Google Makes BYOD Harder

Google is ending several services, including Exchange ActiveSync (EAS) for free users and Google Calendar Sync for all users. If you use an iPhone or iPad for free Google services like GMail you have some headaches ahead. Google is pushing you hard to abandon the Mail app and switch to the GMail app. If you use a Microsoft Surface for them then you have a big problem. This Google calls "Winter cleaning."

Through the growth of the mobility era, Google has projected an image of platform neutrality. Now, self-interest is setting in for the Web giant, and you can expect second-rate support — if any — from Google for your non-Android device.

Last Friday Google announced that it will be ending support — on free Google accounts only — for new connections to use Google Sync to synchronize Google Mail, Calendar and Contacts through Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync (EAS). For example, if you use the iOS Mail and Calendar apps to read your free GMail, Contacts and Google Calendar, then, as of January 30, 2013 you will be able to continue doing so. But if you set up a new iPhone after January 30, 2013, you won't be able to set it up to sync in this way.

EAS is a protocol developed by Microsoft for Exchange Server, but it doesn't strictly require Exchange Server. It allows synchronization of email messages, calendar items, contacts, and other data between servers and client devices, including mobile devices. EAS is there in Google Apps because Google had no chance at selling the service to any enterprises without it. But by now, the overwhelming load of EAS use from Google must be from iPhone and iPad users. Google is cutting all of these users loose unless they are paying Google for the not-free enterprise version of their services.

What will you do if you're a free GMail user? You have some options. For email, you can switch to using IMAP for mail synchronization with the Mail app or you can switch to the GMail app. For contacts you can use CardDAV, a new protocol for contacts synchronization. For the calendar there is a similar protocol named CalDAV. If you're a paying Google Apps customer then you can continue to use EAS for synchronization.

Google is also immediately terminating support for new installations of Google Calendar Sync, which paying Google Apps customers use to synchronize their Google Calendars with the desktop version of Outlook. Google notes, without naming them, that there are third-party tools that do the same Calendar sync, but warns that it won't support them. In other words, while paying Google Apps customers will continue to be able to use their existing installations, if they get a new computer or replace a crashed hard drive, they won't be able to synchronize their Outlook calendars with their Google calendar.

This Google calls "Winter cleaning." In less-important moves, the company also announced the shuttering of Appointment Slots and some other more obscure Calendar features, of the Issue Tracker Data API, and of the Punchd loyalty card app. It's also ending all support for Google Sync for Nokia S60, and SyncML for all users, starting January 30, 2013.

This development struck me pretty hard because my personal domain is a paying Google Apps domain. Even though I will be able to continue using it for calendar sync, I decided to test the CalDAV and CardDAV support on my iPhone. You wouldn't likely figure out how to set it up just by messing with your phone, but once I found instructions on Google's site, I got both working.

I haven't used them much, but I've already found one problem: When you're using CalDAV and you create an event on iOS, there is no way to invite others to the event. It's not clear to me if this is a weakness in the protocol or in Apple's or Google's implementations. But I call that a pretty serious deficiency.

The people who have a real problem are Windows 8 and Windows RT users. The standard Mail app on those platforms is already notoriously weak, but the only way it can do calendar and contact synching with Google accounts is through EAS. And since Google has already said it won't make apps for Windows 8 or Windows Phone, those users are screwed until either Microsoft adds CalDAV and CardDAV support to the app or a better app comes along.

Incidentally, Google's EAS implementation was never more than adequate. Like much in the world of Google, it's still designated "Beta" three years after it was first released and has some serious known bugs.

One clear motivation for Google here is to push users into using the GMail app rather than the standard Mail app in iOS. It also discourages use of Windows 8, Windows RT and Windows Phone. But there's another reason mentioned by Ed Bott at the end of one of his articles on the matter: Google had to license EAS from Microsoft, and the license involves Microsoft patents. Patent licenses strike again.

All this makes BYOD harder by making you have to think more about what devices support what services you might want to use. It's all bad news for the industry.