Sync Outlook for Mac calendars and contacts to iPhone

Note: After answering a question for a friend of a friend I realized that we’ve been remiss in writing a good tutorial for syncing Outlook for Mac to iPhone. Nothing beats a step-by-step with pictures. I hope folks find this useful!

Outlook to iTunes to iPhoneGetting calendars and contacts from Outlook for Mac to your iPhone doesn’t require Exchange, iCloud/MobileMe or any third party service. Everything is built into Mac OS X and Outlook.

The conduit between Outlook and iPhone is iTunes. The magic that happens underneath is called Sync Services. Verify all of these items are up-to-date before starting to ensure you have the latest fixes for known bugs and issues:

  • Update Mac OS X and iTunes by selecting Software Update… from the Apple menu.
  • Update Outlook for Mac by selecting Check for Updates from the Help menu.
  • Update iPhone by selecting Settings –> General –> Software Update (iOS 5 only) or by plugging it into your computer, selecting it under the DEVICES header in iTunes and clicking the Check for Update button under the Summary tab.

As of this date, screenshots and instructions are shown using Mac OS X 10.7.2 (Lion), Microsoft Office 2011 (14.1.3) iTunes 10.5 and iOS 5.0.1. Instructions should be the same or similar for earlier versions of software.

Exchange users should sync wirelessly through the cloudShould Exchange users sync through iTunes?

Exchange users have the luxury of being able to synchronize their information across multiple computers and devices wirelessly and I’d advise they stick with that. No matter what I advise they never sync Exchange data directly from computer to iPhone or else they risk duplicate data appearing as a result of the two methods of syncing.

However, some Exchange users prefer to keep personal information separate from work information. It is possible for them to sync non-Exchange information from Outlook to their iPhones via iTunes while syncing Exchange information over the air.

Sync Calendars

Let’s start with syncing calendars from Outlook for Mac to iPhone. This is a simple four-step process:

1. Create a calendar and categories

The default calendar name in Outlook is “Calendar”. It’s located under On My Computer while in Calendar view. Below it are a few categories.

Calendar

For most folks this is the only calendar they’ll ever use. However, for those who are detail-oriented and wish to keep synchronized items on a separate calendar they can create a new calendar by selecting File menu –> New –> Folder. In this case I’ll create a separate calendar called “Family Schedule” to keep track of everyone’s events.

Family Schedule

Note that both the default “Calendar” and “Family Schedule” calendar share the same categories. This is important because the sync from Outlook to iPhone will not carry over the calendar name but rather the category name. Let’s illustrate this a bit better so that we can see what happens down the road.

While in Calendar view, select Meeting menu –> Categorize –> Edit Categories… Click the + (plus) button to add a new category for each family member (Mom, Dad, Zach and Brittany). Each new category will translate into a calendar on the iPhone later.

Family members

Now that the calendar is ready, let’s populate it with some schedules. For each event on the calendar we’ll assign it to one or more of the family member categories.

Family schedule

2. Share the calendar in Outlook for Mac

Next, we’re ready to share the calendar from Outlook.

Select Outlook menu –> Preferences… –> Sync Services. On the left select Calendar to start calendar syncing. (Note that the Tasks item is also selected. These two items cannot be shared separately.)

Under Select the accounts to sync select On My Computer.

Under Outlook folder to add new items to select the Family Schedule calendar.

Enable Sync Services

How can we check that this is working correctly? Open the iCal application from the Applications folder. Within a couple of minutes events from the shared Family Schedule calendar should appear there as well.

iCal

This is where the translation between Outlook categories and iCal calendars occurs. Note later that we’ll no longer refer to the Outlook calendar “Family Schedules” but instead refer to “Dad”, “Mom”, “Zach” and “Brittany”.

If events don’t appear then Sync Services may need to be reset. To reset Sync Services, first stop Outlook for Mac syncing by unchecking Calendar in its Sync Services preferences and then refer to Apple’s knowledge base article Sync Services: Advanced troubleshooting for contact and calendar syncing (http://support.apple.com/kb/ts2481).

Note: We cannot offer support for Apple’s Sync Services on our website. If you are unable to resolve syncing issues please click the Support tab at the top of this page and ask for assistance in Apple Support Communities.

3. Select the calendars in iTunes and sync

Now, we’re ready to enable calendar syncing in iTunes and sync to iPhone.

Connect the iPhone to your computer and open iTunes. When connected the iPhone should appear in the navigation pane to the left. Select the iPhone on the left and then select the Info tab at the top. Scroll down to Sync iCal Calendars and enable it. Click the Apply button when done.

iTunes calendar syncing

4. View the calendars on iPhone

After syncing the “Dad”, “Mom”, “Zach” and “Brittany” calendars will be viewable on the iPhone.

