How To Integrate Google Services So They Work Seamlessly With iOS

No matter what kind of phone you use, most of us depend on Google to some extent to organise our lives. Fortunately, you can actually get Gmail, Google Calendar and other Google services to work seamlessly with iOS — it just takes a little bit of setup. Here's what you need to do.

If you're really entrenched in Google services, using an Android device is ideal since it has a lot of features you can't get on iOS. However, if you have your heart set on the fantastic interface and app library in iOS, you don't have to hold back just because you use Gmail.

Sync Gmail with iOS Mail

When it comes to Gmail, we think Sparrow ($2.99) is the best way to get your email on iOS. It has everything that makes Gmail great: support for labels, the ability to archive and delete messages, and a fantastic interface designed to work with the iPhone.

However, if you want the iOS integration that only the native Mail app can provide (or push notifications, which Sparrow doesn't have), you'll need to do a bit of extra work. Here's how to properly add Gmail as a Mail account in iOS:

  1. Open the Settings app and go to Mail, Contacts, Calendars. Tap the Add Account button and choose Microsoft Exchange from the menu (not Gmail — more on this in a moment).
  2. Enter your full Gmail address ([email protected]) in both the Email and Username boxes, and enter your Gmail password for Password. (If you use two-step authentication — which you should — you'll need to use one of Google's application-specific passwords here.) Leave the Domain box blank and type in anything you want for Description (I used "Exchange").
  3. Click Next. You should see the spinning wheel, and then a new box will pop up for "Server". In that box, type m.google.com and then tap Next. iOS should successfully create the new account for you.
  4. When prompted, flip the Mail switch to On. You can also turn Contacts on here. We recommend switching Calendars to Off (more on this later).

Now, if you open the Mail app, you should see your Gmail inbox. By default, pressing the Delete button archives a message instead of deletes it. If you want to change that behaviour, open up Safari on your device and head to m.google.com/sync. Log in with your Google account and choose your device from the menu. You should see the screen at the right. Check the "Enable Delete Email As Trash" box and press Save. Now the delete button will move those messages to the trash instead. You may also want to open up Settings, go to Mail, Contacts, Calendars, open up your Exchange account and change "Mail Days to Sync" to "No Limit" if you want to keep your entire inbox synced to your device.

So why should you use Exchange instead of the default Gmail option? The Exchange method is a bit more powerful. It automatically syncs all the messages in your account, lets you use the aliases you've set up in Gmail (if any), and uses push to notify you of new messages instantly. The Gmail option gives you a few Gmail-specific icons, but it's less powerful than the Exchange method.

Sync Google Contacts with iOS Contacts

If you want your Gmail contacts available on iOS without having to sync them with your computer, you can set up a Microsoft Exchange account on your iPhone that will sync them over the air. If you already did this for Gmail, you can skip these steps.

  1. Open the Settings app and go to Mail, Contacts, Calendars. Tap the Add Account button and choose Microsoft Exchange from the menu (not Gmail).
  2. Enter your full Gmail address ([email protected]) in both the Email and Username boxes, and enter your Gmail password for Password. (If you use two-step authentication — which you should — you'll need to use one of Google's application-specific passwords here.) Leave the Domain box blank and type in anything you want for Description (I used "Exchange").
  3. Click Next. You should see the spinning wheel, and then a new box will pop up for "Server." In that box, type m.google.com and then tap Next. iOS should successfully create the new account for you.
  4. When prompted, flip the Contacts switch to On.

Now, if you head into the Contacts app, you should see all your Google contacts right there. If you make any changes on the iPhone, the changes will sync back to Gmail on the web, and vice-versa.

Sync Google Calendar with iCal (and Others)

Google Calendar works a bit differently than the other services. You can use the aforementioned Exchange method to sync your calendars, but it won't let you sync their colours, which can be confusing if you have a lot of calendars. For Calendars, we recommend using the slightly older CalDAV method instead.

  1. Open the Settings app and go to Mail, Contacts, Calendars. Tap the Add Account button and choose Microsoft Exchange from the menu (not Gmail).
  2. Enter your Gmail address under both Email and Username, and type your Gmail password into the Password box. (If you use two-step authentication — which you should — you'll need to use one of Google's application-specific passwords here.) Type in anything you want for Description (I used "Gmail").
  3. Tap the Next button and flip the Calendars switch to On if it isn't already. Be sure to switch Mail off if you're using the Exchange method for your Gmail.
  4. Now if you head into iCal, you should see your main Google Calendar events. If you want to sync your other calendars, head to your computer and go to this page. From there, you can select which calendars sync down to your iPhone. Check their boxes, click save, and reopen iCal. You should see that all your other events appear.

This method should also work with other calendar apps that get their info from iCal, such as Week Cal (our favourite calendar app for the iPhone).

In short, we recommend having two different accounts set up in your settings: one Exchange account for your Mail and Contacts, and one Gmail account for your Calendars. We've found that this recipe makes for the most accurate synchronisation within each service.

Pin the Google Maps Web App to Your Home Screen

The pre-installed Google Maps app has been replaced by a completely new, Apple-designed Maps app in iOS 6. If you want a true Google Maps experience on iOS, you just need to pin the web app to your home screen:

  1. Open up Safari and head to maps.google.com.
  2. Click the share button at the bottom of your screen, and choose "Add to Home Screen".
  3. Give your icon a name and it should load the iOS-optimised icon for Google Maps. Place it on your home screen wherever you like.

