Google Mail, Calendars and Apple iPhone

A while back I wrote about a neat little app called NuevaSync which pretty much handled all that was needed to get iCal, Google Calendars and mail working seamlessly together. Today I want to share a different way of doing things.

It all started when NuevaSync wanted to charge money. I decided I didn’t want an account and started looking at alternatives. For a long time now I have been running my email through Google servers, and setting up an ‘MX’ record with my domain hosting company to send all company mail through GMail. This is brilliant – I get a domain based email address with all the power of Gmail behind it… and I can collect mail through IMAP on my phone, laptop, desktop or through a web browser. Lovely.

However, calendars have always been a bit of a problem. Until recently, NuevaSync took the hard work out of things, but I needed a new way of doing things.

When you use an iPhone to collect mail and link to calendars you have to add an account to the device. It is superbly easy to just go with the ‘Google’ option as it is already pre-defined and all you do is enter your username and password. It works a treat, but there are some drawbacks – for example, when you want to delete mail it only allows you to archive it instead. Calendars only gave you one main calendar, and I run several. SO what to do?

First of all, *don’t* set ‘Google’ as the new account. I choose the ‘Other’ option and fill in the details manually. It’s pretty simple stuff, but it only gives me Mail and Notes. In order to add a calendar I have to go through the same process a second time but select calendar account as the option. Apart from that small inconvenience, everything works really well.

I can now get my calendar through the iCal app on my phone or laptop, collect email through the mail app on either device, or of course use any computer and connect through the web.

Adding events on any device pushes them to all others within a few minutes, and as you’d expect, editing and deleting are just as easy.

So, no need for NuevaSync anymore… it’s all built right in.

iPad vs iPhone vs Macbook Pro

iPad Image
The Apple iPad

I’ve been a very lucky chap this Christmas, and after months of saying I don’t need one, I was given an iPad (32Gb WiFi only) ! What a brilliant gift to get, but I was a little sceptical about how useful it would be. After all, I have a decent Mac laptop, and I have long had an iPhone, so what could I possibly need an ‘inbetweener’ device like an iPad for?

It turns out that since opening it on the 25th, I haven’t actually put it down, which tells me something must be quite good.

First up, battery life. The iPhone is notorious for the need to re-charge every day, often before the whole day has finished. The thing is, using the phone as much as I do for work, it soon runs low – calls, emails, occasional browsing and the odd gam or two whilst on a train all take their toll. The device just doesn’t have the level of power I need. The Macbook, on the other hand, is amply blessed with power – running for about 4-5 hours between charges. Simply put, it’s not enough for a whole day on battery alone, and needs a charge at least once during the day. Now, the macbook is in use constantly, all day, every day whilst at work. It gets used for high level activities such as film editing, 3D design, DVD authoring and so on, as well as email, web browsing, presentations and such like. All in all it is the workhorse of the work place. The iPad has been charged once since I got it – it runs about 8-10 hours before needing more power, and this is pretty significant.

Screen size – as I get a little longer in the tooth, so I find things harder to read without adequate light, and distance. The iPhone is just about bearable, but I more often than not turn it to landscape and enlarge the images (especially web pages) just to be able to read things. So I need glasses… but not when I use the Macbook Pro – everything is dandy there. Lovely screen, everything perfectly sized for me. The iPad is also pretty well sized, and what I need to enlarge on the iPhone I don’t on the iPad. The screen is gorgeous.

Apps are available for iPhone and iPad – many simply transfer with no problems from phone to pad. Some do still run at the same size as the phone when on the iPad, but there is a handy ‘2x’ button to enlarge the display. This is used more frequently than you can imagine. The Facebook app, for example, is not yet able to run natively at full size on an iPad. Others, such as the Twitter app are fine, and the BBC News app is simply brilliant on the iPad. It’s OK on the iPhone, but crashes from time to time.

Other apps, like those I use regularly on the macBook Pro are there too – ‘Keynote’ for presentations, ‘Numbers’ for spreadsheets and ‘Pages’ for word processing. They are pretty fully featured copies of the software for a fraction of the price of the main application, and well worth buying.

One or two things in the apps annoy me. When typing I find it very very easy to hit a command button, often located along the top edge of the keyboard layout area, which does me no good. More than once I’ve been typing a blog post to see it all disappear in an instant! Frustratingly, it is more my fault than the software, but I wish these sorts of buttons weren’t put so close to the typing area!

Now the bigger issue – connectivity. With just the wifi version I don’t have a simple way of connecting to the internet when out of range of a wifi hotspot. My phone has a 3G signal, and I have a 3G dongle for the macbook. the iPad without a 3G connection may prove to be infuriating, although I have a plan.

