Tag Archives: google

Adventures in iCloud Mail Hosting

How does switching email hosts disable your Bluetooth headphones? Read on to find out.

As many people did recently, I got The Email from Google telling me that my Apps for Domains (Legacy) account is going away and that I should either pay up or move away.

I’m not averse to paying. I use email a lot and I have my own domain, so I appreciate that I’m not a typical consumer. But I do object to paying Google because it feels like they’re double-dipping: both data mining my information and billing me for the service1.

In short, I’m not going to stay with Google.

Since I already pay for iCloud — as part of the Apple One bundle — moving my email there would be the obvious choice. Being able to use your own domain is a recent feature, part of iCloud to use their current branding.

Unfortunately the documentation isn’t great. And there are technical gotchas. Let’s walk through my experience.

Step 1, enter your domain name. Okay, check.

Step 2, enter any existing email addresses. I entered my main address and it told me that it wasn’t allowed. As others have noted, the system does return useful error messages, however those are not displayed on the screen! I was left guessing, which is incredibly frustrating.

I figured – partly luck, partly a process of elimination – that the email address was associated with another Apple ID. I logged into my other Apple IDs and removed references to my address, but to no avail. It continued to reject me.

The difficulty is that I’ve been using Apple’s web services for a long time. I have accounts that date back twenty years, before iCloud, before MobileMe, before your Apple ID even needed to be an email address. My main email address predates even that.

Luckily Apple has a “find your Apple ID” tool that tells you the Apple accounts that an email address is associated with. It turned up two accounts that I have no recollection of ever creating. One was a pre-email address account with a very bizarre name. It was an odd reference, but one I recognised so it was certainly me!

I requested that those two accounts get deleted. At that point, the “add domain” screen allowed me to continue.

My hope for step 3 What was to add some email aliases. The way I had my mail set up at Google was with a single mailbox but with multiple aliases. In practice, most of the aliases were just “wildcard” addresses, that is, if it found an address it didn’t know it would send it to the main mailbox. I knew that (bizarrely) Apple’s iCloud didn’t do that. I’m not totally happy with that but, for the way I use email, it’s not an absolute dealbreaker.

Except. You can’t have aliases. I can create an alias to my iCloud address, somethingelse@icloud.com, but not somethingelse@mydomain.com.

This is a problem. Over the years, I’ve removed almost all of the aliases, but one I use almost every day is the one attached to my Apple ID!

I go through my last few months of email – that was a fun afternoon – updated my address at a handful of companies so that the only remaining required alias was the one for my Apple ID.

I have payments and purchases and subscriptions for the entire family associated with this account. I know that in theory I can change the ID but in practice it fills me with dread.

If I’m to move my email, however, this is a necessary step. That it’s the one remaining required alias and that it might make things easier moving to any other email provider pushes me to attempt it.

It wasn’t as difficult or as problematic as I feared. All the work I did previously, removing all traces of the “old” Apple IDs, meant that the change largely Just Worked.

For the next day I found myself signing into all my devices again. The most surprising was when I started listening to a podcast and two minutes later my AirPods suddenly stopped working. I tried turning them off and on again – all the usual diagnostic tools – but couldn’t get them going. I was stood in the middle of the street so I didn’t want to get too in depth.

When I got home I realised they stopped working because they were connected to my Apple ID. I re-paired them with my phone and the audio immediately started to play. Of all the things I expected to stop working when I changed the account, my earbuds were not on the list!

As I write this, it has been about three weeks since I “flipped the switch” and moved over to iCloud email. My Google account is still live – I can switch back if something is utterly broken – but I have not done so. I guess it’s possible that I’ve missed some emails, but I would have no idea if I did, of course!

Despite the initial teething problems I’ve written about above, it’s been working well since then. It even supports push email rather than polling periodically. Not critical, but a nice feature.

Would I recommend it? With reservations. It’s not going to work as a replacement for Google for some people. And both the software and the documentation needs work. The feature set is limited, the backend supports more detailed diagnostics than the front-end and the documentation assumes that you don’t have a mess of Apple IDs like I do.

Let’s hope that Apple work on this. Sadly, I don’t think it’s going to be an overnight thing. There are a bunch of issues here, many of which appear to be a consequence of decisions made years ago.