That's it. It isn't as smooth as a native app, but you'll get all the features of Google Maps — not just the ones in the toned-down iOS app — right at your fingertips.

Everything Else

These aren't the only Google services that deserve a spot on your iPhone, but these instructions should get you most of the way there. If you use Chrome on the desktop, then Chrome for iOS is the perfect mobile browser. You can sync all of your bookmarks, search history, passwords and Incognito Mode. Google Reader users should check out Reeder, and Google Drive users should already have the Google Drive app for iOS. Google Mobile can also be handy for voice-activated search.

Whatever your needs, you can make most Google services work on iOS without too much trouble, so you can have the best of everything Apple and Google have to offer.


Comments

    Think you've got your 'Sync Google Calendar' stpe 1 wrong, you're still advocating the use of Exchange Server and I guess you meant to use standard the GMail connection?

      Nope. Using the gmail connector it syncs only mail. Using the exchange connector, it also syncs your contacts.

        This isn't the case, choosing GMail can sync more than mail, and choosing Exchange Server can sync more than mail and contacts.

        In this article's step RE syncing your calendar, it should almost certainly say use the GMail method, not Exchange. Otherwise it could have all be just turned on in step one (or at least told you could skip it)... You'll also note that it makes no mention of the Exchange server name in this step, which would be needed were they really using Exchange.

    The only thing that annoys me when syncing Google Contacts with iOS is that any picture you assign to a contact (whether that be on the iOS device or Gmail itself) appear as tiny, super compressed little thumbnails next to a contacts name, and that they don't go full screen when a contact calls.

    I don't suppose there is any solution to this?

    Good concise guide guys. You may be correct when you describe adding calendar as a totally separate account. I found however that I can have it all under on e exchange account as long as you remember to change the setting inside icloud to ignore invitations (other wise incomcing calendar invitations will be accepted and stored in your icloud calendar)

    This is all very good if you have an exchange account. You should perhaps mention at the start of the article that you need to have an exchange account for this to work. I deleted all my gmail accounts to set up this way before I realised that i didn't have an exchange account. I had to redo all my mail accounts. Thanks.

      GMail can be defined as an Exchange account, that's kind of the point of this article.

    Hmm it would have been helpfully news 5 years ago......

      Better late than never! And as unlikely as it sounds, there's still people out there that are just new to apple products. I got an iphone from work and am obvioulsy only just now figuring out niggly little things like this that aren't obvious or even make much sense...

    Or if you're already drinking the Google coolaid (I know I am), do yourself a favour and get an Android device. Life will get much easier...

    Setting it up as Exchange is the correct method. Apple don't know how to program Gmail correctly into iOS or Mac OS X (In Mac OS X it doesn't even link to the correct folders by default) and their 'Genius' staff are just as clueless (I've had customers have their Google Apps Sync for Outlook PST file manually converted to Apple Mail and thus everything is no longer synced, instead of syncing everything again from Google).

    If you set it up as 'Gmail', you will get Calendar, Mail and Notes. Mail is done via. IMAP, so you will need to enable it (not and by default) and also by default, when you delete a message it goes into "Archive" and not really deleted (you can change this from the Gmail settings page). I don't think that Gmail IMAP supports Push notifications properly (IMAP is not really designed for push). Notes are more suited to iCloud than an IMAP folder. There is NO Contacts option this way.

    If you set it up as 'Exchange', this is the RECOMMENDED method by Google. You get push notifications (reliably). You get CONTACTS sync across all devices (not just Apple). The only problem I have found is that iOS does not detect all contact type fields (so be careful which ones you use), and it doesn't always display the contact photo.

    I keep my gmail email contacts separate from my iPhone contacts. I use CopyTrans Contacts to sync my iphone contacts to my computer.

    Instead I use Exchange sync for Google calendar and email sync between my G account and my iPhone.

    However, I am thinking of dumping Exchange in favour of the iCloud - especially now that iCloud released direct Notes sync. Will keep Gmail enabled for email and calendars. I know that Exchange and iCloud do not work together is that true?

    "The Exchange method is a bit more powerful. It automatically syncs all the messages in your account, lets you use the aliases you’ve set up in Gmail (if any), and uses push to notify you of new messages instantly."

    I thought you couldn't have push and email alias at the same time? I've tried this many times and can't get both push (via exchange) AND alias control. Has anyone been able to successfully do this?

    "You can use the aforementioned Exchange method to sync your calendars, but it won’t let you sync their colours, which can be confusing if you have a lot of calendars. For Calendars, we recommend using the slightly older CalDAV method instead.

    1. Open the Settings app and go to Mail, Contacts, Calendars. Tap the Add Account button and choose Microsoft Exchange from the menu (not Gmail)."

    The opening paragraph and the following statement seem to contradict each other. We are told not to setup calendars under the exchange account because you recommend using the caldav method. Then the following sentence says use the exchange account.

    Can you clarify the calendar setup and why you are recommending to sync via exchange account for mail/contacts and then sync via a second exchange account for calendar sync. As Joann alluded to, this seems confusing.

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