Here's something I've felt for a while now, but haven't really figured out how to express until now. I finally just realized that it's actually a very simple idea: Syncing is *THE* most important piece of technology in the future of mobility. Voice is and will be the number one service, but after that it's syncing. Syncing! SYNCING!
I don't care if you *never* use your mobile for internet data, you still want your address book backed up in case you lose your phone, right? That's syncing. But then it goes from there to any piece of data you store on your phone. You want to not only back it up, but make sure it's synced with the rest of your digital world. Calendar and PIM information is what Palm does best. Also apps (again Palm does it perfectly), then music files where the iPod shines. And then it goes on to every file you have on your mobile device. You want to make sure it's the latest version, that if you change that data it's reflected anywhere else you use that data and finally, that if in case you lose that data, it's backed up somewhere you can get at it. It's simple. I don't care if this all happens over a USB Cable, A Bluetooth Connection or a Cellular Network. It just needs to happen, and seamlessly. If you have to think about syncing, it's not syncing.
What are the benefits of syncing? Well, we're seeing it now in the PodCasting meme, aren't we? The simple act of grabbing the latest audio files and syncing it magically to your music player has created a whole new medium for people to broadcast audio. That's huge. Right now it's mostly focused on iPods, but that's going to quickly change. Look at what's happening in the mobile space with Windows Mobile phones:
During Microsoft's big living room push yesterday, the gave a demo of Windows Media Edition 10 mobile. This is the Windows Media Player 10 on a Smartphone. Great new interface for playing music and videos, but the extra cool part is that it will sync the data I have on my Windows Media Library on my desktop, onto my phone. This includes, MP3s, songs built at MSN Music, and (here's the kicker) video recorded from TV on my Media Center PC. So I record an episode of "Boston Legal" but am taking off on vacation for a week. No problem, sync it to my phone and watch it on the plane. Very nice! The only thing my iPod has on my phone now is the storage capacity. Now that I don't like my iPod, I do. It's with me everytime I go to the gym. However, I would still like to only carry one device.
By making syncing "just work" Microsoft has enabled their Windows Mobile phones to become a player in this new Podcasting medium. Automagically. And today.
Those of us struggling with other less capable syncing devices - i.e. all Nokia phones - can just look on in wonder at the new technology that's passing us by because most phone manufacturers fail to get the importance of basic syncing technology. Look at Motorola for example - I was completely blown away last year when they sold Starfish to what became Intellisync. That's such an important technology and Starfish had some really fundamental patents, and they just threw it away. Why?
I'm sitting here now trying to figure out how to hack together some sort of iPodder system for my phone, while the Microsoft and Palm smartphone owners are syncing their devices with ease. I'm amazed at the fact that my device - the Nokia 6620, a class of device which has outsold all other 10 to one - has the most rudimentary and flaky syncing ever. Someone from Nokia has seen me bitch before and sent me a link to the newest version of the PC Suite which happily includes the USB cable drivers, but it's still only marginally better than it was. I can now sync my contacts regularly, but trying to browse my phones files will crash my computer. Joy.
I own a Palm, an iPod and various phones from the top manufacturers. I can tell you from experience that not one mobile syncing experience is nearly as elegant as the first two devices. Why? I know that Americans are PC Centric, therefore our companies will focus on making sure any other device works well with it before any other functionality, but Motorola? They should know better. And Nokia? If they're serious about initiatives like LifeBlog, then they *need* to get Syncing working perfectly and easily. Just today I just saw PDF slides talking about Series 60's focus in the enterprise market. Well they can just forget about that until they take syncing seriously. All of the manufacturers can. It's Microsoft's for the taking until they get their head out of their collective asses.
I mean, really. The best $30 I ever spent was for the chunk of white plastic Apple called a "cradle" for my iPod mini. It now has a home. The back of the plastic has two ports - one for syncing and one for the stereo. Perfect. Expensive, but incredibly functional. So where the hell is the cradle for my 6620? Or for my other phones, for that matter? That shows you right there where the focus of the phone manufacturers is and it's not on syncing.
Okay, sorry. I'll stop ranting. Mike's post just annoyed the fuck out of me. I've been bitching about Microsoft catching up in the smartphone space for over a year. Well past the 18 month production cycle needed to fix these sorts of problems. And though my blog posts get passed around in various companies (most notably Nokia), no one seems to take the Microsoft threat seriously. AT&T Wireless just launched the Windows Powered C500 which has everything you'd want in a smartphone, and it's small as hell, for a few hundred dollars less than my Nokia. This is Very Annoying. We all knew it was coming, but still. You just have to go back to Netscape to see what happens. At Web 2.0 we were given this incredible booklet with charts and metrics. In 1998, Netscape had over 50% of the browser market. The next year they dropped to 47%. By 2004, Microsoft had over 90%. Poof. Complete dominance in less than a few years. The common wisdom is that this can't happen in the mobile market, but I see it. It's happening. Syncing is just one more example of how they're doing what they need to do to make this happen. Microsoft is adding features, competing on price and doing what it needs to do to distribute their platform. They haven't caught up yet, but it won't take them long if they keep executing like this.
Up until today, syncing hasn't played that big a role in the mobile space. If it had, then Palms would rule the world, wouldn't they? Palm sync is the best sync bar none. But that was in a world where data services were secondary by a wide margin. We're now entering that next phase in the mobile revolution - where data services become a bigger and bigger portion of revenue stream to operators and developers like myself. It's in this new world where syncing is going to play a huge part. (Hmmm... considering this, maybe it *is* too early to count Palm out... though they have other problems). Phone manufacturers need to *get it* and get it fast.
I wrote a while ago about how J2ME games were for the most part "disposable applications" because there was no way to actually back up the games on most phones as a sort of anti-piracy measure. As soon as you ran out of room on your mobile for new apps, you basically have to delete a previous game to make room for a new one. Consumers won't stand for this for very long. They won't stand to lose their SMSes. They won't stand to have to copy over their photos one-by-one to some online storage or sent via Bluetooth (pay attention Verizon). They're going to want to click once and have all of their digital identity copied to a safe storage place instantly, easily and securely. And again, that comes back down to syncing.