  1. The argument may well go that they do not data mine paid accounts but I have no ability to verify that. Google have done enough dodgy things with data that I don’t trust them. Pick one. ↩︎

No Massive Google Play Privacy Issue

If you follow any iOS technology blogs you might have seen this recent scandal:

If you bought the app on Google Play (even if you cancelled the order) I have your email address, your suburb, and in many instances your full name.

This, they say, is bad because this is not what happens with Apple’s App Store.

However, I don’t think Google are doing anything weird here, and I say this as someone who is not a fan of Android. The commercial relationship between developers and Apple is different from the relationship between Google and developers ((Please let me know if I have any of this wrong. I don’t develop Android software but this is my understanding of how it all works.)).

In Apple’s case, the developer has a single customer (Apple). You licence your code to Apple and Apple sells your app. The end users relationship is with Apple, not the developer. You get royalties, much in the same way that you get royalties when you publish a book. I’m still waiting for my million dollar advance from Apple, but the principle is the same.

Google plays a different role. They’re just an intermediary. The customers buys the app directly from the developer (using Google Wallet). This is why the developer has access to email, location, etc.

Saying that this is a privacy issue is like paying for a latte with a credit card and complaining that Starbucks now has your Amex number and name. Of course they do.

There are always stories of disreputable restaurants skimming credit cards and defrauding consumers. The trick, insofar as there is one, is not to eat at those restaurants. Similarly, if you think a developer is likely to use your data in an underhand manner, don’t download their software. It’s that simple.

Should Google be more upfront about who gets what details? Possibly. It never hurts to be open and honest — dare I say, not evil — about privacy matters. But I don’t think what they’re doing is inherently bad.


Eric Schmidt says Google is the new Microsoft and it’s winning the war against Apple. I think he’s missing some perspective.

One of the key things that Steve Jobs realised when he returned to Apple in the late nineties was that the industry is not necessarily a zero sum game.

We have to let go of a few things here. We have to let go of the notion that for Apple to win, Microsoft has to lose.

The current situation is not identical but I think that the lessons might be substantially the same. While Google believe that they’re winning it’s not clear to me that they’re playing the same game as Apple and Microsoft. It’s like saying that you’re winning at Scrabble when your opponent is playing Chess; sure, you played some great words on triple letter scores, but your chances of getting check-mate are limited.

For all Google’s efforts and marketshare, most web traffic and ad impressions — the real metric that they’re interested in — still comes from iOS. They largely succeeded in commoditising the smartphone, unfortunately their users either don’t surf the web much or, in the case of Android-derived devices like the Kindle Fire, do but don’t go via Google.

Would they not be better toning down the rhetoric and figuring out how everyone can play nicely? War makes for good headlines but often ends in everyone losing.

For Google to win, Apple does not have to lose.

Deleting a Google Apps Domain

Imagine the scene…

Okay, that’s a bit dramatic.

Recall that I have an iPhone app called Yummy. It has, or rather had, a website called YummyApp.com. Last year I formed a company called Wandle Software and since then have been merging my various web “properties.” The website moved over to wandlesoftware.com earlier this year, email was the last thing that needed transferring.

My email is hosted using Google Apps — Gmail but without the gmail.com email address if you’ve not heard of it. What I wanted to do was move yummyapp.com from being a “proper” domain to what Google refer to as a domain alias for wandlesoftware.com.

I assumed that what I’d have to do was deactivate the old one, wait a bit and then reactivate it on the new domain.

So I looked at the Dashboard to find the “delete” option.


So I deactivate all the services. I delete all the users except one. And I look again. Still nothing.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. I look in the documentation.

According to the Help I was basically correct. Unfortunately the delete option just wasn’t there.

I reset my cache. I switched to Firefox. And cleared the cache in Firefox, all to no avail.

The Help for Google Apps is actually pretty good. These seems to be a lot of it and, as you’d imagine, search mostly works well. But help is different from support and — long story short — there’s no way to get the latter.

Instead there’s a forum that (I think) is user supported rather than directly by Google. This is fine unless there’s a problem with the software. I asked a question and within an hour got a very helpful reply that said that I needed to raise a support ticket.

