Gmail, MobileMe, Address Book synced contacts sanity

Latest: Over the air sync options between iPhone & Mac + Google

When Gmail first opened its perpetual beta email service, I realized that having contacts automatically added to my address book was a huge advantage. When it came time to compose a new message, the TO: field provided quick access to hundreds of contacts with no more than a few keystrokes.

That collection of a few hundred had grown to an unwieldy number. I still had quick access to contacts while composing emails, but a large percentage of the contacts list turned into pure junk. Randomized emails, newsletters, anonymous craigslist replies for listed items… Fortunately, Google implemented some logic with My Contacts, Most Contacted, and Suggested Contacts to help gain some control of the mess. I took a few minutes during down time each day to trim my contacts list down.

Separate contacts list with Address Book

To make managing contacts even more of a headache, my desktop Address Book had grown its own database of contacts primarily from my mobile phone. I lost count of the number of times I would compose an email only to realize the contact info was in somewhere else.

The contacts list mothership

Harmony was achieved using Address Book as the core contacts list manager. The setup involved a little manual clean-up but the end result is one that allows me to have access to the same contact info via Gmail, Apple Mail, the iPhone, or any of the other computers I use on a regular basis.

Gmail Address Book Apple

Address Book now supports synchronization with Exchange, Yahoo, and Google. You’ll want to enable Google syncing – entering your Google Account credentials when requested. (Check these instructions on how to properly backup your Address Book – just in case)

Address Book Google sync feature

Address Book find DuplicatesOnce Address Book successfully retrieves all of your contacts from Gmail, you’re ready for even more manual cleanup. You may immediately notice duplicate contact entries. No worries, select ‘Card > Look for Duplicates…’ in the Address Book menu.

What duplicates are found can be easily merged together from the menu bar ‘Card > Merge Selected Cards’. Chances are the merge will combine info for your contacts into the wrong fields. Edit as needed.

Fortunately, any changes you make locally on your computer via Address Book will be synchronized with your Gmail contacts list

It’s smooth sailing after getting your Gmail contacts synced with Address Book. The same can be done with your Yahoo contacts if you’re using that service on a daily basis.

Contact synchronization with the iPhone and Address Book is done with MobileMe. A yearly subscription will set you back $70.

If I was not using some of the other "cloud" features offered – like OTA iCal updates and picture / video sharing – I would probably make use of free alternatives for syncing just the Address Book between computers (see below).

See Address Book updates immediately

Create a new Smart Group

Recent smart groupGmail will continue to add contacts to your address book automatically. If you want to quickly identify which contacts are being updated in your Address Book, you can do so with a simple ‘Smart Group’. Open Address Book and go to ‘File > New Smart Group…’ or Option + CMD + N.

  • Smart Group Name: Recent
  • Match the following: Card, has changed in, 3, days
  • Check ‘Highlight group when updated’ and then ‘Ok’.

With the Smart Group created, any time you open Address Book, the ‘Recent’ group in the sidebar will be highlighted signifying that changes have been made to your contacts list.

Synchronize contacts between machines for free

No iPhone? No need for OTA contact syncing? Looking for basic contact syncing between multiple computers? You’re already setup. If you are using Gmail or Yahoo, simply setup synchronization on your other computers and marvel at the magic of free contacts syncing.

If you’re not a fan of using Gmail or Yahoo to sync your Address Book, you can use one of my favorites – Dropbox. Referencing the wiki, you can sync files or folders outside of the standard ‘My Dropbox’ folder. Using this technique, synchronize your Address Book file in /Users/[yourusername]/Library/Application Support/AddressBook.


  • If you haven’t already caught wind of this update, Gmail now supports offline mode. You know, just like a desktop email client. Read more info on the update then hit up the Settings > Labs section of your account to enable the feature.
  • Credit for Gmail, iMac, iPhone 3G, and MacBook icons.

Discuss - 67 Comments

  1. That’s a great tip Derek – thanks!

  2. Liam Getreu says:


    One thing to add is to recommend backing up both your Address Book and Gmail contacts before you start. While it may seem self-explanatory, I tried this a month or so ago, and was very glad that I’d backed up, because once I’d had a play and mucked it up bad I was able to go back in time nice and quick.

    I think your bravery may re-inspire me, and I might try again tomorrow… it certainly would be handy to have everything together 🙂


    • Derek says:

      Good point about backing up data before attempting a sync. Updating the post with a reference to Google for instructions on how to backup.

