Google comes out with mobile sync service

Google introduced a calendar and contacts sync offering for Windows Mobile, iPhone and Symbian users.

The announcement follows a leak that emerged on Friday describing a somewhat similar service to come from Microsoft.

The new Google Sync offering, launched in beta, will let phone users sync the calendar and contacts lists on their phones with their Gmail contacts lists and Google Calendar.

When users add a new item on their Google calendars from their computers, for example, that change will be pushed out to their phones. The reverse also works, where a person adds or deletes a contact from the contacts list on their phone and that change is automatically made to their Gmail contacts list.

The service is similar, although narrower, than one that will come from Microsoft. On Friday, Microsoft accidentally published a Web site for a forthcoming My Phone service. It later confirmed that the service is in the works and that it will reveal more about it and open a limited beta in a week or so.

My Phone will also let users sync calendar and contacts lists between Windows Mobile phones and the Web, but it will also back up other phone data including photos, videos, text messages, music, documents and tasks. Users will be able to store data like photos and videos online and share it with friends. It is limited to Windows Mobile users.

Neither Google nor Microsoft will charge for the services, unlike Apple with its similar service. Apple's MobileMe syncs calendars, contacts and e-mail between iPhones and PCs or Macintosh computers, and lets users share photos from their phones on an online site. MobileMe costs US$99 per year.

Microsoft was quick to point out on Monday that Google's license of Microsoft's ActiveSync enables the sync with Windows Mobile devices.

For devices like Symbian phones that support it, Google used the SyncML protocol to facilitate the sync. SyncML is a standard protocol for data synchronization maintained by the Open Mobile Alliance.

In a blog post announcing Google Sync, Marcus Foster, product manager at Google Mobile, noted a couple of caveats. Google Apps users will require their administrators to enable Google Sync in order to use it.

He also warns users that Google Sync will initially replace all existing contacts and calendar information on the phone. His advice is for users to back up that information first.

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Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.