Android vs. iPhone: Which Does a Better Job Syncing to the Cloud?


The Reviews of the Android G1 Phone on T-Mobile are out and the verdicts are generally as follows: Partly Cloudy1, but forecasting big things to come. We're not going to try to hit every point just yet, but there's one point where this "Sidekick for Grownups" has what appears to be a real advantage over everybody else: dead-simple cloud setup.

So compared to the iPhone, just how good is the setup on the G1? The answer is: Depends on whether or not you're a Gmail type of person.

Yeah, "depends" isn't exactly a clear answer, so follow us after the break for a bit more on whether the G1 is PIM Push Paradise compared to MobileMe's Mechanized Movement of information.

(1Sorry, could help myself with that pun)

Android vs. iPhone for Gmail Users

Gmail and the G1

Picture 6.png

With the G1, you simply punch in your Google credentials and wait a few and boom, you have push Gmail, Push Contacts, and Push Calendar. If you're already a Gmail lover, this is pretty much la creme de la creme. The Gmail client on the G1 is getting very high marks, works just like Gmail on the web, and is generally tops.

Unfortunately, the other two parts of Gmail's Sync -- Contacts and Calendar -- aren't as hot. Engadet notes that what Google does to your contacts is a crime: it mucks them up by first being difficult to work with on their web-based contact manager and mucks them up double-time by automatically adding email addresses of people you've sent mail to more than a couple times.

The result (and I know this from personal Google Contacts Syncing experience) is your address book pretty much becomes a hellacious mess. Your only options are to either be eternally vigilant about the state of your contacts or to just let the darn thing go and hope that you can search through it fairly quickly.

The calendar app on the G1 is also getting mixed reviews, as folks are finding it better for viewing than they are for data entry. In this sense, it's not all that different than the iPhone.

Gmail and the iPhone


We'll start this with a caveat -- we're not going to count Google's excellent iPhone-centric web interfaces here, just the native stuff. Although I still think that the G1 won't stop Google's iPhone fixation and that means continued iPhone support and improvements, we want to compare (ahem) apples to apples.

Up until the introduction of the G1, the best mobile email client for Gmail has been the iPhone -- bar none. Gmail's famously wonky IMAP rarely gives the iPhone fits (though it certainly does happen from time to time) and the iPhone's rather clever method of only loading a folder when you enter it (and only loading the most recent 25 at that) mean that it doesn't suffer from the tragic "All Mail" problem). In all -- Gmail on the iPhone is great.

Except, that is, if you're looking for push email.

Pushing Gmail to the iPhone is basically an invitation to suffering because there are only three email systems that push email to the iPhone: Yahoo!, MobileMe and Exchange. If you want your Gmail pushed, you need to forward a copy of all messages to a Yahoo!, MobileMe or Exchange account and then set that up on your iPhone. There are then nasty hacks to get your "from" address right, but still no good way to deal with folders/labels.

Now -- contacts and calendars are also a world of fun. If your stuff lives in Google, you are going to need to find solutions to sync them to your desktop. Once that happens, however, you're golden as you can set up MobileMe on both PC and Mac to push the info out to your smartphone. It's not an ideal, direct-push solution, but it works pretty well for most people.

On a Mac, you can sync the address book directly to Google (with the above-mentioned pain) and for Calendar you need to use something like the excellent Spanning Sync software for calendars.

On a PC, check out OggSync for calendars. For Contacts iTunes itself will let you sync to Google.

In both cases, where you really need to start is at our how-to article " Switching to iPhone: How To Move Your Contacts, Calendar, Email, Bookmarks, and Photos to the iPhone"

So as you can see by the length of this section, if your data lives in Gmail, the G1 is a lot better.

Advantage: G1

Android vs. iPhone for MobileMe or Exchange Users

MobileMe or Exchange and the G1

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Okay, we've said it before and we'll say it again: one huge advantage the iPhone has is that while Google loves the iPhone and provides a huge number services for it, the G1 gets nothing in return from Apple. So, in a way, every iPhone user gets the best of both worlds (four worlds if we count Exchange and Yahoo!). That's a pretty compelling competitive advantage. 

