iSync: Friend or Foe?

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Date: Wednesday, November 20th, 2002, 15:00
Category: Archive

Please note that iSync is BETA software and that this is just one man’s opinion. If you wish to share yours, add it to the feedback below. -Ed

At Macworld Expo New York 2002, Steve Jobs gave us a preview of Apple’s next killer application – iSync. So, is it a killer app? yes – but in more ways than one. The fundamentals are there to sync multiple devices – Palm OS devices, iPods, Sony Ericsson cell phones, and .Mac. These are very impressive features, but much more can be done with iSync, but first there is a definite need for improvement.

I recently retired my old Palm Vx and moved to a new Sony CLIE NX60. I installed Markspace’s Missing Sync to give the device sync capabilities under Mac OS X.

In a perfect world, iSync would properly synchronize all the devices. However, it is not all its cracked up to be. As well intentioned the product is, its limitations turn iSync into iStink. My main gripe against iSync is its all-or-nothing “Safeguard” component. For my first sync of the CLIE, I did not use the iSync conduit. I transferred all my contact and calendar data to the CLIE from Now Up to Date / Now Contact – an awesome product I’ve used since 1993. What makes the Now bundle superior to all other PIM’s is the built in multi-user capabilities (with appropriate licensing) – I can share my data among my TiBook and my Dual GHz Quicksilver on my LAN, without the need for a .Mac account.

Once I moved my data to the CLIE, I reactivated the iSync conduit in Palm Hotsync Manager. I proceeded to sync one more time. My contact data moved over without a hitch from Safeguard – except now my PIM still shows my correct number of contacts – 711. but the CLIE has a total of 899. These extra 188 contacts seem to have been extracted from my mail client, CTM PowerMail 4.1 that is currently in beta testing for iSync compatibility.

What really upset me about Safeguard is depicted below. After the somewhat successful contact synchronization, iSync wanted to wipe out my entire calendar file from my CLIE. I certainly was not going to let that happen. Safeguard is a nice warning, but where are the details of what data it wants to add, delete or modify among all iSync devices? When you have duplicates, Safeguard lets you pick from the choices on a record-by-record basis.

On to the next bug – phone synchronization. iSync needs a better way to manage what data is synchronized with smaller devices, like cell phones. I have an Ericsson T68m with Cingular here in Los Angeles, and I need to keep many of my contacts on the pone. But … have you ever tried to navigate through almost 900 names on a T68 series phone? It’s impossible, and while driving, it is dangerous. One thing though, it didn’t sync all my contacts. Many are missing, so iSync doesn’t even complete the job, even though my T68m’s memory status indicates it still has plenty of available space for more contacts. So when I have a missing contact, I need to fire up my TiBook or Palm to get the information I need – iSync is not doing its job properly!

iSync needs to deliver on its promises, and add some manageability tools, to let the user easily mark what data should be synched, and what should not. I don’t need contacts without phone numbers on my phone, nor do I need “” from either Address Book or PowerMail on my cell phone.

Multi-user capability – While Apple is trying to promote is US$99 a year .Mac service, I’d rather have iSync work with more established multi-user systems, like Now Up to Date / Now Contact – or dare I say *gasp* Microsoft Exchange servers. The premise of the system-side address book application is great, but families and small to mid sized offices need a more robust solution than the single user PIM’s like Palm Desktop, Entourage or iCal/Address Book. We need iSync to work with more products. Apple should release a SDK to help software developers write plug-ins to interact with iSync seamlessly.

iSync has plenty of potential. For now, it is a great concept, but if it doesn’t sync everything, doesn’t allow a bit of customizability, or has serious flaws in its Safeguard technology, it is useless. If i am going to sync all my digital devices, I need the assurance that disasters won’t happen. At least Joy of Tech sees the humorous side of iSync.

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