Look South

By Dave South

Switching from Gmail and MobileMe mashup to iCloud and Gmail on iOS 5

If you Google iCloud, do you get rain?

A month ago I received an email about my GmailMe mashup of Gmail and MobileMe. This is the set up I’ve used for years to forward Gmail to my MobileMe account so it can handle IMAP duties. Apparently iOS 5 beta won’t allow custom SMTP servers for outgoing mail. This letter spooked me into holding off migrating MobileMe to iCloud. After a lot of messing around I finalized a new set up to use iCloud services and use Gmail as a lightweight (yes, really lightweight) email service.


It’s important to have what I call a canonical email address. It should be based on a domain you control. My canonical email address forwards to my Gmail account where it is filtered for spam — Google still has the best spam filters — and archived. Until today, it would then forward to MobileMe.

I used MobileMe as a holding pen for active mail. The IMAP service was solid and push notifications were nice. Of course, MobileMe also synchronized contacts, bookmarks and calendars which is super nice.

In order for this setup to be effective, it was important that my MobileMe account remain a secret. I never gave that email address to anyone. All mail appeared to come from my canonical email address via Gmail. iCloud has ended this set up and it’s for the best.

Back when the iPhone was first introduced, Gmail did not support IMAP nor did they support push notifications. Even when IMAP arrived, it pushed ALL archived mail to the device. Today Gmail can be a lightweight IMAP service if it’s properly set up.

Custom email address in Gmail

Before we start migrating from MobileMe we should set up Gmail to use your canonical email address.

  • Open Gmail in a web browser
  • Click Mail Settings under the gear in the upper-right corner
  • Click Accounts and Import
  • Click “Send mail from another address”

Follow Google’s instructions to set up your canonical email address on Google. Make sure to set it as the default address for all outgoing mail.

iCloud everywhere

iCloud does a lot more than just synchronize contacts. It’s also the front door for iMessage, FaceTime, Music Match, Photo Stream, Documents, and even over-the-air backup.

iCloud is a must-have service for iDevices — iPad, iPod, iPhone.

To use these features to their fullest I’ll have to tell people my iCloud Apple ID. So here is the problem, the Apple ID is usually an email address. If you convert your MobileMe account to an iCloud Apple ID you cannot change the Apple ID (Read Apple’s FAQ.)

You do not want to depend on Apple (or Gmail) for your canonical email address. So converting MobileMe is out.

iCloud vs Apple Store

First, a warning. Don’t use the same Apple ID you use for the Apple Store. If you are like me, you have several family computers set up using the same store ID. Keep your iCloud and store IDs separate.  If you are using your canonical email address as your Apple Store ID, go change it to a lesser used email address you own.

  • Open iTunes
  • Click iTunes Store
  • Click your Apple ID in the upper-right corner
  • Input your password
  • Click Edit beside your Apple ID
  • Change the Email address and follow their instructions to confirm the change

Now you are ready to set up iCloud, migrate from MobileMe, and set up all your devices.

GmailMe to iCloud migration

We are assuming you have already upgraded your Mac to Lion OS X 10.7.2 and your iDevices to iOS 5. If not, go do it. Come back after they are all upgraded.

Disconnect MobileMe integration on Mac

  • Open MobileMe in System Preferences and Sign Out

This will end tight integration of MobileMe with your Mac. It will NOT erase anything. It will keep your mail, calendar and chat settings active in the “Mail, Contacts & Calendars” section of System Preferences.

Sign up for iCloud

  • Open iCloud in System Preferences and “Create an Apple ID…”
  • Set your location and your “birthday” then press Next
  • Use your canonical email address as your Apple ID and fill out the rest of the form.
  • Confirm your email address as instructed

You only need to do this once. Be sure to only use the email address you want people to see.

Set up iCloud

  • Open iCloud in System Preferences and Sign In with your Apple ID and password
  • Follow the prompts to finish setting up iCloud
  • You may need to turn on “Wake for network access”, but it will help you if you need to make this change

It may have walked you through this step when you first set up iCloud.

iCloud will automatically take your address book and migrate it to iCloud.