So, if your data lives in MobileMe or Exchange/Outlook and you want to get it onto the G1, things are going to be dicey for awhile. There is no default sync client out yet, though 3rd parties like Funambol are creating ways to sync In the short term, here are your options of you don't want to just switching everything over to Gmail:

With email you have two choices:

  1. Forward to Gmail for Push, but use Android's IMAP email program (yes, it's separate from the other email client) to send. You may also be able to use the G1's Gmail program to send if the Gmail program works with Gmail's "Send As" feature (we don't know yet).
  2. Just settle for Android's IMAP email program for both receiving and sending. In this case, you're giving up push email.

So that's not ideal. For contacts and calendar, you're actually going to be in the same boat that iPhone users are in with regard to Gmail -- namely finding a way to sync your desktop information up to Google so you can sync it down to the G1.

MobileMe or Exchange and the iPhone


Despite the well-known early issues with MobileMe, everything's pretty-well shaken out now. You enter in your sync information, you wait a tic, and boom, everything from Email to Contacts to Calendar is sync'd and pushing.

Now, setting up either MobileMe or Exchange on the iPhone isn't as simple as the one-time process on the G1, but it's still pretty straightforward. Once again, TiPb has your back:

  1. How to Set up Exchange ActiveSync on the iPhone
  2. How to set up MobileMe on the iPhone.

Advantage: iPhone

Android vs. iPhone for Everybody Else

What, no push email solution for you? Love Yahoo? Love Hotmail? What's the over/under in this competition?

Everybody else and the G1

Basically your best options for email are the ones we laid out for MobileMe or Exchange and the G1: Use the G1's sub-par IMAP email client or forward stuff to Gmail. To sync the other stuff, find a way to sync it from your desktop to Google as described above in the Gmail and the iPhone section.

Here's the notable thing with the G1, though: since it's a completely open platform, there's no reason that Yahoo or Microsoft or, well, or anybody couldn't create push and sync solutions for the Android Platform. It's entirely feasible that Yahoo could create a version of Yahoo Go! for Android that would seamlessly sync your email, contacts, and calendar the G1. It hasn't happened yet, but don't be surprised when it does. (Though we won't hold our breath waiting for Apple to develop a MobileMe solution for the G1...)

Everybody else and the iPhone

Here the situation is also not great, but it's pretty good. Yahoo users can get their email pushed out to the iPhone, everybody else can just set up email manually. Those folks won't have push, but thankfully the iPhone's email client is pretty good.

For contacts and calendar, well, you're either going to have to sync manually via iTunes or buy into MobileMe or Exchange in some way.

We're going to call this one a Tie with a possible KO in the future if Android sync apps come out. Syncing desktop to Google can be a pain for some whereas the iPhone at least gives you the option of wired sync.

Advantage: Tied (for now)


For Google-lovers, the G1 clearly offers better cloud and sync. For MobileMe and Exchange, the iPhone clearly wins out. If you want the trifecta of Google and Exchange/MobileMe goodness, the iPhone also has that edge. For the rest, it's a bit of a (ugly) tie, but the way things look platform-wise the G1 has more potential there. In all, the best way Apple can close that potential gap is to open up the iPhone to more syncing solutions from other companies. We're not holding our breath. We are holding out a little bit of hope, though: if Andoid really does take off, Apple just might feel compelled to respond by opening up their platform.

One last footnote: Why do Apple and Google hate ToDo and Notes? Back when Palm invented the Palm Pilot, Personal Information Management (PIM) was a 4-legged table: Contacts, Calendar, ToDo, and Notes. While we're more than happy to see that Email has been added to that equation, when are we going to get those forgotten PIM essentials on modern platforms?

Have something to say about this story? Leave a comment! Need help with something else? Ask in our forums!

Dieter Bohn

Dieter Bohn is former editor-in-chief of Smartphone Experts, writing across iMore, Windows Phone Central, Android Central, and more. You can find him on Twitter (and everywhere else) @backlon.

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Reader comments

Android vs. iPhone: Which Does a Better Job Syncing to the Cloud?


