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!