Open the Calendar app on the iPhone and tap the Calendars button in the upper left corner. Ensure that the four new calendars (one for each family member) are enabled by tapping each one. A checkmark will appear next to an enabled calendar.

iPhone calendars

Click the Done button in the upper right corner when finished and each family member’s schedule will appear with a different colored marker for each calendar.

iPhone family schedules

Sync Contacts

Syncing contacts from Outlook for Mac to iPhone is a similar simple four-step process:

1. Create an address book and categories

The default contacts list name in Outlook is “Address Book”. It’s located under On My Computer while in Contacts view.

Address Book

For most folks this is the only address book they’ll ever use. However, for those detail-oriented folks who wish to keep synchronized items in separate address books they can create a new address book by selecting File menu –> New –> Folder. In this case I’ll create a separate address book called “Family Address Book” to store family contact information.

Family Address Book

Again, note that both the default “Address Book” and “Family Address Book” lists share the same categories. However, categories and address book names are relatively unimportant outside of Outlook. Why? Because they don’t sync to the iPhone. In this case the entire On My Computer address book will sync to the iPhone as a whole. Address Book names and categories will be ignored.

Now that the new address book is ready, let’s populate it with some contacts.

Addresses

2. Share contacts in Outlook for Mac

Next, let’s share the address book from Outlook.

Select Outlook menu –> Preferences… –> Sync Services. On the left select Contacts to start address book syncing.

Under Select the accounts to sync select On My Computer.

Optionally, under Outlook folder to add new items to select Family Address Book. Keep in mind that selecting anything here will make no difference. All contacts under On My Computer will sync regardless of the list selected.

Sync Services Address Book

How can we check that this is working correctly? Open Apple’s Address Book application from the Applications folder. Within a couple of minutes contacts from Outlook should appear there as well.

Apple Address Book

If contacts don’t appear then Sync Services may need to be reset. To reset Sync Services, first stop Outlook for Mac syncing by unchecking Contacts in its Sync Services preferences and then refer to Apple’s knowledge base article Sync Services: Advanced troubleshooting for contact and calendar syncing (http://support.apple.com/kb/ts2481).

Note: We cannot offer support for Apple’s Sync Services on our website. If you are unable to resolve syncing issues please click the Support tab at the top of this page and ask for assistance in Apple Support Communities.

3. Select the address book in iTunes and sync

Now, we’re ready to enable address book syncing in iTunes and sync to iPhone.

Connect the iPhone to your computer and open iTunes. When connected the iPhone should appear in the navigation pane to the left. Select the iPhone on the left and then select the Info tab at the top. Locate Sync Address Book Contacts and enable it.

Once enabled, choose All Contacts to sync with the iPhone. Click the Apply button when done.

iTunes address book syncing

4. View the contacts on iPhone

After syncing new contacts will be viewable on the iPhone.

Open the Contacts app on the iPhone and tap the Groups button in the upper left corner.

All from My Mac

Tap the All from My Mac list to view the newly synchronized contacts.

Newly synchronized contacts

Syncing to other services?

Right now, Outlook for Mac only syncs with Exchange over the air and to iPhone via iTunes. It does not support calendar syncing with online services such as iCloud/MobileMe, Google Calendar or Hotmail. These services require a protocol called CalDAV, which Outlook for Mac doesn’t support. If you’d like to see CalDAV added to Outlook for Mac then please let Microsoft know.

None of these services support syncing contacts except for iCloud/MobileMe, which does have an iCloud Control Panel for Windows that syncs to Outlook for Windows. Because of architectural differences, however, this is not available for Outlook for Mac.

Share this:
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • del.icio.us
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • Google Bookmarks
  • PDF
  • Print

34 comments to Sync Outlook for Mac calendars and contacts to iPhone

  • [...] A friend and fellow MVP mailed me with a Mac Outlook calendar sync question, and I didn’t have the faintest idea of what the right answer was. Accordingly, I dragged a third MVP into the fray: Mac/Windows interop expert William Smith. He came up with a workable solution, and as a bonus he wrote a detailed tutorial on how to set up calendar sync. [...]

  • Rob

    Well that didn’t work, not at all. First the link to the Apple Support page returns a 404, second theirs no My Computer on the Mac version of Outlook I’m looking at, (Lion, Outlook 2011), and finally the sync just doesn’t work. It syncs neither Calendar nor Contacts.

    Ah well, back to the drawing board I guess

    • I’ve verified the link. It’s correct and works.

      For your issues I can only suggest you reread the post and start from scratch. Also, try the Apple link again. I’m using Outlook 2011 on Lion as well and my information and screenshots are from testing on that specific setup. If you need troubleshooting support then please be sure to look under the Support tab at the top of the page for the Outlook forums hosted by Microsoft and post details of your issues. Someone can work with you individually there.