  3. Joost Schuur says:

    How are you preventing Address Book from syncing with Google’s Suggested Contacts? They’re sepaarted out, but in my tests they’re still synced and I can’t find an option to either not sync those, or eliminate the Suggested Contacts feature altogether.

    FWIW I’m using Google Apps for my domain.

    • Derek says:

      As far as I know there is no way to disabled syncing suggested contacts from Gmail. I do know that the API which would allow for that to happen was pushed by Gmail, Address Book just hasn’t been updated to specify that particular option. I’ll update if I find a work around. Correction: No confirmation that Gmail has actually pushed the API change.

    • Joost Schuur says:

      Any reason you struck out those comments? SpanningSync talked about an API change that let you identify Suggested Contacts here, so your comments about Apple not having implemented it yet seem plausible:

      Luckily it’s not too big of a deal. Just go into your Suggested Contacts group every week or so and do a quick select and delete. The syncing takes care of the rest in the next few minutes.

    • Derek says:

      I retracted some of my previous comment because I couldn’t find a supporting link. Thanks for updating with info from SpanningSync. I’m still scratching my head trying to figure out a way to filter out the recommended contacts without having to wait for an Apple update.

  4. Stephan says:

    Have you heard of Nuevasync ( They offer free OTA syncing of calendar and contact data with Google. Works great with the iPhone. Another reason to skip MobileMe.

    • Derek says:

      I actually just heard about Nuevasync offering free syncing while reading feeds this weekend. I checked out the service. Any info on whether or not the service is going to remain free? I download a trial of BusySync yesterday.

    • Stephan says:

      According to their FAQ there will always be free service, but who knows if it’ll stay like it is today. I guess only time will tell. If they do start charging for what’s free today, I hope it’s something affordable and still make it a cheaper solution than MobileMe.

    • Derek says:

      Based on how effective and reliable Google contact / calendar syncing has been I definitely see myself letting MobileMe expire.

    • Stephan says:

      I had already been using calendar sync via iCal. Added the contact sync to the mix when moving to Nuevasync. I like not having to sync my iPhone to my Mac to get new calendar data especially. My wife and I share calendars so that we can keep up with each other and three kids. 🙂

    • Derek says:

      I will seriously need to consider a service like Nuevasync to replace the OTA syncing MobileMe offers. I’m going to keep an eye on the service for sure.

  5. Liam Getreu says:

    Derek (and others),

    Any hint as to how the sync handles Gmail contacts’ groups? Since I last tried the sync I’ve added some groups to make my life easier when sending big emails out, and I don’t want to lose them in the sync.

    I know it doesn’t do Address Book contact sync’ing, but yeah, Gmail’s?


    • Derek says:

      Groups created in the Gmail contacts list are not synced down to Address Book. Contacts are, but not the groups they are contained in.

    • Liam Getreu says:

      But are the groups preserved in Gmail?


    • Derek says:

      Confirmed. The groups do stay in Gmail. It looks like the sync ignores ‘My Contacts’, ‘Most Contacted’, ‘Suggested Contacts’, and any custom groups. A preference to select which groups to sync will probably show up in no time.

  6. Liam Getreu says:

    Hrm… looks like it’s worth a try, then.

    Thanks Derek.


  7. Phil Bowell says:

    Any ideas how the Google Contacts sync will work without MobileMe? I was under the impression you needed that or to manually sync your iPhone/iPod touch with iTunes to get the sync to trigger.

    • Phil Bowell says:

      I’ve answered my own question to night with a little testing.

      It seems the Google sync only works when MobileMe is set up to sync on the Mac as well. I turned it off tonight, and switched the Nuevasync for my contacts and calendars. Calendars worked with BusySync excellently, however the contacts sync didn’t. I made a change on my iPhone and it seemed to work with Google, but my Mac wouldn’t bring the change down. Even when I triggered a “Sync Now” using the iSync menu item, nothing changed. The moment I turned MobileMe sync for contacts back on, the change showed up.

  8. KarenHelena says:

    I think I am over synced and I am really confused as to which one is overwriting which one. I have spend hours upon hours (its ridiculous, really) figuring out how to import my contacts from OutLook and Hotmail and then cleaning them up so that the followiing will all sync: MobileMe, AddressBook, iphone, ical and gmail. I purchased this software (Address Book Importer) that takes xls or csv files and properly matches up all the fields. It worked great, yet now all this work seems to be getting overwrittten. I am getting duplicates and it is very frustrating. I just don’t have the time to keep messing with my contacts and calendars.

