, you should have your iPhone, iCal, and Google Calendar cooperating smoothly. When you add or edit an event on your iPhone, the information should be almost immediately be sent to the Google cloud, from which iCal will update itself when opened.

Let us know how this has gone for you and if you have any questions, feel free to ask in the comments. Good luck!

  • http://www.yummygum.nl Vince

    Nice, this article reminded me to do it.

    I tried to do it with language set as Dutch, but Google told me I couldn’t use this feature on my device (while I am using an iPhone). Swithing to English did the trick.

  • Ethan Wright

    Thanks! I’ve needed do do this, but put it off because I had no tutorial.

    • http://joshboulton.co.uk Josh

      It’s actually all on the google help site!

  • http://www.fairheadcreative.co.uk Adam Fairhead

    If only this tutorial existed when I slaved over getting this working earlier in the year 😉

  • LeGaS

    I am using this technique for a long time and it works perfectly. :)
    As you wrote the only annoying thing is Google Sync’s coloring.

  • Joseph

    I already have my work Exchange account configured and the iPhone won’t let me have more than one Exchange account. Is there any other way around this?

  • Chris Kobar

    The one glaring omission that most writers who discuss iCal Google Calendar syncing are guilty of, including the author of this article, is that because you can only sync one service using the Exchange ActiveSync on the iPhone, if you already use that for an Exchange server — and more and more people do, as they use it to sync to their work email, usually on an Exchange server — then this method is not an option. Until the iPhone can use Exchange ActiveSync with more than one service, or until Google or Apple find another non-Microsoft-dependent method for this kind of smooth syncing, it becomes very hard for many people to rely on Google Calendars. I need my Exchange mail and calendar, so for me, Google syncing is ultimately a no-go.

    • http://www.cuby.co.nr Henry Bennett

      Thanks for your comment Chris. I did forget that the iPhone only allows for one exchange account and subsequently left out the alternative method.

      As Dak has kindly pointed out below, you can actually set up Google Calendar via CalDav on the iPhone. Scroll down to his comment for a link to a great tutorial on how to set this up.

      I’m glad this how-to seems to have been helpful for a lot of people!

      • Andrew

        The link provided by Dak for the google CalDav solution was the silver bullet for me. I’ve been wrestling for months to find a clean solution to the Exchange issue (I had the same challenge as Chris above). This approach worked like a charm. I think I’m ready to decouple mobileme calendar function now!
        Thanks for bringing this info together!

      • Andrew

        I don’t know if anyone else had this issue, but when going to: m.google.com/sync I could not “see” or select all of my sub-calendars so they would not load. This issue is moot for me with CalDav solution, but I thought others might be having the same issues whereby it appears that google calendars is successfully loaded on iPhone and logged in to the proper account, but does not show any calendar data.

  • http://twitter.com/NetUpdate Benoit Terminet Schuppon

    Now this is what i knew would come with this new appstorm site !
    a comprehensive tutorial to set up the sync !

  • julieangle

    Thanks!! I had sync going with my main calendar but not my others on the iphone. This helped me clean it up and make all work nicely together. Very helpful.

  • http://twitter.com/morbec Fábio Morbec

    Nice how to !!! I am having some issue with Exchange because my name has an accent as you can see …

  • http://quixoti.cc Christopher

    Have been waiting for this solution for a long time. Thanks!

  • Misc.

    You can just use Google Sync to keep iCal, Address Book, Gmail, Google Calendar, and your iPhone in sync.
    Why go through all these hoops?

  • Dak

    You can sync with Google Calendar using CalDav instead of Exchange. Detailed easy directions here: http://tinyurl.com/yc8pdv6 (http://www.google.com/support/mobile/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=151674)

    • Peggy

      Your rock! I already had an exchange set up with my work calendar. I followed your steps and now have my kids’ karate calendar on my new iPhone as well!!!

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  • Joseph

    Thanks that worked!

  • http://joshboulton.co.uk Josh

    I wrote an article about this and asked you if you wanted it but you never replied! Oh well…

  • http://lesjames.com Les James

    Thank you! This was the last problem I needed to solve before switching off of MobileMe completely. I now have all my email, contacts and calendars running through Google and syncing perfectly with my Mac and iPhone. Yay!

  • http://www.finaldraftdesign.com Reginald Dupree

    am I the only one that still prefers MobileMe? :(
    don’t think I’ll need to switch anytime soon. I will probably set this up for the Mrs. though.

    MobileMe for life! :)

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  • Ann

    The m.google.com/sync page does not have a “sign in” spot, so I have no idea where to go for the next few steps.

    • PacoR

      I had the same problem, but I found a solution on GoogleMobile Help Forums:

      If you’re outside the US try by clicking ‘Change language’ on that window and choose ‘English (US)’.

      It worked for me.

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  • what Decade?

    Why did you take the years out!? What decade is this post from? … the late nineties? … 2005? … last year?

  • Stevers

    Thank you! Very helpful.

  • http://www.suphvac.com/ Minneapolis Electricians

    I looked over a couple of your other articles and wanted to say thanks.

  • Thomas

    If you want an easy work around for the coloring problem download Week Cal off the App Store. This app allows custom assigning of any color to each individual calendar.

  • Jenny

    Thank you!

  • Amber

    Does this work for people that have a custom domain email address?
    Mine is through gmail but it is [email protected].
    I keep getting a “password is incorrect” message.

    The only reason I wanted to do this, was I want all calendar events I create on my iPhone to sync to my gmail calendar.

  • http://dysfonction-erectile-pharmacie.com SteerseNaws

    Thanks mate… just dropped by.!!!!! Will look for BIKE STN when we get to Seattle. Still in Buenos Airies.!!!!!

  • http://www.aeronaves.org/ Aeronaves

    Exchange account configured and the iPhone won’t let me have more than one Exchange account.

  • http://selenajustin.com selena gomez justin bieber

    lol i know right

  • Lauren

    Happily in the updated iOS, you can change the colors of your calendar (synced through Exchange) via the Calendar settings! Select “Calendars” and then “Edit” and then select the Calendar one by one to edit their color!

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  • Es

    I followed the instructions and whatever I add to google calendar now automatically syncs to my phone. How do I get whatever is on my phone calendar to sync with google calendar?

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