My Phone

When Apple introduced the second-generation iPhone 3G in mid-2008, it also released an associated online service called Mobile Me that provides automatic, wireless ("over the air," or OTA) synchronization of e-mail, contacts, and calendar items, as well as online storage for photo and file sharing. Mobile Me was a disaster when it launched, a rare miscue for the company, and the fact that customers had to pay $99 a year for the privilege just made matters worse.

While Microsoft already offered some Mobile Me functionality through its Windows Live for Windows Mobile services (which we'll examine in just a moment), in 2009 it closed the gap by offering a related and complementary service called Microsoft My Phone. Like Mobile Me, My Phone is designed to sync phone information between the device and a Web site, OTA. And like Mobile Me, My Phone provides Web-based storage for photos so you can share them with others remotely. But My Phone goes beyond Mobile Me in some ways, way beyond Mobile Me when you factor in the capabilities that already existed in Windows Live for Windows Mobile. And unlike Mobile Me, My Phone is completely free.

Game, set, match? Maybe.

As with other Microsoft online services, you need a Windows Live ID to take advantage of My Phone. After signing onto the service from the Web on your PC, you need to do so as well from your smartphone. Doing so triggers a download for the My Phone application, which sits on your phone and handles the syncing of information between the device and the Internet cloud.

On the phone, My Phone is pure simplicity: you can view information about the last sync and manually trigger a new sync if you want. You can select which items you wish to sync via this service (it supports contacts, calendar, tasks, text messages, photos, videos, music, and documents; and, if you have a storage card, additional photos, videos, music, and documents that you might have stored there). And you can configure a default sync schedule.

If it works as it should, My Phone will simply work in the background, syncing your data to the My Phone Web site. The rationale here is that people tend to keep important information on their phone, and often only on their phone. And if they lose the phone, or it is stolen, that data is gone for good. With My Phone, it's always backed up, and if you get a different phone in the future—because you upgraded or whatever—you can get that data off the Web site and onto that new device, too.

Viewed from the traditional Web (that is, from a PC), you can see how this works. The My Phone Web site, shown in Figure 19-20, provides a simplified view of the information you've synced from your phone, as well as quick links to common tasks such as viewing and downloading photos, and managing contacts.

Figure 19-20: Microsoft My Phone, as seen from a PC Web browser

Some of the synced items are interactive, in that they are not trapped in the Web site. For example, if you view your phone-based photos from the My Phone Web site, as shown in Figure 19-21, you can perform in-place management tasks, but you can also multiselect photos and download them to your PC.

Figure 19-21: My Phone's photos can be managed and downloaded from the Web.

This functionality is useful for a number of reasons, not the least of which is backup. But it's nice to be able to get at your phone-based photos without being required to physically tether it to a particular PC.

Other items, alas, are not so interactive. For example, you can view and manage contacts and calendar items from the My Phone Web site (the Contacts view is shown in Figure 19-22); but there's no way to sync between, say, My Phone and Microsoft Outlook or Windows Live Mail on the PC, or, more interesting, Windows Live Hotmail on the Web.

With My Phone, the presumption is that if you're doing any syncing, you're doing it elsewhere. In the case of Windows Live for Windows Mobile (described later in the chapter), you're generally all set because that service does offer deep integration with Windows Live Hotmail and People with Windows Mobile. But there's no way to sync Windows Live Calendar with Windows Mobile at the time of this writing, and My Phone certainly isn't going to help.

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