Mobile Access to Google Apps

mGoogle1As reported on a previous article (click [here]), we just completed a migration into Google Apps. Our initial goal was to replace MS Exchange, but we are going to use the other features available in our yearly fees.

In this article I will go over the setup we did on our mobile users and their smartphones. The setup was mostly painless, like I reported earlier, except for some unique issues related specifically to the fact that we were moving from a working platform to another (as opposed to starting a new platform from scratch).

First a side note: Google Apps allows the users to connect to their services for email, contacts and calendar through many different tools and methods. They use their own web client, client/connectors for MS Outlook, and along with other platforms they provide the Google Apps client for several mobile devices. What is most interesting is that they also communicate to the clients via the EAS protocol (EAS protocol stands for Exchange Active Sync protocol). This means that you could potentially connect into it with any client that supports connections into MS Exchange and sync to your Google Apps serviced account without the client even noticing. Having this in mind, we set out to connect several different mobile platforms.

mGoogle2Our company does not mandate users to connect with a particular platform, so our mobile base is a huge mish-mash of platforms, versions, UIs and technologies. The idea is that the users will use whatever platform they feel most comfortable with and we provide them the service they need to get them connected.

First attempt to setup a mobile client we did with a Samsung Focus (Windows Phone 7), then we moved to iPhones/iPads, BlackBerry devices and Android.

Windows Phone 7

Setup took literally 2 minutes. Out of all the setups we did, this was the quickest.  You essentially needed to provide the email address, the password, the server name and then decide whether we wanted to have push email or not. We even thought we had done something wrong and set it up twice: once as a Google email synching email, calendar and contacts and the final one as a MS Exchange connection synching the same 3 sets. Both without any issues at all. Either way we set it up, it was the same result: all appointments, contacts and emails came in pretty quick with no issues at all. MS Office comes bundled with Windows Phone 7, so any Google Docs exported to office format can still be opened on the device without the need to install any document viewer.

iOS: iPhone/iPad

iOS setup to connect into Google Apps was somewhat slower than with Windows Phone 7. There were quite a few more fields to enter/select, but it was pretty straightforward. It seems that iOS is not as smart as Windows Phone is, after all Windows Phone is a complete departure from the norm… still iOS devices connect seamlessly to both MS Exchange and email hosted with Google Apps plus the added bonus of having the Google Apps app for iOS that allows users to do whatever they would do on a desktop while using all the features of Google Apps.

BlackBerry

BlackBerry devices have always been difficult to deal with when you tried to do something RIM didn’t want you to do. These devices play nice as long as you connect with one of their services BES or BIS (BIS being free for setups of up to 50 users). Don’t get me wrong, BlackBerries work fine, but once you set them up one way (like we had them with BES); if you try to change what they are doing and go for something completely different, they will not cooperate. We had one BlackBerry Storm II that even after a cold-boot, back to factory settings would not allow us to connect into Google Apps; and this was with Tech support from RIM, Verizon tech support and our Google vendor technical support that was helping us execute this migration!

Android

You would think that an OS built partially by Google and the open source community would make the best use of the features provided with Google Apps, right? Well… not always the case! It turns out that Android does not treat all Google accounts the same way. The very first one you register in your device gets special treatment and is the one in which most services are connected with. So far so good, but the issue was that these smartphones were connected to Gmail accounts as the primary account and then would use a "corporate" account into the MS Exchange we already had… when time to change to Google Apps came, we removed the MS Exchange account and tried to add the new Google account (all without touching the users’ Gmail account) it was impossible. Forums on the web recommended to delete this, delete that, restart, even do a full reset back to factory settings. We were not willing to do that, especially because there were just as equal amount of reports that this reset to factory defaults would not work but also because this would have users go back to a blank slate and waste their time setting up everything else they had on their phones. Trying to setup that second Google account we would get an error message along the lines of "connection to the server cannot be established because it is not reliable" (not in those exact words, but close enough)… so we thought that it was an issue with not having enough signal. Searching the user forums and websites we found a website created by some guy in Africa who finally discovered a workaround to be able to register a second account and get all contacts and calendar synched. He recommended that users attempt to open up YouTube with the account that could not be registered. Then close YouTube and try to create the account as new Google email account. It seemed ridiculous, but simple and innocuous enough to try… (Hey, our other option was to go back factory settings!). It looks like  creating the credentials for YouTube on the device creates the entry in the settings so that Mail will be setup as a secondary and allow it to be treated as primary thus letting the users do what they wanted in the first place, that is to read their emails, calendar and contacts from work…

Unfortunately, the saddest thing is not that the OS has some flaws; all OSes have flaws. The real issue here is that because there is no clear responsible party for this particular piece of functionality, no one has fixed it so far. This issue has been reported as such by users for over a year already.

Mind you users who did not have a Gmail account would have absolutely no problems, so user beware: if you have an Android Phone, just avoid using your Gmail account at all costs or work at a place that has no interest for using Google Apps! Winking smile

About Diego Samuilov

Editor in Chief/Founder Diego Samuilov is an executive, consultant, IT strategist and book, e-book and web published author. Diego has worked in Microsoft’s environments since 1990. Since then, he has successfully filled many positions related to the Software Development lifecycle. Having worked as a developer, analyst, technical lead, project lead, auditor and, since 1996 a project manager, manager, director and VP in the Software Development, Server, Desktop and Mobile environments. Diego is very passionate about the software development process, which has played a great part in his skills development. Since the introduction of the first ever PDA (the Apple Newton MessagePad) in 1994 and Windows CE in 1998 he has pioneered and pushed the envelope in the field of mobile software development. He has developed many solutions used in mobile markets, desktop and server environments. He participates in public and private developer community events. He actively collaborates with the community at support forums and blogs. Diego is the author of "Windows Phone for Everyone" available [HERE].