Out of Sync

My desk at work looks a bit ridiculous as it is awash in cradles for the numerous handheld devices that I use, carry, and test. At the moment, I have cradles for the following four devices on my desk:

Toshiba e740
RIM
Handspring Treo 300
Palm Vx

I am running three software programs to keep all of these devices in sync and I am constantly having problems keeping all of my data up to date. Why are all of these sync products so bad? I have a few ideas.

It drives me crazy that I 1) have to run three sync software packages in the first place and 2) that they all generate inter-application conflicts for simple data such as Contacts and Email messages in Outlook. I am convinced that the reason that many of these sync products do not play nicely with each other is that they are all rooted in a data ownership model. Each of these sync software packages assumes that they are the data owner and that they will be the sync product of choice. There seems to be little thought paid to the idea that a user might want to sync his or her data with multiple devices, each of which has its own peculiar methodology for recording changes and updating information.

There are probably two near-term solutions to this problem. One, I could buy (or have someone develop) a universal sync client that would handle all flavors of OS and all versions of Exchange and perhaps the most current version of Notes. Or, I could subscribe to a data-in-the-sky service that would be the de facto data repository for all of my information and would allow real-time access (as opposed to intermittent sync) to my data. Because so few people seem to struggle with this multi-client sync problem, I suspect that very few people, outside of a few bright startups, are working on this problem.

  • Alan Little

    I totally agree – I have the same problem trying to keep contacts in sync between (1) my home desktop, (2) my laptop, (3) my mobile phone and (4) PCs owned by my consulting clients, that I frequently have to use when I’m not allowed to hook my laptop up to their networks.

    My preferred solution is actually to build my own “database in the sky”, but since the available development time right now is a couple of hours a day on the train to & fom my current consulting client’s office, “pie in the sky” might be a better description. Plan B, which might be quicker, is to get a smart phone and use that as the master from which I load everything else. Either way, ubiquitous access is the key – it either has to be something that I can get to from pretty much anywhere (the web) or carry with me pretty much everywhere (phone) – a PC just doesn’t cut it.

  • Alan Little

    I totally agree – I have the same problem trying to keep contacts in sync between (1) my home desktop, (2) my laptop, (3) my mobile phone and (4) PCs owned by my consulting clients, that I frequently have to use when I’m not allowed to hook my laptop up to their networks. My preferred solution is actually to build my own “database in the sky”, but since the available development time right now is a couple of hours a day on the train to & fom my current consulting client’s office, “pie in the sky” might be a better description. Plan B, which might be quicker, is to get a smart phone and use that as the master from which I load everything else. Either way, ubiquitous access is the key – it either has to be something that I can get to from pretty much anywhere (the web) or carry with me pretty much everywhere (phone) – a PC just doesn’t cut it.

  • Heh… we’re all thinking along the same lines. I just did a piece that tries to address the same basic problem and my piece was just a reference to Stewart Alsop’s Fortune column this week! WIth multiple computers and devices comes the problem of maintaining data and state in too many places. To me, it’s got to be a server side (or database in the sky) solution.

    Check out http://www.ventureblog.com/articles/indiv/000059.html

  • Andrew Anker

    Heh… we’re all thinking along the same lines. I just did a piece that tries to address the same basic problem and my piece was just a reference to Stewart Alsop’s Fortune column this week! WIth multiple computers and devices comes the problem of maintaining data and state in too many places. To me, it’s got to be a server side (or database in the sky) solution. Check out http://www.ventureblog.com/articles/indiv/000059….

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