We Need Standards In The Mobile World

Last week I helped a friend’s father to move his contacts from his Nokia phone to the his new Blackberry device. And it was not a pleasant experience. It involved:

  • Nokia’s PC Suite to import the contacts into the Outlook addressbook
  • Blackberry’s Desktop Manager to import the contacts from Outlook.

Note that I had to use three different packages of software to move contacts from one phone to another. Before this, I foolishly tried to use a common data format like a comma separated file to move the contacts. That failed! Because these mobiles do not have any standardized common data format. Not only do you have to use the two proprietary pieces of software to extract the contacts, but also a third application that works as a broker between the two. No wonder this requires help.

This would have been a lot easier if both the devices were accessible through a common interface and data formats so that data could be ported between them using common applications. Considering how critical mobiles have become as data stores, the mobile world should start developing and complying with standards soon to improve portability. I hope that recent interest of mobile vendors in open source drives this. If not, we should start demanding it from the vendors. Or be ready to fight the same lock-in problems that we faced with the desktop software a decade back.

Discussion [Participate or Link]

  1. Arjan’s World » LINKBLOG for Aug 23 - 2009 said:

    […] We Need Standards In The Mobile World – Abhijit Nadgouda […]

  2. waqas said:

    Phones actually do have a common data formats for importing/exporting contact/calender/etc data. For example, with Nokia’s PC Suite, or most other phone ‘browsers’, you can import/export your contact data in the vCard format: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/VCard

    And there are over-the-wire sync protocols. I recall one developed by Nokia. And there’s the Microsoft® Exchange ActiveSync® protocol. Google Sync is based on it, and it seems to be supported by most modern phones (including Blackberry and Nokia S60 devices): http://www.google.com/mobile/products/sync.html

  3. waqas said:

    Ah, the standard I was thinking of was SyncML: http://www.google.com/mobile/products/sync.html

    It is widely supported. Just see the large number of client software and device types, Free server software, and free hosting services. Most Nokia phones support it, and there’s Free software clients for the Blackberry.

    I use the Zyb service to keep a backup of my phone’s address book. I used it once while moving between phones, and everything worked as expected.

  4. We Need Standards In The Mobile World | iface thoughts | RARWarez Blog said:

    […] post:  We Need Standards In The Mobile World | iface thoughts Tags: allows-the-user, contact, dictation-, excel, export-your, exporting-contact, for-importing, […]

  5. Abhijit Nadgouda said:

    Waqas, thanks for the info. Will check it out. I had read about SyncML, failed find a reference to it in the Nokia PC Suite. Neither did I find vcard capability in it. Can you specify where to look for it?

    It is great if the mobile industry is working on portability. The way we use mobiles, data portability should be inherently supported in all of them.

  6. Mark said:

    Totally agree with you. Currently it is a mess for all programmers

  7. waqas said:

    SyncML works over the network (GPRS, etc). On my phone the option is Extras > Synchronize > Synchronize. It requires server settings. You can run your own sync server, or use one of the free public ones. I have used zyb.com.

    The wire protocol most Nokia (and other) phones use is OBEX, which is a standard. There are several opensource implementations of it. Many for Linux, and some for Windows. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/OBject_EXchange

    I personally dislike Nokia’s PC Suite, and the various other suites by cell phone manufacturers. Bulky, ugly applications in my opinion. I use Zyb and some Linux tools to backup contacts. And simple Bluetooth transfer for files (I often read novels on my phone when travelling) comes with modern OSs.

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Abhijit Nadgouda
iface Consulting
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