Thanks to an apparent slip-up, Microsoft has given the world a look at its upcoming online synchronization service for Windows Mobile called My Phone.
The web site for this service is live now, but not fully functional. Still, there’s enough to give a complete overview of what it will offer.
For years, business users have been able to backup their address book and calendar data with a remote server thanks to Exchange ActiveSync. Consumers, on the other hand, haven’t been able to do this without paying for an additional service. My Phone will change this.
However, this upcoming service won’t offer all the features of Exchange ActiveSync. It will only synchronize calendar and contacts, not email. However, it will allow users to synchronize photos and other files, not something offered by the business software.
In addition, My Phone users will be able to go to a web site and access their personal information. They will be able to make changes and these will be reflected on their smartphone the next time they synchronize. In another difference from Exchange ActiveSync, changes won’t sync immediately, but only once per day.
As Microsoft’s own words:
Microsoft My Phone syncs information on your mobile phone to a storage space on a web site hosted by Microsoft. If your phone is lost or stolen, or if you upgrade to a new phone, you can easily restore the contacts, calendar appointments, photos, and other information that you stored on My Phone to a compatible new or replacement phone.
Microsoft My Phone enables you to view and manage phone information by using a web browser. In your web account, you can add, edit, and delete contacts and calendar appointments, and the changes will appear on your phone the next time that you sync.
The service is going to be free, and will be compatible with most devices running Windows Mobile 6+.
This is apparently a confirmation of the earlier rumors about “Skybox”, as the URL for My Phone is getskybox.com.
According to unconfirmed reports, the official announcement of this service will be at the Mobile World Congress (MWC) tradeshow later this month.
Update: A Microsoft spokesperson has confirmed that the My Phone web site accidentally went live early, and promises it will be announced at MWC. He goes on to say that, at first, this service will be available only as a limited, invite-only beta. The full text of his statement is available in the Brighthand Forums.
Microsoft My Phone vs. Apple MobileMe
My Phone immediately draws comparisons with Apple’s MobileMe service, as both offer over-the-air data synchronization to consumers, and all the data to be accessed via a web portal.
This is a “back to the future” comparison, as when MobileMe was launched it was compared to Exchange ActiveSync. The MobileMe service might actually be a slightly closer to Microsoft’s sync service for businesses, though, as it allows users synchronize their emails, too.
As mentioned earlier, this is not a “push” service. Instead, My Phone will automatically synchronize information between the smartphone and the online account once a day between 11:00 pm and 5:00 am. However, user will be able to manually initiate a sync whenever they choose.
This upcoming service will apparently allow users to synchronize the contents of the My Documents folder on their smartphone with their online account. Microsoft will provide 200 MB of free storage for this. It’s not clear at this point if this will include files stored on a removable memory card.
The web site for My Phone also reveals how this service will inter-operate with other synchronization services. When the user has an active connection with Microsoft Exchange server, My Phone will not synchronize contacts, calendar appointments, or tasks. Windows Live contacts will only be synced with the Windows Live web site, not My Phone.