Thursday, March 31, 2011

Replace MobileMe by Syncing with Google and Dropbox

MobileMe is cool. It gives you an email address, 20GB of storage for your emails and iDisk files, syncs contacts and calendars across devices, finds your iDevices, a web gallery for your photos, even a website (for iWeb, naturally). For $99 a year (even more in Canada!). The cool thing is, if you are willing to sacrifice elegance for price, Google and Dropbox can do this for free.

Google's "GoogleMe" replacement tools (icons from Google and Apple, GoogleMe logo mashup by me).

Step 1: iDisk replacement (non-Google)

iDisk is awesome. It gives you 20GB of space to store your files, and a free iPhone App, OS X integration, and to access them. Dropbox can give you 2GB of storage for free, as well as some paid plans for more space. They also support iOS, Linux, Windows, and Macs using the Dropbox app.

To sign up, go to the Dropbox website and click download.

Follow the instructions to install Dropbox and create you're account, and soon you'll be up and running. To sync a file, simply drag it to your Dropbox folder (in My Documents on a PC or your home folder on a Mac by default). Once a green check appears next to it, it has synced. By the way, any files in the Dropbox folder are only copied to the cloud, they can be accessed later, even if you are offline.

Now to get it on your iPhone/iPod/iPad. First download the app from the app store (iTunes Link), and load it on your device of choice. When you launch it, tap I'm already a Dropbox user, and it will ask for your login information. Once you login, you will see the home screen, tap My Dropbox to get to your files. Tap files to view. When viewing, tap the chain on the left to get link options, tap the star to favourite an item to view offline, and tap the rectangle with an arrow to choose to open a document in another app that supports the file type.

For any other computer that doesn't have Dropbox, go to and log in, where you can download and upload files, but not sync them.

The Dropbox for iPhone opening screen

The Dropbox for iPhone Login

The Dropbox for iPhone home screen

And that's it! Repeat the install process on any other devices that you want to sync with, and rock on (for free)!

Step 2: Syncing Contacts

To keep contacts in the cloud, open Address Book, go to Preferences, click Accounts, and under "On My Mac - Local" check Sync with Google. Enter your Google Username and password, and you are set to sync. Unfortunately, syncing is manual (but free is free). To sync, click on iSync in the menubar (the 2 arrows), and click Sync Now. That's it, your contacts will now be available online using your Google account!

The Sync with Google Checkbox

The iSync Menu. Ignore the MobileMe stuff. You have GoogleMe!

Now to get it on your iDevice. If you already sync Contacts with Address Book, no settings need to be changed, Address Book will automatically sync the contacts it has synced with Google. If you want to sync only using the cloud however, add a Microsoft Exchange account in the Settings for Mail, Contacts, and Calendars. Set Email and Username to your Google login email and set password to your Google password. Add a description (my favourite: Pirated GMail Xchange), and click next, and set server to When it goes to a Preferences screen turn on contacts (and calendars, if you have already set up Google Calendars). Choose to delete the already synced contacts, and replace them with the new set. Then, rock on with Google-synced contacts.

Add an Exchange account using Google?

Fill in your Google Info (pic borrowed from Mac|Life, see bottom of page)

Step 3: Sync Calendars

Syncing calendars is a bit tougher. First, export your iCal calendars. To do this, open iCal and choose File>Export>Export. Choose an easy location to find (i used the desktop) and click Export. That will create a file with all your events for the selected calendar in it. Repeat this step for any other calendars you want to sync.

The iCal Export Menu

Now, to get it on Google. First, head to Google Calendars. Now, either create a calendar to act as one of the ones you are using, by clicking add under "My Calendars", or rename the default to suit you. To import the calendar from iCal, click Add under Subscriptions. Choose a calendar to import the events to, and watch as your events sync to Google. Actually, you can't watch, as there's no progress bar for importing. Repeat these steps for all your calendars. You can delete the originals in iCal when you are finished.

Importing a calendar into Google (photo borrowed from Mac|Life, see bottom of page)

Now to import them back into iCal. Open iCal, and enter the Preferences. Click accounts, and click the + button. An add account dialogue will popup, choose Automatic for account type and enter your Google info under username and password. The screen should go away now, to reveal your new account Preferences. Change the refresh interval to what suits you, and don't change the server info unless you know what you're doing. For this step, those of you who don't have multiple calendars, and only use the default, can skip this. Those of you who do use more than one, or don't use the default, read on. To add other calendars, go to Delegations under your account's preferences. After a refresh of your account, it will display all the calendars you have access to, with a checkbox next to each. Check the ones you want to display (Note: I advise you not to try displaying the Weather calendar).

Account Details

Adding "Delegate" Calendars

Now that you have added your Calendars to iCal, it's time to get them on your iDevice. To do this, go back into Mail, Contacts, Calendars in Settings. If you already have Gmail set up, simply use that account, turning on Calendars. If you don't, use the "Exchange" account from the Contacts sync and turn on Calendars as well (you may have to revisit the last step, depending on whether you use iTunes or Google to sync contacts).

Settings for Gmail

Step 3: Free Find my iPhone

Unfortunately, free Find my iPhone is only for iPhone 4, iPod touch 4th generation, and iPad 1 or 2. As well, the WiFi-only iPads and iPod touches can only be located when connected to a WiFi hotspot.

To get free Find my iPhone, go to Mail, Contacts, Calendars in Settings, and tap Add Account. Choose MobileMe, but when asked for your Apple ID and password, put in your non-MobileMe Apple ID. Click next, and you will see the Preferences screen. Turn Find my iPhone on.

To find your device later, go to and log in with the same Apple ID and password. You should be redirected to the Find my iPhone tool. You can also use the Find my iPhone app (iTunes Link) on another iDevice. Find my iPhone locating my iPod. It's more accurate than this but, you know, creepy stalker people.

The Find my iPhone app locating my iPod. It's more accurate than this but, you know, creepy stalker people again.

Step 4: Photo Gallery

You may know of Picasa, Google's photo editing, organizing, and sharing program. You may also know of Picasa web albums, the place where those shared photos go. You may not know, however, that you can use Picasa web albums even without Picasa. First, log into Google and navigate to Picasa Web Albums. If you have a Blogger blog, you already have an album for you blog(s). From Picasa you can upload photos, download the Picasa Uploader for Mac, and share your photos using links and slideshows. I could go into detail about this, but Google already has, in their help pages.

Not Really a Step: Webpage/Blog

There are many web services out there, some free, some cheap, some expensive. For a blog, I recommend Blogger. For a very small website, All Macs come with a built in, IP address based, website. To publish to it, delete everything in the "Sites" folder in your Home folder, then tell iWeb to publish to that folder. To put the site on the internet, go to System Preferences and turn on Web Sharing in "Sharing" (not to be confused with Internet Sharing) on. To navigate to it, find out your computer's IP address, and type that into the address bar. That will take you to a page that only says: "It works!". To get to your page, add ~yourhomefolder/ to the end, replacing yourhomefolder with the name of your home folder.

And That's it for GoogleMe! Now go out there and rock on with your Dropbox and Google back-up and sync system!

This article, and it's title and title picture, was inspired by a Mac|Life article about the same topic (without Dropbox or Find my iPhone) that can be found here. All photos and screenshots not declared otherwise were taken by me.

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