Apple iCloud, Microsoft Outlook and the Perils of Incompatibility

 
 
By J. Gerry Purdy  |  Posted 2011-12-13
 
 
 

With much fanfare, Apple announced the availability of its iCloud service on Oct. 12 for Macs, PCs and iOS mobile devices. For the most part, iCloud works as advertised. However, when used in an environment that includes Microsoft Outlook (without Exchange), iCloud doesn't properly synchronize the user's primary Calendar and Contacts. Naturally, iCloud works best when it is used with Apple products, such as the native Calendar and Contacts on the Mac or iOS devices such as the iPhone and iPad.

Apple offers a special product for PCs: the iCloud Windows Control Panel that is designed to enable synchronization of the user's Calendar and Contacts. However, in the case of Microsoft Outlook, iCloud creates new Calendar and Contact folders separate from the user's Calendar & Contacts in their primary Outlook folder (.PST file).

In the PC, synchronization of the user's Calendar and Contacts can only be achieved if the entries are copied into the iCloud environment.

At first, I thought I had done something wrong when setting up iCloud. The installation sequence even asks users to verify their Outlook Calendar and Contact folders. Since the installation sequence was asking to verify these folders, it is natural to think that iCloud would keep them synchronized.

Instead, iCloud sets up a new entry in both the user's Contact folder and Calendar folder in which a new contact and calendar are supposed to reside. Further, the iCloud setup does not synchronize information in the user's primary Contacts and Calendar. Rather, it only synchronizes the information that is placed in the separate iCloud Contact and Calendar folder.

I honestly believed that I had made a mistake-that I had done something wrong in the installation sequence. So I went to a local Apple store, and a rep there, who was teaching a class on iCloud, reconfirmed for me that a separate Contact and Calendar folder is created in Outlook and that you cannot synchronize your own Calendar and Contacts with iCloud. Apple also confirmed that you can get Calendar and Contact entries to synchronize with iCloud and then with iOS mobile devices if (and this is a big if) you move or copy all your Calendar and Contact entries to the iCloud Contact and Calendar folders.

If you only had to do that one time, it would perhaps be tolerable. But when you have incoming Calendar and Contact entries, they are only stored in your primary Calendar and Contacts folder. Thus, these new entries would have to be copied one by one over to the iCloud Contacts and Calendars. It becomes an administrative nightmare. Most users won't put up with this.

Apple is well aware of the problem and will likely issue a fix for this in a future release of iCloud and the iCloud Control Panel for Windows. Apple does not typically admit to any mistakes until a fix is completed.

If you don't want or need to interface with iCloud on a PC using Outlook, then you'll likely enjoy a slick service. Or, if you are only using a Mac environment, you won't have any problems. However, the problem with iCloud and Outlook took quite a bit of time and effort to isolate and get confirmation from Apple that iCloud does, indeed, set up a separate Calendar and Contact folder in Outlook.

Apple does have a way for users to get their Outlook Calendar and Contacts synchronized to their iPhone and iPad: Simply use the batch update via a cable and iTunes. The iTunes sync works flawlessly and syncs with the user's primary Calendar and Contact, which then will sync properly with iCloud and iOS mobile devices. The only problem with this approach is that you have to connect your iOS device to your PC. Then, once the sync is completed (which can take some time if you are synchronizing photos and movies), you'll see all those Calendar and Contacts on your iPhone and iPad.

I suspect that the iCloud group at Apple will eventually talk with the iTunes folks and create an update to iCloud that works in a manner similar to the way iTunes works today. And, I hope someday, Apple will decide to extend iCloud services to Android devices as well. 

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