  • Rob

    After further examination it appears it does work sort of, but only one way. You can sync To iCal but not From

    • If you’re not seeing items move from iCal to Outlook then verify you’re indeed putting events on an iCal calendar with a corresponding category name in Outlook. For example, if you put something on your “Work” calendar in iCal and Outlook doesn’t have a “Work” category then that event won’t sync.

  • Brian

    Hi Wiliam. Thanks for documenting this. I have used it and now the calendar is syncing properly. Unfortunately, it is not working for contacts which is the most important for me. Your screen shots of the navigation pane on the left side where the contact address books show does not have “On My Computer” at the top of the list. This is true for calendars too. I have the Mac for Office 14.1.4 installed and the latest version of Lion. Is there a resin this is not showing? I have gone through your directions several times to look for something I may have missed but am not finding anything. Any suggestions?

    • I can only suggest that you verify in Outlook menu –> Preferences… –> Sync Services that you have Contacts selected on the left, you have the correct account selected on the right and that you verify the address book you’ve selected at the bottom. If that doesn’t reveal anything then follow Apple’s instructions to reset Sync Services. That will start you from a clean slate.

      • Brian

        Your suggestion worked. After resetting Sync Services on the Mac the contacts are syncing properly. FYI, the link above to “Sync Services: Advanced troubleshooting for contact and calendar” did not work, but I was able to do some searches and find it. Quite and involved process. Thanks for your help as I was about to punt and go back to a Windows computer.

        • Glad to hear that resetting Sync Services resolved your issue.

          You’re the second person to report you couldn’t access the Apple link but I tested again and it’s still working for me. I’ve added the URL just after it in case other folks are still having difficulty.

  • Mike smith

    GREAT TUTORIAL!! THE BEST!! WORKED RIGHT AWAY!!

  • Susan

    Fantastic. I don’t know why it worked but my sole problem was between Outlook 2011 and my address book. Followed your steps and its works! My only question would be does the contact data update all entries each time (thereby wiping out what is in address book) or does it just bring in what is new. I’m seeing duplicates from the other solutions I tried (which included only those contacts that I had made after upgrading to Outlook 2011 from Entourage). THis leads me to believe I’ll have a duplication problem.

    But, again, let me applaud a cogent, well designed solution.

    • Outlook sync “merges” with Apple apps. Entourage gave us three option initially. 1) Overwrite Entourage with Apple app, 2) Overwrite Apple app with Entourage data and 3) Merge (combine).

      Anytime you combine syncing between a Microsoft app and an Apple app, it can result in duplicates or deleting of data. Sync is complicated especially when mixing applications. Your best option to avoid sync issues is to use Outlook with an Exchange account or use all Apple applications for syncing.

      Tip: For any data that is synced, you need to make frequent backup of your data in case you need to restore. Under File > Export select export as .olm file and uncheck all but contacts. Do the same for events. You might have a problem with contacts and not events so you need individual backups so you don’t have to deal with duplicates.

  • stuart

    Is there a way to not only sync a mac and an iphone, but to tie in a 2nd mac as well?

    • You would need an Exchange account to sync all three (mail, calendars and contacts). If you only need to sync mail then use an IMAP account.

      Please click the Support tab at the top of any OfficeforMacHelp.com page to post follow up questions about Exchange or IMAP to the Outlook for Mac forum.

  • Toya

    I don’t know how you figured this out…but boy am I happy! Thanks…I appreciate it so much!

  • Steve

    I use applescipt to automate the wifi sync every XX mins, hours, or time of day so my calendars event are updated automatically (assuming itunes is running in bg on my mac and my iphone/mac are on the same wifi).

  • [...] However, for most companies that isn’t an issue. When required, solutions and workarounds are available. Also see “Mobile [...]

  • I do not have any items listed under sync services. Can you please advise how to turn that on?E

    • Quit Outlook for Mac. Then go into your home folder (where ” ~ ” denotes your home folder and delete this file:

      ~/Library/Preferences/com.microsoft.Outlook.SyncServicesPreferences.plist

      Launch Outlook and see if that makes a difference. If not then please post your question in the Microsoft Answers forum for Outlook for Mac and we can troubleshoot further there.

      http://answers.microsoft.com/en-us/mac/forum/macoutlook

      • Mike Alexander

        For info, I had exactly the same problem as @Wauketa (nothing showing in the Sync Service preference pane) and deleting the com.microsoft.Outlook.SyncServicesPreferences.plist file resolved the problem for me.

      • Anonymous

        I’m syncing between iCal and Outlook for Mac Calendar but can’t wirelessly sync to my iPhone. Any thoughts?