So how do you raise a support ticket when that’s a “value add” feature reserved for paying customers? (Even when there’s a fault.)

I cheated.

I took the “free thirty day trial” of Google Apps for Business. I immediately raised a support ticket and only a couple of hours later got a phone call from the US. The guy was personable, efficient and immediately solved my problem. He even offered to stay on the line long enough for me to confirm that it had worked rather than hanging up immediately to improve call times (as many call centres do).

Of course I appreciate why Google can’t provide phone support to all and sundry, but surely there has to be a better of helping customer who find flaws in the software?

What’s wrong with Google+

I’ve been playing around with Google+ more-or-less since it launched, but I’m not sold on it yet. After a bit of thought, I think it’s because there’s a fundamental disconnect between the kinds of behaviour that it encourages and the kinds of behaviour that it’s actually good at. Or maybe I’m just using it wrong. Either way, I’ll explain my reasoning here.

First, I should describe my frame of reference. I use both Twitter and Facebook, but I like the former much more.

In Twitter, a message (tweet) is, to risk stating the obvious, a message. It’s text-only; multi-media is managed entirely by links. (They have started to implement their own media services, such as for pictures, though these are still, currently at least, just links to servers hosted by Twitter and are not special in any other way.) Replies are tagged — in that you can see which message it was a reply to — but they’re basically the same as any other tweet. Shared tweets — retweets — works in the same way: they’re tagged but otherwise appear just as another message. Relationships are one way, that is I can follow you but there is no obligation for you to follow me.

Facebook differs in both of these respects. First, not all messages are alike. It natively manages multimedia such a photographs, videos and links. Replies — comments — are also a special type of message and are displayed differently. Relationships are always reciprocal, which means that if I see your updates, you see mine. You don’t see posts from other users that you’re not connected to but you do see comments from them.

Facebook also has the concept of pages, which I’m going to ignore for the moment since it’s not how I normally use Facebook ((Though you’re welcome to visit the pages for my apps, Yummy and www.cut.)). The gist is that while Twitter has one message type for everything, Facebook feels much more complicated.

Google+ tries to straddle the two with one-way relationships (like Twitter) and multi-media messages and comments (like Facebook).

To be clear, I don’t think that the Facebook or Twitter approach to relationships or messages is superior to the other. I think they’re geared towards different things.

I think it’s fair to say that the Twitter method encourages you to follow more people. The obvious reason for this is that relationships are only one way. I can follow a celebrity or a company that I am interested in but they don’t have to clutter their timeline with my comments about iPhone development or my life in London.

More subtle is that all the messages are about the same size. The advantage of this is that you can quickly skim large numbers of messages, only looking at the pictures and videos that promise to be the most interesting.

Google+ tries to straddle both, but I think that’s where it fails. Like Twitter, they encourage you to follow a lot of people but even following a fairly small number of users I find the flow of messages hard to keep up with. Since the whole message is displayed I, in some way, feel compelled to read posts that on Twitter I’d probably skip.

The screenshots below, from the Twitter and Google+ iPhone apps, illustrate what I mean.

Google+ iOS story view

This is the Google+ view. I see a single post and two out of nearly fifty comments. Of the people that I follow on Google+, this, I would say, is pretty typical.

Twitter iOS tweet view

And this is Twitter, where I see four tweets. This arrangement is not uncommon, though I often see more tweets than this.

And then after the posts there’s the comments. On Twitter I only see replies by people I already know. If I see a post by, say, Robert Scoble, do I really need to see a hundred comments by people I don’t know? Chances are good that I might want to see comments from people I know but probably not complete strangers.

Facebook solves the problem by reducing the probability that you’re going to have a few hundred comments on a post. If you “only” have a couple of hundred friends, it’s pretty unlikely that every one of them will comment! If you have a hundred thousand followers that does change the dynamics.

(A counter-argument would be that this is a good way to find new users to follow. However, I think the clever thing about Twitter is that these other comments are still public and can be viewed, it’s just that by default your message stream is not cluttered with them.)

In short, the simplicity of Twitter is often seen as a disadvantage but I think it works remarkably well. Facebook has a different goal — closer relationships with smaller numbers of users — but also seems to do pretty well on that front.

Google+, by trying to facilitate both uses cases, seems to do neither quite as well.