For me and my PDAs of the day the dream of the late 1990s was a single address book, from which I could dial phone numbers, launch emails and remember birthdays. That dream was first realized in Christmas of 2001 with the arrival of my VisorPhone. It got modular with my first Bluetooth setup a few months later and became pretty much ubiquitous with Apple’s support of the SyncML standard and a lowly feature phone from Sony Ericsson.
Now, the gold standard for personal information management (PIM) is everything available everywhere. Contacts, calendars, to-do lists accessible and editable across multiple devices — even a public computer in an internet café!
Danger’s hiptop platform came really close for me, but the fact that I used it for so long ultimately became its undoing — shortly after my first anniversary with it my calendar reached the 1,000 event limit and I had to start deleting precious memories, a big no-no for someone whose electronic calendar archives go all the way back to 1998…
Most of the world is likely content with their Microsoft Exchange Server, but for me there are two big problems with it:
- You kinda need Internet Explorer for full web browser functionality, so Linux gurus and Mac snobs are left out in the cold.
- You most definitely need a mobile device that supports Microsoft’s ActiveSync protocol.
Since arming myself with a Nokia E61i I’ve resigned myself to offline PIM through Apple’s iCal and iSync. But recently I came across an All About Symbian piece on a free service called Mobical, which uses SyncML to back up your calendars, contacts, notes and to-do lists onto a secure remote server. Even better, you can use your browser as an interface for your PIM data. There’s even an undocumented feature enabling you to subscribe to your Mobical calendar via a desktop client.
Sounds perfect, right?
Well, unfortunately there are three issues I have with Mobical — and here they are, in ascending order from minor annoyance to deal-breaker:
- Synchronization is not automatic and must be initiated from your handset.
- Calendar subscriptions are incomplete (no to-dos) and cannot be edited.
- Synchronization seems to always favour the handset, and there’s no one-way manual override.
Like I said, the first issue is minor and only worth mentioning to anyone spoiled by the automagic sync of a hiptop or ActiveSync. The lack of task support or ability to edit subscribed calendars is more of a letdown because, let’s face it, using a desktop PIM client is still way quicker than a cumbersome web browser.
But it’s the lack of manual override that kills Mobical’s potential as a true PIM 2.0 service. After my first sync I dumped a bunch of old calendar events from my Mobical database, only to have them reappear after the next connection to my Nokia. I sent them an email asking if there was any way to push my data in one direction only. Here’s their prompt but terse reply:
This is not possible either.
To be fair, Mobical is calling itself “a backup and restore service” only and makes no claims about online personal info management. That’s a shame, since it seems to me they’re just a couple of steps shy of a product that could truly deliver upon the PIM 2.0 promise…