Set up Gmail for IMAP

  • Open your Gmail account (in your web browser) and click Mail Settings under the gear icon in the upper-right
  • Select Forwarding and POP/IMAP option
  • Enable IMAP (I recommend leaving Auto-Expunge on and setting IMAP folder limit to 1000)
  • Save Changes
  • Navigate back to Mail Settings and select Labels
  • Turn off “Show in IMAP” for all System Labels (Starred, Important, Chats, Sent Mail, Drafts, All Mail, Spam, Trash)

Set up Gmail on Mail

  • Open Mail on your Mac
  • Open Preferences and select Accounts
  • Create a standard GMail account

Save account and switch back to Mail. You should see Gmail’s inbox. You should exercise the account a bit by sending a test email, deleting a message, and storing a draft message. What this does is force the creating of certain “labels” in Gmail — Deleted Messages, Sent Messages, [IMAP]/Drafts. These are the “folders” used by Mail and iDevices.

Now go back and edit the Gmail account in the Mail application. Change the email address to your canonical address. I change my Mailbox Behaviors a bit. I tell “Sent” to delete mail older than a month. I tell “Trash” to delete messages older than a week.

It’s important to understand that Gmail will keep all sent messages and won’t delete anything. All these settings do is change how Gmail “labels” them. It keeps current sent, trashed, and inbox messages synchronized across all devices without downloading thousands of messages from Gmail.

You can always use the web interface with Gmail to find old messages. So don’t worry about “Deleting” messages on your iDevices or Mac Mail.

Convert MobileMe inbox to Gmail

If you have MobileMe mail still active and the Gmail account active, too, you can simply move messages from one to the other. If you have a LOT of messages active in MobileMe, you might not want to do this. Instead, process your MobileMe messages and only move over the ones you really need.

Converting MobileMe Calendar to iCloud

Open iCal and export the MobileMe calendar to your Desktop. Then drag that file back onto the iCloud calendar. Do this for each calendar in MobileMe. Remember to manually create the target calendars in iCloud.

Removing MobileMe

When you finish migrating information from MobileMe, delete MobileMe from your “Mail, Contacts & Calendars” section in System Preferences.

iDevices (iPad, iPod, iPhone)

It’s a little tricky to get Gmail set up correctly on iDevices and still use your canonical email address.

Confirm store ID in iDevice

  • Open Store under Settings
  • Ensure the Apple ID at the bottom is what you want to use for purchases through the Apple Store.

You do not want to use your iCloud ID for the Apple Store. They should be different.

Delete MobileMe from iDevice

Be sure your iCloud setup is solid on the Mac before doing this.

  • Open Mail, Contacts, Calendars in Settings
  • Select MobileMe and Delete the account

iCloud should already have that information. You did set that up, right? If not, don’t do it until iCloud is properly set up.

Set up iCloud

  • Select iCloud in Settings
  • Use your canonical iCloud ID (email address) and password
  • Do allow it to use your location (you absolutely want Find My iPhone active)
  • Ensure that Mail and Notes are off
  • I recommend turning on Photo Stream for devices you want to share photos with

iCloud should now synchronize your calendar and address book. Wait a bit and then check. Now go to Mail, Contacts, Calendars in Settings and ensure your default calendar is set properly.

Set up Gmail on iDevice

  • Open Mail, Contacts, Calendars in Settings
  • Select Add Account…
  • Use “Other” (Not Gmail!)
  • Add Mail Account
  • Input your name, canonical email address ([email protected]), password, and description
  • It will open the IMAP screen
  • Incoming Mail Server is imap.gmail.com, use your gmail username (without @gmail.com) and password
  • Outgoing Mail Server is smtp.gmail.com with the same username and password
  • Click Next and it should turn on Mail and Notes
  • Save

Now open Mail and let it sync up. If this is set up properly it will only sync your ACTIVE mail and not the whole library saved in Gmail. iDevice will default to the same Gmail labels for Sent Messages, Deleted Messages, etc. This allows your Mac Mail and iDevice Mail to be completely in sync.