Microsoft goofs, unveils new Web-based smartphone sync service

My Phone syncs Windows Mobile 6 devices to the cloud

Microsoft accidentally raised the curtain on its My Phone sync service, a Web-based platform that lets Windows Mobile 6 devices back up and store all kinds of content to a Web account, and manage it all via a browser.

A Microsoft-hosted smartphone synchronization service was accidentally activated Monday, giving users a preview of the company's new Microsoft My Phone service.

The Web service lets Windows Mobile 6 smartphone users upload as much as 200MB of contacts, appointments photos, and documents to a Microsoft Web site. Users can then view and manage phone-based information via a Web browser. That includes adding, editing and deleting contacts and calendar appointments. All changes are sent to handheld when synchronized  with the My Phone service.

My Phone was expected to be unveiled at the upcoming Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain. The service is not yet ready for production use: the company first plans an invitation-only beta test.

According to the My Phone Web site, Microsoft will not be charging a fee for the service. But it cautions users that depending on the terms of their cellular data plan, they may face additional data transfer charges for using the service.

Microsoft is joining Apple, Google and others, in lodging an array of mobile services in the Web cloud. My Phone clearly is emulating Apple's MobileMe, which let's iPhone and iPod Touch users synch the device's content with an Apple Web portal. From there, data can be managed via browser and the me.com site, and synced with Windows PCs (including Microsoft Outlook) as well as with Apple Macs. MobileMe syncs Mac and Windows applications automatically with me.com. Apple offers a 60-day free trial. The individual yearly subscription is $99, with 20GB of combined e-mail and file storage, and 200GB of monthly data transfer.

Funambol offers a similar service, but it's based on open source code, and is cross platform, so it can be used, according to the company, by 2 billion existing mobile phones. Funambol licenses a carrier version to cellular operators and service providers, who in turn rebrand it as a free or fee-based service to their subscribers. The community edition is available to enterprises and developers.

These new-fangled services are oriented toward consumers, and could pose a range of headaches for IT departments. Apple initially touted Mobile Me as "Exchange for the rest of us" but that theme has been muted of late. The first rollout of the service, at the same time as the iPhone 3G launch, was plagued with problems.  

According to Microsoft, most phones running Windows Mobile 6 will be compatible with the My Phone service. The hosted Web portal clearly is intended to leverage Microsoft's desktop and desktop browser dominance, allowing Windows Mobile users to use tools they already have to back up, store and manage data and content between a handheld and desktop or laptop Windows device.

The first the My Phone application is run, there is a list of recommended settings that can be accepted or changed. The settings handle the auto synchronization of contacts, appointments, tasks, photos, video, text messages, music and documents from the handheld to the My Phone account.

If the default settings are accepted, My Phone will automatically sync data on the phone with the Web account once per day, between 11 p.m. and 5a.m., unless the phone can't connect to a wireless carrier (for example, because it's turned off).

But there are some things users have to be aware of. For example, if you have an "active connection" with Microsoft Exchange server, My Phone will not synchronize contacts, calendar appointments or tasks.

And, if you have installed Windows Live on your phone, My Phone will synchronize Windows Live contacts only with the Windows Live site, while syncing other contacts to your My Phone account.

The initial recommended My Phone settings will ignore data on an external memory card. And any contact information stored on a SIM card from your cellular carry will likewise be ignored.

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