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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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  • johny why

    “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.”

    confused– if we just exported from Google, won’t these field names already be in Google format?


  • loupaglia

    Not necessarily. If for example, you have contacts that you imported into Google contacts from another source such as a previous device or import from Outlook, the field definitions (like capitalization) are maintained. So when you export, it maintains those fields. Google Sync however only recognizes the fields that are formatted and defined a certain way. You would think Google would fix this when data is imported but unfortunately, that is not the case.

  • Phil

    It worked perfectly. It may look like hard work at first, but it isnt, really.

  • loupaglia

    Thanks Phil. Agreed. And well worth it in my opinion. :)

  • Becky Emerick

    Hi! I’m having this problem with the addresses. What should the address field be named? Mine was named “home” which is a duplicate of “home” for phone number. What should the label be for the address? Thanks! This is driving me crazy… but I appreciate the help.

  • loupaglia

    Becky: I haven’t noticed an issue with duplicate labels between phone and address. In fact, I think that is okay. The most common issue I’ve seen is the capitalization of the field label. When you do your search and replace for “home”, use a capital H. Thus replace each instance with “Home”. Let me know if that helps….

  • Becky Emerick

    Hi again. I really appreciate your replies as I try to figure this out. Our phone numbers look great, but on our iphones, the address fields for my gmail contacts don’t appear. They do show up in Google Contacts, just not on iphone. I’ve considered manually editing the csv for each of the bazillion contacts, but I’m not sure what it is supposed to look like. Could you copy and paste a (ficticious?) contact from your csv address that works from gmail to your iphone? Then I can duplicate it. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the help. (Banging head against the wall for months.) I’ve considered just switching to a google contacts app – but I don’t think they work with Siri.

  • loupaglia

    Becky: No worries. If you want to send me your email address, I can send you an example record. However, before that, quick question. Did you follow all of the steps? Export your Google Contacts as a .csv, do the search and replace, save and then upload back? The reason I ask, is you need to do a search and replace on ALL of the fields. Thus if you search for “home” and replace all instances with “Home”, that should get all of your address fields into the format that Apple will detect when you re-import the contacts and then sync. Hopefully that makes sense.

  • Becky Emerick

    Hi Lou! The email I sent you was returned. A simple find and replace didn’t help, but I haven’t analyzed
    the doc you sent me. I handed this project over to my husband because I
    couldn’t take it anymore, and he has yet to touch it.

    I will definitely let you know when we’ve figured it out! As of right now,
    we’ve made our contacts work in Google Contacts online. Our phone
    numbers all show up on our phone, and if we need addresses, we go online
    to get them either on the phone’s browser or on the computer. Not the
    best fix, but it’s working right now.

    Thanks again for all of your persistent help. The internet sure makes it a small world.

  • Codgus

    Customization worked only for few of contacts. My iPhone was bringing up custom labels no problem, then all of sudden with only a few contacts it would completely omit all numbers. I think you solution is good, but not if you MUST have custom fields.

  • Lou Paglia

    Yes, the solution is absolutely geared towards getting the core fields mapped over like addresses and most importantly phone numbers. But if you need to customize phone number related fields, they will not map due to the syncing issues. Not sure how you fix that unless Apple and Google decide to get along on this one.

  • Vinit Bhatt

    I was just playing with my phone for sync from i tunes and lost all data, is there any way to pull that data as i am now using a file which is 6 month old data.

  • loupaglia

    Vinit, I really do not know. If you didn’t back up, I would assume not but perhaps someone out there has figured out how to restore. Sounds like you are using your last backup so at least you have something. One thing to check is if you have been using Google Sync, iTunes may have wiped the phone but perhaps your contacts are still intact over in your Google Contacts. If so, you may be able to pull them back across. I would assume the same would be the case if you are using a different mail provider like Yahoo! Mail. Best of luck.

  • loupaglia

    Jules: Do you have Google Sync set up? Even with Exchange, I believe you have to set up Google Sync mobile and set up your device to synchronize. This will basically create a sub address book for your Google Contacts. It sounds like when you are adding contacts on your phone into gmail, you are simply adding the contact to your gmail account which is different than adding the contact to your address book and it then syncing to your gmail contacts via google sync. Hope this helps.

  • Whitney Kemper

    Thanks this was very helpful. My wife has been using Android but just got an iPhone and this was the last piece to get the Google experience working fully on the iPhone. I found that there were two main problems:

    1. iPhone doesn’t like phone numbers labeled “Other”. I replaced all instances with “Home”.
    2. If a contact hasn’t been flagged as “My Contact” then it won’t show up. Using your method it was easy to flag all contacts as “My Contact”.

  • loupaglia

    Glad to here it helped. Yes, the “other” field will not sync nor will custom fields. There apparently is a new way to sync with the release of the iPhone 5 but I’m not sure if it remedies the core issues that the field mapping is having.

  • Eugen

    Thank YOU!!! works perfect!!! in my case i have replace all instances of “Other” with “Mobile”

  • loupaglia

    Great to hear!

  • spannerfork

    This does not work for me unfortunately. A lot of my contacts are marked as “OTHER2” or “OTHER3”, so I find and replace this with “Work” or “Mobile”. However, when I import the updated contact list, then click on the contact in the gmail contacts, it labels the number as “WORK” or “MOBILE” and thus refuses to sync with the iphone still. Am I doing something wrong?

  • Siobhan

    Thank you so much for posting this, was having really trouble finding any advice on this certain issue, and having half of my contacts was so irritating. You’re amazing.

  • Андрей Пушкин
  • Noam Livne

    You’re great you saved me!

  • Jesús Romera

    Many, many thanks. THIS solved my issue when syncronizing my contacts from Google on my new Windows Phone 8.2