The iPad has no USB port (what?? I can’t quite understand why…) and so no way of attaching a broadband dongle. The Macbook has two USB ports, of course and so no such limitations exist. However, the broadband dongle is a pay as you go device, with 12Gb data to use over a 12 month period. That time is nearly up, so a new dongle will be needed. Rather than buy a straight replacement, I think a ‘MiFi’ device will be needed! These superb little gadgets connect to the internet using 3G as usual, but they act as a wireless hotspot as well, allowing up to five nearby devices to share the connection they make. Genius. With a strong password it should be fine to use in a public place, I think… I’ll let you know when I get one and try it out!

Smaller irritations include the fact there is no simple ‘video out’ – to do this I need to buy an adaptor which plugs in to the dock connector and converts to VGA. I would think it a considerable improvement to add this to the box with the iPad, but no, it’ll cost a further £20 to have this ability.

Finally, no cameras. Is this a disadvantage? personally, I think not. Whilst it would be nice to have the occasional video chat through an application like AIM, I am not distraught at not being able to. I have lots of other ways to take photos, after all, and if I need to video chat with folk I think I’d prefer to do so on the ‘workhorse’, not the iPad. As for connecting cameras to the iPad, or just connecting a memory card, or even a USB device to transfer images, this is a bigger cause of complaint. The iPad boasts the ability to display images like a digital photo frame. Wonderful. However, getting images onto the iPad is a bit of a performance, requiring iTunes to achieve it. How much simpler it would be to just insert an SD card, or a USB hard drive to transfer files directly.

In conclusion, the iPad is a superb piece of kit. I have been astonished at how often I use it when I was convinced there was no place for it in the line up of tools at my disposal. I can see now that it forges it’s own niche very easily, and is simply brilliant at doing the simple things that an iPhone makes tricky. In terms of processing power there is more than enough there, but I wouldn’t use it to edit video – it’s best placed for lightweight work -the occasional presentation, word processing or spreadsheet work, but ultimately it is brilliant at displaying web pages better than an iPhone ever will be. And better than getting the laptop out too – far less intrusive, lighter in weight and pretty well capable of doing most common tasks.

But by far the biggest advantage over either phone or laptop is the battery life. It is outrageously good at staying on! With the ability to run for 8 hours easily, it more than compensates for any shortcomings it may have.

Oh, and did I say it looks pretty snazzy too?

The iPad then is a rather good device. It is slightly overpriced (most Apple gadgets are, though) and has some features missing that you’d expect to be there. However, it is a very good device, and one which I am surprised to say I didn’t know I needed until I had one for about two hours. From then on it was obvious that I needed it!

iPhone and Google calendars, sync Google and iPhone, Nuevasync

It is really not pleasant when you read that your iPhone will sync with Google calendars, and that iPhone software version 3.0 will allow you to have up o 25 calendars at a time, to find out that it actually doesn’t work as you think it might.

The instructions from our friends at Google are simple enough – use MS Exchange, add in your account details and you are good to go… but must first enable mobile devices in your Google dashboard (obviously this doesn’t apply to a personal Google account, only a business or academic one). In the instructions it lovingly tells you all will be well, but doesn’t mention what to do if all is decidedly unwell.

Every time I have tried to do this, I have managed to get my main default calendar only. It doesn’t matter if it is iPhone 2.0 or 3.0… still the same. And still the frustration mounts!

Having upgraded to version 3.0 today, I was fired up and ready to try a final time. Not easily put off when facing defeat, I tried for three hours, all to no avail. What a waste of time. I then read some other blogs and came across a third party service – – and since it is free, decided to try it.

Lo and behold, after typing in the right details to Nuevasync, my iPhone shows ALL of my calendars, not just the general one. Glory be!

Now, if Nuevasync can do this, I’m pretty sure it is possible for Google to do it. I don’t see why we need a third party in the loop here, but for goodness sake, nobody let Nuevasync go out of business!

I now get to see all of my calendars in iCal on my phone, can add events and they sync to the main google calendar, add others, and have others add to my diary (yup, it’s a preference setting for work based calendars)… it ALL works as it should.

If you are as frustrated as I was, go to the Nuevasync web site, sign up for a free account and edit the settings. You’ll be running in about three minutes where before you were plodding.

Just be a little careful with your contacts and email though – if you enable these through Nuevasync, you *will* lose everything off your phone when the first sync happens. Be sure that you have got everything you need backed up, or in Google… or both!

Access iPhone Backup, recover files from iPhone backup

output from python fileIt was bound to happen sooner or later. I took a photo with my phone and used the image as the wallpaper for when the phone is locked. However, I completely overlooked this when I deleted the original image from the camera roll. This meant I had an image in place but no way of accessing it, and I quite liked the image!

It turns out that when you connect your iPhone to your Mac and iTunes starts, it runs a backup and places some files in your ‘~Library/Applications Support/MobileSync/Backup folder. The problem is that they are SQLLite files and not easily readable in any simple way. This is where I turn to the Apple community, particularly the discussions, and ask for help. Here is the post I made.