    I read all the above explanations yet, I still don’t really get it. My MAC keeps telling me I have over 250 conflicts, yet I am not making any changes. Ugh. Please help me, using the most simple explanation as possible.

  9. Derek says:

    Are you syncing with other computers? Or are you using MobileMe for OTA sync with your iPhone?

  10. Chris says:

    An open source sync program is Funambol, and they have a hosted server at I just started using that this weekend and it works pretty well, and holds a backup of my contacts as well as syncing between Outlook, BlackBerry, and iPhone.

  11. tgb says:

    Check out the google sync service. It works between the iphone and gmail, without mobileme.

  12. Mark says:


    As you know, Apple rather mysteriously “fixes” your duplicates, but won’t let you review, let alone approve the changes. I was able to tweak your “Recents” smart group idea into a workaround for reviewing duplicates.

    1. File > Export > Address Book Archive…
    2. Card > Look for Duplicates…
    3. Merge
    4. Take a screenshot of the Recents smart group
    5. File > Import > Address Book Archive…
    6. Manually review and update cards

    As it turns out 6 of the duplicates that were fixed by Apple were, in fact, duplicates. As for the other 3 “duplicates”, I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT DATA APPLE MERGED because they were most certainly NOT duplicates.

  13. Mark says:

    Oh, I meant to say thanks for helping me figure out that workaround!



  14. Lys says:

    I’m about to sync my Gmail and MobileMe contacts to Addressbook, and am nervous about wiping out the MobileMe contacts — is there any chance of this happening? This is for my work, and MobileMe definitely has the lion’s share of contacts, and I don’t want to get fired! 🙂

    I backed up Gmail and Addressbook already, but is there any way to backup MobileMe?

    • Derek says:

      Sync your MobileMe contacts with Address Book first before doing the Gmail sync. Then do another backup of your Address Book. Your initial sync will provide the option to replace or merge data. Select merge. Any conflicts that are discovered will be presented to you as popups. I haven’t heard of MobileMe contacts being completely trashed with a sync UNLESS you initiate an explicit request to replace data on the MobileMe server with data on your computer.

  15. Lys says:

    I attempted the MobileMe / Address Book sync, and got a message saying “Could not complete sync due to inconsistent data. Confirm that your computer’s data is valid, then reset Contacts on MobileMe in System Preferences.”

    Is this trying to tell me that the fields don’t match…. or what does it mean by “inconsistent” and “valid” data?

    Thanks for all your help!

    • Derek says:

      Not entirely sure what is triggering that error. Personally, I would log into the mobile interface for MobileMe, select all of your contacts, and then export them as a backup. Then reset your MobileMe data via System Preferences and replace server data with that from your computer. Once completed, you can then import the previously exported file from the web interface.

  16. […] a follow-up to Gmail, MobileMe, Address Book synced contacts sanity, this is a simple walk through on setting up OTA sync between your iPhone and Mac + Google. While […]

  17. […] Book. This smart group will notify you of any changes done which you were not aware of. Thanks to Derek for this […]

  18. Murphy Mac says:

    Just the thread I was looking for.

    I was looking for a way to update multiple contacts at once, so I could a Smart Group in Address Book to limit what I see from Google. I don’t mind having everything from Google come down, but it would be nice to have a folder that’s just My Contacts.

    I thought I could use an empty field to mark my most used contacts, but I don’t see a way to do it for multiples all at once. Maybe I’ll one by one it….

  19. LarryMcJ says:

    I have Google Sync enabled in Address Book preferences and while changes in Google Contacts are correspondingly changed in Address Book, when I change something in Address Book and sync…the changes never appear in Google Contacts. Any clues? Thanks! It’s pretty useless as a one-way sync.

    • Derek says:

      Google Contacts / Address Book sync has some limitations on the type of data capable of being synced. Are you having issue with phone numbers? Or other meta data?

    • LarryMcJ says:

      For some reason it finally started synching back to Google Contacts. For nearly 24 hours anything I changed in Apple Address Book didn’t get changed in Google Contacts, even through several manual syncs. It has somehow fixed itself and now working fine. Thanks.

  20. Stephen P says:

    Just upgraded my boss’s system to Snow Leopard specifically to get the updated Sync to Google Mail. (We use Google Apps as our back end.)

    Added his account under the Accounts Template and expected to find more to configure than just “Account Name” and “Password” behind the [Configure] button. All I see is the little “Connecting to Google” message and that’s it. I used the “Recent Changes” trick but 1.5 hours later I am not seeing updates on either system.

    So is there a straight forward way to diagnose what is or what is not going on or otherwise force an update?