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February, 2012:

Google Contacts syncing issues with the iPhone

Google iPhone SyncFor some time, I’ve had a major productivity issue:  the phone numbers (and in some cases email addresses) of all of my contacts that I keep in Google Contacts were not synchronizing with my iPhone making it pretty difficult to make calls on-the-go.  After a decent amount of searching, I found a lot of people having similar issues but not a clear path to fixing it.  It seems it is a known issue and centers around inconsistency in how Google contacts and the iPhone handle contact fields, the number of fields that will synchronize, field labels, etc.  More concerning, most people who were able to fix their issue did it manually by editing every field for every contact in their address book to use one of Google’s default fields.  This is an extremely painful and tedious process, and could induce sheer madness for anyone with a sizable number of contacts.

The quick summary is, from what I can tell, that Google will only synchronize fields that meet their standards (Home, Mobile, Work Fax), and most importantly, case sensitivity matters.  So if you imported from another address box, your fields may not be matching up even if they are named ‘home’ and ‘mobile’.  Those will be ported into Google Contacts as custom fields and custom fields do not synchronize.  This also applies for the field ‘other’ which seems to causing a lot of people angst as well.  Also note, that Google will only synchronize a certain number of fields such as phone numbers and email addresses.

Finally, I came across a post by Seth Jaffe (thanks Seth!) on a message board that outlined an easy way to make a lot of changes to your contacts in one pass.  I used the basis of his post to fix the issue for myself and thought I would pay it forward with a post outlining how to fix this for yourself if you are dealing with the same issue.  Note, this should only be a fix if you are synchronizing your contacts from Google Contacts to your iPhone (which you can learn to do at MacTalk or here at Google if you are interested).  Also, disclaimers apply.  Back up your data.  I don’t want you go from missing a few data elements to missing an entire address book!  Okay, here we go…

1.  Export your contacts from Google – Click ‘My Contacts’, Click the ‘More’ button and ‘Export’.  You want to export as a Google CSV file.  When it gives you a choice, most of you will want to pick “My Contacts” as the group you want to export as it will be where most of your contacts are.  To be safe, I recommend you do this process twice and also export as an Outlook CSV as well.  This way you will have a back up for either Google or Outlook if disaster should strike.

2. Save the Export to a file – You will need to save the export to a location on your computer and should end up with a file named “google.csv”, but you can name it whatever you want.  Just remember where you saved it.

3.  Open in Microsoft Word – Because it is a .csv file, most of the time this will open for you in Microsoft Excel.  You don’t want to do that, for some reason it did not work for me.  (another alternative would be to open the comma separated file in a standard text editor as well)  In the case of Word, simply Right Click and open it with Microsoft Word instead.  Note, the information in the file will be comma separated and will be all jumbled, don’t panic, this is okay.

4.  Search and Replace – Now use search and replace in Microsoft Word to change a lot of the fields so that they are in the format that fit Google’s defaults and thus they will synchronize over to the iPhone.  Here are a few examples to give you an idea that I used:  Replace all instances of ‘mobile’ with ‘Mobile’, Replace all instances of ‘home’ with ‘Home’, replace all instances of ‘other’ with ‘Work’.  This should get your contacts file to be in the right format.

5.  Save the file – Save the file but be sure to save it as a different file name, like GoogleNew.csv so you don’t overwrite your original.  Microsoft Word will probably add the suffix .txt on the end of your file name if you save it in text format.  Just go to the file where you have it saved and rename it so it ends with the .csv extension only.

6.  Delete your Existing Contacts – You’ll want to delete all of your existing contacts in your My Contacts group because you want that folder empty when you import all of your clean data back in and avoid a duplication issue.  Again, make sure you’ve backed up your data before deleting.  You can do this by clicking “My Contacts” in Google Contacts, selecting all and deleting.  You’ll probably need to do this for several pages if you have lots of data but it is not that bad.

7.  Import your file – Once you have an empty “My Contacts” group, you are ready to import.  You do this by clicking “My Contacts”, then clicking the “more” button and then import.  Choose the file that you created. For example, GoogleNew.csv.  And then click ‘import’.

Once you do that, it should pull in all of your contacts from the new file into your “My Contacts” group and if already have synchronization set up on your iPhone, Google will begin synchronizing your data over to your phone almost immediately if you are on wireless.  You can make sure if works by going into a few of your contacts and you’ll notice the data fields showing up and synchronizing with the right information.  Hope this helps some of you that have been having the same synchronization issues between Google Contacts and the iPhone.

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