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iCal syncing

iCal, or more formally Calendar v7.0, is Apple’s calendar app. There is a desktop version which runs under OS X, and a mobile version, which runs under iOS.

Syncing is a fairly obvious issue. Typing is faster on my desktop, so if I am sitting there I prefer to enter appointments onto the desktop version, but when I am away from my desk I use the version on my iPhone. How do I keep them synced?

There are some genuinely tricky issues. How do you decide which version to update when they differ: the iPhone or the desktop? But there is no time to go into those here. Most designers have settled on a few rules of thumb which deal with most situations and refer cases not covered by them to the user (a message pops up saying iPhone has this, desktop has that, which do you prefer). For me that works about 95% of the time, and the other 5% seem to be almost all the creation of duplicate entries, which is irritating but much less serious than dropped entries.

Well, my tenses have gone adrift there, because currently syncing is not working at all. A quick google reveals this as a fairly typical entry in the Apple forums:


The HIPP Act is a typical piece of internet nonsense, the kind of thing that shows the dangers of scanning facts (the text of a statute) with no knowledge of how the law works, and a firm determination to force the wording of the statute to mean what you would like it to mean.

Another forum speculates that it is an attempt to drive more use for iCloud, so that more people will pay to go above the 5GB free limit. That is also hard to believe. The amount of data involved in syncing iCal is peanuts (a few tens of kB maybe), and it is hard to see that being forced to use iCloud for that will make people rush to put up tens of GB of songs or videos.

So why on earth that Apple dropped USB syncing from Mavericks? It looks like either sloppy thinking or straight blunder.

However, the real issue is why it is also so hard to sync through iCloud. Eventually, I grasp that the problem is that iCal is aware of 6 calendars. Two are specialised. I can only guess where they sprung from: Birthdays and Contacts’ birthdays. The other four are: Calendar, Home and Work, which seem to be the default set of iCloud calendars, and the calendar associated with my main google email account. All six are ticked on my desktop, so presumably the displayed entries are those in any of the six calendars. Indeed unticking them one at a time for this week shows that the five calendar entries are all on the google calendar, whereas the other five calendars are all blank.

Bringing up the google calendar in a browser confirms that it also has these five entries. Similarly, bringing up the iCloud calendar in a browser shows the three calendars Calendar, Home and Work listed and ticked, with no entries for the week. My iPhone turns out (with a little more work finding the list of displayed calendars) to be displaying only Calendar, which is blank for the week.

So it looks as though syncing has in fact been working brilliantly without my realising it: the Calendar, Home and Work calendars have been kept perfectly in sync, with no errors, on desktop, iCloud and iPhone. The only snag is that they are all entirely empty and I never use them.

The obvious experiment is now to make a new entry on Calendar and see if it migrates to iCloud and my iPhone. If I untick all but Calendar on the destop and double-click tomorrow to create a new event, then the google Calendar immediately becomes ticked. So somehow I am defaulting onto the google calendar.

I look at iCal Preferences. Under the Accounts tab it shows two “Accounts” iCloud and Gmail, both enabled. Gmail is marked to refresh every 15 minutes and iCloud by “Push”. Then under the General tab, I find that the Default Calendar is the google calendar. There are also tick boxes for Birthdays and Holidays calendars. So the question is whether I can get the iPhone and iCloud to take the google calendar. Moving to iCloud in the browser, clicking the gear wheel at the bottom left and then selecting New Calendar, I am able to add the relevant email address. Clicking Edit and then the minus buttons I manage to delete Calendar and Home, but when I try to delete Work, I am told that I must retain one calendar that I “own”. But I am able to untick it. So that leaves me with only one ticked calendar, the google calendar.

Moving across to the iPhone, I find that the google calendar has now appeared as a ticked item. I untick Birthdays. Returning to the desktop iCal I find that I now have two unticked birthday calendars, one ticked gmail calendar under the Gmail heading and one unticked gmail calendar under the iCloud heading, and finally one unticked Work calendar under the iCloud heading. But the gmail calendar on iCloud is still empty for this week, I guess I have not waited 15 minutes yet.

So what do I conclude from all that? From one point of view it is my fault for not looking into it more carefully before. I did not even realize that I had a gmail calendar, let alone that it was the default for my iCal. Just conceivably, I set that default a year or two back, without giving it much thought, and certainly without realising that it impacted on the iCloud syncing. But then I had chosen to use USB syncing. It was only after Mavericks had been installed for a few weeks that I grasped I was failing to get any kind of syncing.

I give Apple rather less than top marks for choice of defaults. Normally the hallmark of Apple software is a careful choice of defaults, so that 90%+ get a seamless service without giving the matter any thought. But I give Apple low marks for a totally unannounced, and dumb, change. It will be interesting to see if they fix it by allowing USB syncing on the next update of iTunes.

Oh, and 25 minutes later, the google calendar entries have still not appeared anywhere except the desktop. Does that mean that only new entries are being synced? If so, how do I sync existing entries? Grrrr!

Update (24 Feb 14)

Well, I never found out. But I did find out how to get google to sync the google calendar with the iPhone and the desktop, so that more or less works now.

This morning I switched on to find that two-thirds of the Sidebar entries in Finder had vanished. The Sidebar is a fast way of accessing commonly used sub-sub…sub-directories. You drag them into the sidebar. Usually they stay there and then clicking on them instantly displays their contents. I look on the forums and find that this bug came in with Mavericks, which was released just over 4 months ago (22 Oct 13). Surely Apple can fix this kind of thing quicker …

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