One of the highlights of the Palm Pre is a technology called Synergy, which combines the users’ data from a variety of sources. Comments I’ve read in the Brighthand Pre forum show that there is a great deal of confusion about how this works, so I’ve put together answers to some of the most frequently asked questions.
Note: This isn’t a full review of the webOS or the Palm Pre. For that, read this article.
How many different kinds of data does Synergy cover?
These days, most of us have data on multiple online services. For me, it’s my company’s Microsoft Exchange server and Google, but I know Facebook is popular too. You can set a webOS device like the Pre to log onto these services, download copies of many kinds of data, and then display this.
Palm did its best to bring together as many kinds of data as it could. Displaying email, calendar, and address book information from different sources all together is a no-brainer, but that’s just part of it.
Instant messaging is a good example. This combines conversations from different IM services, and regular text messages, too. It doesn’t matter if a friend is texting you or chatting over IM, all your messages from this person are threaded together.
You can reply to any of the different sources in the appropriate way, too. If you’re having a discussion via AIM and the person you’re talking to shuts down their PC, you can switch to sending SMS messages from within the same application, just by picking it from a drop-down box.
An notifications that your friends are signed in to an IM service are in the address book and in the email app.
Can the Palm Pre Be used without an Internet connection?
Palm’s latest smartphone is constantly keeping its data updated, and some people have mistakenly thought this means that your contacts, calendar, etc. are unavailable when the phone doesn’t have an Internet connection. The Pre isn’t a dumb terminal, and it has its own databases. These are kept synchronized with the remote servers whenever a connection to the Internet is available, but all that happens when the device is disconnected is the updating stops.
You can use a Pre in offline mode to check your calendar, read your previously downloaded email, write new messages, etc. When a connection is reestablished, any data that has changed, or any emails you’re written, will be synchronized.
Does Synergy result in loads of duplicate address book entries?
I’ve heard from people who have multiple online address books and are concerned that their Pre will end up with two or more entries for every one of their contacts. Have no fear, the webOS does a good job of virtually combining your data. As long as both contacts have the same name, they will appear as a single entry.
It’s not a miracle worker, of course. It can’t figure out that “Uncle Milty” on Facebook is the same as “Milton Fuzzwinkle” in a Gmail address book, but you can manually associate these two entries together, and their information will be merged on the device.
Take a look at the image on the right. In the upper right-hand corner you can see a picture of a person with a “2″ on it. That shows there are two sources of information for this contact. If you tap on that image, a section opens up showing the two sources. You can see that it’s open in this image.
Below that is the note “Link More Profiles.” You can use this to manually combine entries that didn’t get automatically combined. Here is where you would tell it “Uncle Milty” and “Milton Fuzzwinkle” are the same person, and their data would be displayed together.
Naturally, if there is duplicate data it’s displayed only once. If Gmail and Facebook have the same email address for ol’ Milt, then it would be just displayed once.
You also pick a “master” contact, and the address book with use the name and picture drawn from this account. So your Pre address book could list this person as “Milton Fuzzwinkle” if that’s what you choose.
Is my data from different sources combined on the servers?
Synergy deliberately does not do this. It virtually combines information from different sources on your phone, but doesn’t then sync that combined information back to the servers.
I prefer it this way. I keep my personal and professional life separate, and I don’t want my phone to arbitrarily merge the two together.
Just to be clear, if you use your webOS device to change a phone number drawn from Google, Synergy will take care of changing the entry on Google’s server. This changed number won’t be uploaded to Facebook, even if the Pre is getting an email address for this contact from that source.
Do I have to use Facebook, Google, or Exchange?
No. Palm provides an online database you can use to sync your data with. This means you don’t have to sync with Facebook or Google if you don’t want to, and it doesn’t matter if you don’t have access to an Exchange server.
You also can use any combination of sources. As I said earlier, I’m using only Exchange and Google as my sources, not Palm or Facebook.