        • As noted in the post: We cannot offer support for Apple’s Sync Services on our website. If you are unable to resolve syncing issues please click the Support tab at the top of this page and ask for assistance in Apple Support Communities.

  • When I open my outlook calendar – you say it should say ‘on my computer’ then ‘Calendar’ and then all the different options.. However on my outlook it doesn’t say on my computer is just says calendar…
    Do you know How I get the outlook calendar on my computer – I have followed the steps but that does not seem to appear.. Hope this makes sense!

    • If you do not see “On My Computer” in the Navigation pane on the left then select Outlook menu –> Preferences… –> General and UNcheck “Hide On My Computer folders”.

  • TRichardson

    I had an undetermined loss of all contacts on my iPhone about 1 month ago. Every now and then, after I have manually put in some contact names associated with the numbers in the favorites, when I connect through iTunes (usually for charging, since I’ve given up on synchronization for now), my contacts get blanked out again, leaving nothing on the my iPhone.

    My son had a connected iCloud account (which he used for updating contacts) associated with a shared iTunes account. Is it possible this could have corrupted the synch process somehow? I have not had iCloud turned on in my iPhone for contacts that I’m aware.

    I have tried the steps above, including resetting by pasting in to the synch services (that was the step provided by the link noted) and I am still unable to see my Outlook contacts in Address Book. I am guessing that Synch Services can’t get Address Book to see the contacts – in Outlook, I don’t see a ‘On my computer’, it is simply listed as ‘Address Book’.

  • NT

    I’m confused? I was going to buy Outlook for Mac 2011 until I read this article.
    You state
    “None of these services support syncing contacts except for iCloud/MobileMe, which does have an iCloud Control Panel for Windows that syncs to Outlook for Windows. Because of architectural differences, however, this is not available for Outlook for Mac.”
    Does that mean that Outlook for Mac will not sync my contacts on the mac to my iphone?
    I’m looking for a way to NOT use icloud and itunes at all. I thought I could just use Outlook for Mac 2011, and have it do my email, calendar and contacts all in one program? I have iMac 10.5.8 Leopard, iPhone 3GS 4.3, and need a way to have auto 2-way syncing between them for contacts and calendar. (I just manually check my email on the iphone)
    I want the Outlook for Mac on the iMac to sync to a hosted Exchange service and the iPhone to sync with the same Exchange service? That way all my contacts, calendars would auto sync back and forth, and I wouldn’t have to use itunes or icloud at all! Am I wrong or are you saying this won’t work?

    • To put it simply, use Exchange if you have it. It works great and is reliable. It doesn’t require that you connect your iPhone to your Mac.

      You cannot use iCloud for syncing Outlook contacts or calendar items to your iPhone. Outlook has no direct means of connecting to any iCloud service other than mail.

      • NT

        Thanks for the reply. So, if I understand correctly….If I put Outlook for Mac 2011 on my iMac, Outlook will automatically 2-way sync my calendar and contacts through a (paid) hosted Exchange Server, to my iPhone? If I add a new contact in iphone’s address book, will it then be added to my Outlook Contacts on the iMac? (and vice-versa) Right now nothing will sync the imac address book contacts. (tried a LOT of things, nothing will sync mac ab contacts on Leopard or Snow Leopard) Hoping that Outlook for Mac 2011 will be the solution? Just want to make sure it will work this way before coughing up $199. Thanks!

  • WG

    Have you tried this syncing procedure with Mountain Lion to see if is still that same, without the Exchange server? Thanks

    • This blog post was written well before Mountain Lion was released. My understanding is that Sync Services is essentially dead in Mountain Lion. The information in this post won’t apply.

      Several free online services such as iCloud, Gmail and Hotmail offer calendar and contact syncing along with mail on mobile devices. Unfortunately, Microsoft has designed Outlook for Mac to only sync with Exchange. While it isn’t free, Office 365 does offer online Exchange services starting at $4 USD per month.

      Until Outlook for Mac includes CalDAV support (if it ever will) Exchange is essentially the only sync option.

  • Eric Walton

    I followed the directions with a new rMBP and a new copy of Mac Office 2011, Service Pack 2, and it both synched my contacts and calendar. Great advice. Sync Services seemed to work just fine. And no, I am not using Exchange:)

  • Alan R

    Thanks for your comments, but I still have a problem after 3 hrs talking and troubleshooting with applecare and an hour with microsoft. I have a new macbook pro, outlook for mac 2011 and mountain lion operating system. My calendars sync but my contacts do not after doing all the recommended actions. I do have an idea what the problem could be from your comments. When I UNcheck “Hide On My Computer folders” all my contacts disappear from outlook, which suggests that the sync service is not recognising them as ‘on my computer’. Do you think this is the problem? Any ideas on how to resolve this???