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Tuesday, February 10, 2009, 05:00 am PT (08:00 am ET)

Google intros free push calendaring, contacts for iPhone

While Apple's MobileMe has so far been one of the only ways to get push data to the iPhone outside of the workplace, Google has launched a new mobile sync service that promises to do much of the same for free.

The beta release this week of Google Sync for iPhone relies on a newly-acquired license for Microsoft Exchange to both instantly push Google Calendar and Gmail contacts to the iPhone and iPod touch as well as to send those changes back out to Google's usual web services.

The feature extends to multiple calendars and includes all the features that come with using an Exchange account from the office on one of Apple's devices, including alarms, multiple calendars and multiple phone numbers for each person in the contact list. As a consequence, users don't have to worry about losing all their information if data on the phone or computer is lost, the search giant boasts.

Google characterizes the setup as slightly more complex but also free of any extra software: while a simple iTunes sync has been available for months by checking a box, the full two-way feature requires the brief setup of an Exchange account on the iPhone as though it were a standard office setup.

Also available for Windows Mobile, the new Google Sync still has significant drawbacks that include an inability to handle more than five calendars and a set amount of e-mail addresses and numbers per person. Google is also adamant in warning existing iPhone users that using the Exchange-based solution will wipe out any calendars and contacts stored on the iPhone itself — a function of the iPhone's behavior towards different account formats.



Crucially, the Sync service omits Gmail messages and thus prevents email from arriving or leaving as quickly as other changes made to a Google account. Company engineer Bryan Mawhinney admits to the rough state but notes that many improvements are likely to come in the future.

"[We're] following the Google credo to launch early and iterate," he says, albeit without setting expectations for updates.

Still, the investment into Google Sync parallels a continually deepening relationship between Google's services and the iPhone, and exists as one of the first major alternatives to Apple's $99 yearly MobileMe service for those who don't depend on immediate email.