Microsoft will be announcing a free mobile synchronization service with the highly original name of “My Phone” at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona next week. There’s a little more information about it at microsoft.com/windowsmobile/myphone/. My Phone will synchronize contacts, calendar appointments, photos, text messages and files with “the cloud” and will initially be available “by invitation only” for Windows Mobile 6 users.
MS is a bit late getting on the mobile cloud synchronization bandwagon. Apple’s $99/year MobileMe, which does similar things for iPhones, came out last July. Yesterday Google announced contact and calendar sync for the iPhone and Windows Mobile handsets, plus contact sync for any SyncML enabled phone, which includes most GSM Nokias, Motorolas and Sony Ericssons. Interestingly, the iPhone and WM versions of the Google service use Exchange and ActiveSync technology licensed from Microsoft.
Somewhat lost in the hoopla over My Phone is the fact that Microsoft already has a cloud synchronization service and it’s available on mobiles. It’s called “Live Mesh” and is both more and less limited than My Phone. Live Mesh doesn’t do contacts, calendars and messages, it’s strictly a file and folder synchronization service. On the other hand, with Live Mesh you get 5 GB of cloud storage to play with while My Phone is limited to a paltry 200 MB.
There are a several ways to use Live Mesh. The main one is a dowloadable application for Windows Vista or XP, Mac OS 10.5 and Windows Mobile 6. It runs in the background and synchronizes the files and folders you specify with the Live Mesh web service. Multiple devices can run the Live Mesh application allowing files to be synchronized across multiple computers and phones. Files can also be shared with other Live Mesh users. The PC clients are freely available at mesh.com but the Windows Mobile one is another “by invitation only” closed Beta.
There is also a full-web interface in to the Mesh storage cloud called “Live Desktop” that can be accessed from any PC. With Live Desktop you can manage the files in your cloud, create folders and upload and download files.
Finally there is the mobile web version of Live Desktop which called “Live Mesh“. It’s available now to anyone with a Live ID account. To use it first go to mesh.com and create a Live Desktop account, then visit m.mesh.com with your mobile browser. You will find a basic mobile page that that duplicates most the functionality of the Live Desktop full-web site; you can create folders and upload and download files. For uploading and downloading to work you need a mobile browser that supports the “browse for file” variant of the html input tag (<input type =”file” … >), such as recent Nokia browsers and Opera Mini.
The mobile web interface is simply a remote folder access service. It lets you transfer files between your device and Live Mesh. You can store any kind of document in Live Mesh but the service does not do any adaptation to convert files to a mobile friendly format. So if you have a PDF or Word doc in Live Mesh, you can transfer it to your phone but can only view it if the phone has an application that can open PDF or Word files. This is more limited than other mobile cloud storage services like Soonr and Nokia’s Files On Ovi (formerly Avvenu) which do on the fly transformation of desktop file formats into something usable on your phone.
We will have to wait and see where Microsoft is going with My Phone and Live Mesh. I suspect there is some shared technology between the two on the server side. I’d like to see Microsoft merge My Phone and Live Mesh into an all encompassing calendar, contact, media and file synchronization tool that would let users store all their data in the cloud and share it across all their devices including mobiles, laptops and desktops. Microsoft released Live Framework APIs last year which give developers access to Live Mesh data. I’m hoping My Phone will use the Live Mesh back end services and that the My Phone data will be available through Live Framework. That would open up all sorts of mash-up possibilities for cross platform and cross application data sharing.