I Sync, Therefore ...

by Codepope | posted on 19 March 2004

What would you say if you could keep all your contacts and phone numbers in sync on your desktop, your PDA, MP3 player and bluetooth connected phone. And that it could all be done at the click of a button. And that the same information could be synchronised with multiple desktop PCs and laptops. And how about we also synchronise your web browser bookmarks between those machines ... ? A CodePope pontificates ...


Wouldn't it be a really great thing to have? No messing about with multiple applications and multiple imports and exports till you reach the point where you just give up on the entire game and either drop a device in the bin or start carrying a laptop. Wouldn't that be nifty? It is a pity but I've yet to see a set of Windows applications that can do that - and yet I can already do all of this on my Mac.

Quietly, Apple has assembled a very compelling little story about integrating your smaller devices together. It all starts with one application, iSync. What iSync does, and just does, is synchronise together multiple sources of contact data. The obvious ones are of course, your phone and PDA. The iPod is a less obvious device as a source, but there is a read only contacts and calendar application in the iPod as standard, and iSync can keep that up to date too.

On the desktop, iSync synchronises with MacOSX's Address Book and iCal calendar applications. Address Book has some neat wireless features which I'll come back to. All you need to do to kick off the synchronisation process is click the "Sync Now" button. Popping your iPod into its dock can also be set to trip off the synchronisation too.

A Palm as a PDA is a little more complex, because currently it relies on Palm's Desktop for Mac; this means that the Palm Hotsync app has to be run for the iSync Palm conduit to run, but in practical terms, that just means you press the HotSync button on your Palm cradle and up starts the synchronisation dance. The handling of duplicates and other clashes is done simply, allowing you to select which device is telling the truth about a contact for one or all clashes.

There is one more place iSync syncs to, and that's to Apple's "dot Mac" service. The .Mac service is a $100 per year - or £69 in the UK - web based service hosted by Apple, offering you 100MB of disk space you can mount on your desktop, for web serving, email, free gifts and stuff. For me though the killer .Mac feature is that you can synchronise (and effectively backup) your contacts on the .Mac servers. More than one machine can access the .Mac service and synchronise against it, and it's through this route that you can keep contacts and dates up to date on multiple machines.

Recently added to .Mac and iSync is the ability to synchronise bookmarks from the Safari browser between multiple machines. Yes, no more "I have to go to the desktop machine because that's where the bookmark is". Keeping bookmarks coordinated between machines suddenly stops being a chore.

Back at the Address Book, there's a great bit of wireless functionality: a Bluetooth button. Click it and it will connect to your Bluetooth phone. You can now select a contact's number and either dial it or send an SMS message to it. When SMS messages come in, they are matched up with an entry in the Address Book by number and the message, complete with details of who it's from, pops up on screen. Want to save it? Click "Log Call", and the message is added to the notes for the contact.

The real killer about all this functionality is that it's in the MacOSX operating system. It hasn't locked anyone out and things like the built in Bluetooth support start making Bluetooth much more compelling; latest addition to the MacOSX Bluetooth support was headset profiles so you can use your BT headset on your desktop for VOIP applications or Apple's own iChatAV.

And a novel generation of applications has appeared in the shape of phone remote control applications like Sailing Software's Clicker which lets you use a handheld - Palm, Nokia, Siemens or Sony Ericsson smartphone or even a Sony Ericsson standard phone, as a remote control for your Mac. Not just your play and pause variety, but one which can let you search iTunes, control Powerpoint and more.

This isn't a plea to you to ditch your PC and get a Mac, though. Neat as all this is, the point is for people on Windows to demand better, more interoperable apps, or at least one application vendor who can turn out an application which does all that I've talked about here. For all the integrationism that Microsoft claims for Windows, isn't it strange that it can't do this out of the box? Or maybe that's more to do with Microsoft making Outlook and Exchange?

One can ponder that thought for days.

If you want to read about iSync in more detail, check out the details, but don't blame me if you get seduced by the brushed aluminium textured side of the force.

The CodePope is a programmer plus. He describes himself as a cuddly coder who originates from Wales, lives in London, doesn't have to work for a living but does because he likes challenges.

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