I would say that the iPhone is an immense and complete failure when it comes to GMail. It flat out just does not work. The only way I get notified of new mail is to wake the phone, and enter the mail application.
Huge advantage for G1 on that side. Apple NEEDS to fix these email bugs.

My Gmail issues are not with the iPhone, they're with Gmail. Even on my desktop and laptop, I routinely get invalid certificate, concurrent connection, and other errors. Gmai's IMAP implementation is just plain buggy. It doesn't work yet (and a quick scan of Twitter will reveal seasoned pros abandoning Gmail IMAP entirely for that reason).
The iPhone has some fetch-mail problems/tradeoffs, but Google has to get Gmail out of perpetual "beta" excuse mode and into primetime.
Conversely -- and perversely compared to Jeremy's problems -- MobileMe has been flawless for me. Day One, on July 11, I got a new iPhone 3G and couldn't transfer over my data because iTunes was down. I hit the MobileMe button, entered my credentials, and Boom! all my email, contacts, and calendars were right there, and I could get right back to work. ActiveSycn, similarly, was right up and running.
That's the iPhone's current killer advantage: it works great with Apple and Microsoft, and okay with Google. Android works great with Google, but not at all with Apple or Microsoft. I'm sure Google could/will license ActiveSync, but while the iPhone will get killer Google services for the foreseeable future (because Google wants to get iPhone user eyeballs and ad revenue), Android will likely never get anything from Apple.

I forward my Gmail to my mobileme email and it works like a charm. Pushes instantly and I like it. :)

We'd port OggSync (gMail calendar and contact sync) to iPhone (we have windows mobile and PC outlook versions), however Apple doesn't allow 3rd party apps to sync with their calendar.
The only thing we can offer right now is syncing to Outlook and then having iTunes sync Outlook to your iPhone. However this doesn't work very well as the iTunes Outlook sync is very buggy.

  • Shawn (OggSync)

I don't have any problem getting my email either.....oh wait. I have a BLACKBERRY and don't have to have a dog and pony show for that function. I notice the Berry's weren't invited to this party. It is one (among many reasons) I switched back to my Curve and gave that iPhone to my 2 year old. He uses it for what it was intended....A TOY!!

Boy I wish I could be as cool as Scott.
One huge plus iPhone has is the ability to push sync both Exchange and MobileMe simultaneously. I can get all my work email, calendars, and contacts pushed to my phone via Exchange and at the same time get my personal contacts and calendar pushed from my personal Outlook (non-Exchange) via MobileMe. It's the best of both worlds and both were extremely simple to set up. Can Blackberry do that?

Awesome Scott! Pretty soon when the plan on my BB expires with Sprint, I'm going to let my dog have as a chew toy! I guess we are equally cool right?

I had a blackberry for work based emails. Jagged mess, no formatting, etc... The iPhone displays it the same as my desktop! As for the toy comment - WHAT A TOY!!!

what I really want to do is create a caledar event from my iPhone and invite meeting attendees to it. Why has this been such a problem and are there any apps that adress this wonderful abscent feature.

What Josh said. I love most aspects of the whole MobileMe/ActiveSync thing on the iPhone, but not being able to invite someone to a meeting is a pain in the ass.

i miss to do notes....i end up sending myself emails or actually writing things down on a slip of paper. how archaic.

Writing things down on paper?... what is this "paper" you speak of? ;)
Just kidding.
I love my iphone, but i've never had a blackberry.
It's just i feel like i'm a little spoiled because there are only a few buttons/keys I have to deal with... Another reason why I think the iPhone is better than G1... but that's just me ;)

My concern is about the "send as" feature. Does Android G1 Gmail allow me to "send as" different email addresses if I have them set up in Gmail on the web?
And just as importantly, if an email comes addressed to one of those other addresses, but auto-forwarded or pulled to the Gmail account, will my reply automatically come from the address to which it was sent?
If Android is going to make me pick only one Gmail account for my Gmail app, then it should make sure these features are enabled.

I forward all GMail to Mail2Web which is an Exchange server so I "indirectly" push my Gmail to my iPhone.

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