Written by: Alex Curtis
Categories: Random Thoughts
Wired, on the Cult of Mac blog, posted a thoughtful article about the key part of the Apple Phone’s success—good mobile-phone-to-computer synchronization. It was a point made in a recent post by Engadget’s Ryan Block, and I’d say most people would agree with it.
But from that general and broad notion, I think Wired misses a lot of the progress Apple has already made with their existing applications. They also miss a large potential opportunity and downside of the introduction of an Apple Phone for Apple users.
We Don’t Need No Stinking Steroids!
The Wired article talks about iSync, and with an Apple Phone, we’re going to need an “iSync on Steroids.” My response is, don’t we already have that? On the Mac we have this app called iSync. The way I understand it (please correct my over-simplifations!), iSync is just a GUI front-end for just one aspect of the underlying Sync Services built into Mac OS X that can be used to coordinate specific data (contacts and events) on your Mac with other applications or devices. But Sync Services can be made to synchronize all kinds of data, not just contacts and events, and its use is not exclusive to the iSync app.
In the case of one syncable device, the iPod, earlier versions of iSync and iTunes shared a lot of their preferences. Today, Apple provides a lot of content synchronization for iPods through iTunes alone. Yes, there’s what we think of as iTunes related content, like music, videos, podcasts, but there’s also contacts (pulled from Address Book or Outlook 2003), events (pulled from iCal or Outlook 2003), Photos (pulled from iPhoto, Adobe Album or Elements), games (from the iTunes store) and notes. You don’t see each one of those “independent” applications launch every time you connect your iPod to your computer. Instead, iTunes manages all of this mass-content synchronization, and it’s cross platform on Mac OS X or Windows, to boot! It’s not one just one way, either.
Even though your iPod is primarily a content display device (as opposed to a data entry device), your iPod still has valuable information of its own to share. Music, video, and podcast playcounts and playback marks are sent from your iPod to iTunes. and iSync already allows for contact and calendars to be pulled from your phone back to it’s respective app on your Mac (I think in the case of the ROKR E1, this works with Outlook as well). There’s no reason a real data entry device, like an Apple Phone, that takes pictures, records audio and video, etc, couldn’t be made to sync back content to a computer as well. In fact, we’ve already seen evidence of this capability existing in the error codes of the latest iTunes 7, maybe for beta testers of an Apple Phone?
Opportunities and Pitfalls
So, I think that the synchronization technology Apple’s already put out suffices, without it being on steroids. But, to my other point, I think introducing an Apple Phone presents a double-edged sword. On one side, with a synchronization system in place on Mac and PC, Apple has a tremendous opportunity here to lure mobile manufacturers, and software and content developers into using it. Microsoft has ActiveSync, but anyone who uses it knows that it’s a closed system, a mess, and generally only works with Microsoft Mobile devices. An open, easy to use, cross-platform sync system via iTunes, has a lot of potential, and could entice many to buy more Apple products.
But there’s that pesky other side of the sword. It’s the side that I worry to even bring up on a Mac-centric site because we can all be zealots sometimes. Still, I think it needs to be said. My concern is that, just as with the iPod, Apple has the potential to close out other mobile device manufacturers from taking advantage of all these great synchronization technologies. True, with the iPod, it’s said to be done for our benefit—to ensure the best user experience; but is that an excuse for being anti-competitive? With the introduction of an Apple Phone, my big concern is that Apple may lock out competitive mobile devices from synchronizing content as well.
Before you start ripping on me in the comments, to counter my own point, there is evidence against this. Currently, iSync mobile device synchronization appears to use fairly open standards and specs for allowing a phone to sync with your Mac, and a number of the major manufacturers build to those specs (yes, there are a lot of them who unfortunately don’t). And this hasn’t happened with the one iTunes blessed phone—the Motorola ROKR—and there’s little to prevent manufacturers from creating their own technologies that work well. But we all know how lack-luster that ROKR is and as Mac users, we also know how difficult it is to ask developers to dedicate resources for a platform that is less than 10% of the market. There, I said it, let the comment flames begin!
I Still Want my Apple Mobile Phone!
An Apple mobile phone (or “Apple Mo-Pho” as I like to call it) that synchronizes perfectly with a Mac will be great for consumers. You know you want one! I hope Apple takes this opportunity to lure other mobile device manufacturers to the Mac platform, thus keeping them competitive while providing even more incentive for consumers to buy Apple’s great computers.