I was so pleased with the response – almost immediate and ultimately one of the most helpful. It appears there is a Python script able to open those files and restore the folder structure from the innards of your phone. The thread answers the questions most folk will have, but I thought I’d post here too.

What you need to do is copy the backup folder and all it’s contents to an easily accessible place – I chose a new folder on my desktop. Copy the Python script into the same folder. You then need to change the permissions on that script to ensure that it is executable. You should do this through the terminal, which means you’ll probably need to use ‘sudo’ and ‘chown’ to set the values correctly. Once you have done this you can run the script. You do this by typing ‘sudo’, then the complete path to the script, a forward slash, then the complete path to the folder (you can simply drag the items into the terminal window to do this and the paths will be filled in automatically for you). Finish with a forward slash and then ‘*.mdbackup’.

What this will do is reconstruct the entire iPhone folder structure inside the place you have got the python script and backup folder. Once done you can then set the permissions for the resulting foder and copy to all items inside… you can then access and manipulate the files.

This was, in fact, ludicrously easy – I had help from a former colleague who is something of a star with this stuff, but if you know a few basic commands in the terminal you should be OK.

I’ve also uploaded the Python script for you all to download from here in case it goes offline elsewhere. The original is HERE. The one I used (and changed ownership on) is HERE.

Apple iPhone case, protecting your iPhone

picture of iPhone in a caseOne thing that won’t have escaped anyone’s attention about Apple products since the days of the early iMacs and iPods is that they are pretty. Jonathan Ive has been shaping the look of these gadgets for a long time and is still making them extremely desirable just form their look. Design is very important of course, and needs to be blended with equally good functionality. This is why I believe Apple products do so well.

However, one problem with having such lovely design is how to keep it looking lovely. For example, my 3rd Generation iPod has a shiny chrome back cover, which suffers enormously from smudges, scratches and generally getting bashed about. I keep it in the case it came in, but somehow even sliding it in and out of that has introduced wear and tear. Of course, it is a good few years old now, has had new batteries (see my article about replacing an iPod battery) and gets used almost every day. It is bound to suffer wear and tear, and I should expect no less.

The problem has moved on now though, as I also have my iPhone to protect. There are literally hundreds of cases designed to look after your iPhone, and some are remarkably expensive affairs by comparison to others. The ones I’ve seen or used include wallet type ‘fold over’ where you slot the phone in the top and there is a front flap which opens and closes like a book to reveal the phone controls, clear plastic cases that snap on, and various types of rubber or silicone rubber sleeves which you wrap around the phone.

The issue with the wallet type has been that the phone can easily slide out of the opening at the top since there is no strap to keep it in. Thus, casually hoding the case the wrong way up can result in a nasty fall to whatever surface is below. In Matt’s case that has been everything from carpet to concrete. Not good. They also require more manipulation to answer the phone and are much more bulky in your pocket. If, like me, you keep your phone in your jeans pocket then that’s not a good thing!

The clip on plastic covers also increase bulk somewhat, although not drastically. They do also protect the device, but they look, well, odd. It somehow destroys all of that lovely design work and you end up with something akin to a cheap underwater housing for a disposable camera. They are low cost, and they look it, too, IMO. The one exception for me *might* be the InCase ‘slider’ for iPhone and iPod touch.

So that leaves the silicone rubber covers, and at the moment that is what I’m using. There are lots on the market, some in funky colours, some with reinforced ribbing, some with built in screen protectors and so on. I’ve looked at most and discounted most. There’s even one made from a material designed to protect helicopter rotor blades whirring at high speed in a sandy environment. Nice. The one I am using is in fact very cheap and soft feeling that covers most of the phone, but not the front glass. This hardly affects the overall bulk, allows easy access to the controls and essentially is just plain black. It looks smart to me. I also cover the glass with a stick on screen protector (around £3.00) which is probably overkill, but I feel better about keeping my phone in my pocket with these sorts of things on. The touch screen operation is not affected in any way by such a protective cover.

The only downsides I can find are that the rubber material doesn’t slide easily over cotton and thus getting the phone out of a pocket invariably brings the pocket inside out with it! I also have two rather large holes on the iPhone itself – the headphone socket and the dock connector – and these are susceptible to that dreaded of all afflictions – pocket fluff. No matter how clean your garments, fluff collects in the pockets! The worry is that the fluff will lodge in the sockets on the phone and prevent them working as they should.

So far, one month later, that hasn’t been an issue, thank goodness.

Phone covers are pretty personal things, and different people will want different ones. I’ve found the rubber cases to be better for lots of reasons than the leather wallet types, but I guess you’ll have to make up your own mind. For what it’s worth, I spent less than ten pounds on a rubber case and a screen protector film. I’m happy with the protection, knowing I’ll never use the phone as a helicopter rotor blade, unless in some MacGyver moment I am thrown into a survival situation and that’s what I need to do to escape. Alernatively, I’ll just ring for help…