All About Symbian - Nokia (S60) and Sony Ericsson (UIQ) smartphones unwrapped

Old 24-01-2005, 11:19 AM
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Lightbulb Symbian's Weakest Link... Synchronising

PalmSource has Hot Sync and Palm Desktop. Microsoft has Active Sync and Microsoft Outlook. Symbian has… a reputation for not being reliable with your data when synchronising. Yes, moving data around from your PC to your PDA/Smartphone is one of those areas where Symbian has a major problem. It may be a connected and online device, but does anyone truly trust a Symbian device to sync to his or her PC in the same way that the other major Operating Systems do? Ewan takes a closer look.

One of the advantages in Palm and Microsoft’s strategy is they have their own desktop PIM Suite, which they both know inside and out (by virtue of coding every line of the application). With this knowledge they can make a rock solid synchronising engine that works on their own platform perfectly. Symbian, in its various UI disguises, ties itself to MS-Outlook as the PIM of ‘choice,’ and because of this, relies on the available public knowledge and API’s. There’s no way that they will know as much about how Outlook works as the programmers in Redmond do.

Synchronising shouldn’t be difficult, but Symbian have gone out their way to make it appear that it is some mythical holy grail. Information is power, and given the choice, Symbian would not be on my list of machines to choose that would sync to my PIM suite.

Palm OS and its dedicated Desktop Environment (Palm Desktop and Hot Sync) is one of the strongest selling points. It’s something that’s genuinely useful, easy to understand, and reliable. It’s one button-press, with no complicated linking software, dodgy connections or lengthy waiting. Probably ninety percent of Palm OS users will realise that this is enough and never leave that Environment even when it comes to upgrading their smartphone.

Active Sync goes one step further – you don’t even press a button. Once your Pocket PC or Windows Smartphone is connected to your PC, then the synchronising happens automatically in the background. Make one change in Outlook (or on the device) and it is copied over at that very instant. So all you need to do is grab the machine and leave your desk, confident the last diary changes have been moved over.

We all know how much fun Symbian is.

It’s high time that Symbian sat down and wrote their own PIM Suite, so they can get on at least level terms in an area they are weak in. It doesn’t need to be a huge, all singing, all dancing client. A simple Agenda, Contacts, Notes and Tasks Suite would suffice. But it needs to be Symbian. Not Nokia, not Sony Ericsson, not Sendo… not any of the partners. This is such a fundamental area that Symbian need to show some leadership by drawing a line in the sand that says “sync problems are our responsibility, and they will be fixed.” It needs to be compatible across the range of machines (after all, many of these core apps use the same file format on each device). Locking people into friendly software means that on upgrading their phone, they’re thinking stick with Symbian, which is a good thing. The more phones sold, the better for Symbian and the partners.

The whole point of Symbian as a company is for the partners to work together on areas, not let Nokia write a custom Series 60 solution that’s not transportable just because they sell the most phones.

Obviously there are a huge number of steps Symbian can take to make this attractive. Making the application skin-able by separating the engine code and the UI layer is something the Operating System itself already does. This means Nokia and SE still get their own branded PIM Suite, but the marketplace is reassured that it works. Symbian already provide a basic connectivity engine to partners, so the framework in the organisation is there. And if they want to make a huge leap, then write the PIM application in Java. Not only does that mean that you have PC connectivity, but Mac and Linux will be able to join in officially as well – neither Palm nor Microsoft officially supports syncing to platforms other than Windows.

This year, Symbian need to decide if they are a company behind a thriving Operating System (and all that entails) or if they’re just a kernel company supporting some handset manufacturers. There’s a world of difference in the two approaches. The Operating System line would cover taking responsibility for problems (and perceived problems). If they’re going to leave their Partners to sort it out, then they’re no more than a kernel producer. If Symbian can get a hold of the reins of this (and a few other areas), show some leadership, then everyone wins. Phone manufacturers will want Symbian more because of the off-the-shelf solution they’ll be providing" Technical Power Users will dive into the PIM Suite API’s and start improving them (here’s a thought – make the PIM Suite Open Source…). And End-Users will start to use the synching capability and realise they’ve got a pretty good computer on their phone that does more than make calls and take pictures. And if end-users want a specific phone, with a hassle free software solution, then watch the Operators take notice and make sure these phones (which naturally generate higher ARPU) are the ones that are marketed.

Probably Symbian’s biggest missed opportunity in all of this was back in 1994. Psion (whose software division would become Symbian in five years time) were looking for a connectivity and syncing solution. They had a choice of two options. One was to write their own client, the other was to commission a US company to re-jig their popular connectivity solution from the Casio Zoomer PDA to the Psion Series 3a. In the end, they decided to write their own. The US Company was left with no market for their PDA software, so in a final roll of the dice, they decided to build their own PDA to run with the software. In 1995 that company, called Palm Computing, launched the first Palm Pilot.

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Old 24-01-2005, 12:27 PM
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My 2p, the mean time between failures (i.e. it goes tits up and you need to reformat and begin again) of a windoze box mean's I see little point syncing with the PC when with all the information on my phone it's easilly accessible anyway. The idea of a Java based suite to communicate with the devices is a good one, as the ability to copy files to and from my 9210 was one reason why I ended up using Windoze on a desktop rather than BeOS. A Java sync and data copy suite would see me saying goodbye to doze and hello stable and fast OS and synced contacts.
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Old 24-01-2005, 04:04 PM
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Good one Ewan. Totally agree with you. IMHO, Psion collapsed because they thought they were superior to MSoft - forgetting the fact that to be connected you have to be able to connect to the EVERYTHING - especially the biggest mother of them all - MSoft.

The hub unfortunately is the PC ..... tempting as it is for one to believe that it is "Net", it will remain the PC for years to come.

I for one am gettting a bit tired of trying to keep all the information manually "synched" between my Revo, my 9210 and my PC. An elegant solution is of course the sync solution provided by Apple for most "bluetoothed" Sony Ericsson phones to their built-in iCal and AddressBook. So elegant, IMHO far better than the Palm's or Active Sync.

Until Symbian gets sync right, it will always remain a small player in the corporate world.

Just my thots.

Old 24-01-2005, 04:06 PM
martinharnevie martinharnevie is offline
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I kinda agree with Switchblade, who needs a PC?

I can sync my P900 contacts to a Psion with a few simple steps using Infrared. I can maintain a more advanced contact database in the Data application on the Psion, use a separate field for indicating which contacts should be uploaded to phone (with some adjustments to the DataContact macro), create a Contacts.cdb file on Psion, export this file as .vcf, beam it over to P900 using plBeam and load it into a fresh Contacts file on P900. A few steps yes, but can be done in the tube or even at the red light.

Another thing, almost everyone were lambasting PsiWin during the Psion era, but if you ignore the 115k speed limit for a while and it's dependency on flaky Windows serial communication, both which are rather a hardware-driver related matters, PsiWin is still superior to any other sync software around.

And PsiWin is the only sync software I've seen which had proper machine-2-machine Cut/Copy/Paste feature - the most useful feature for anyone who types a lot on the move.

So what on earth happened? Doesn't E///, for instance, realise that their My P800 or My P900 are complete crap compared to what they delivered with their own MC218 not so long ago?

I know I sound a bit retro, but this is the way I do backup of a Symbian phone:

1. Ensure all important files are on the D: drive.
2. Take the MMC/MS-duo...whatever...out from the phone.
3. Plug the corresponding adapter into the PCMCIA port of a netBook. You now have the filetree on the E: drive of the netBook.
4. Backup the E: drive of the netBook using PsiWin to a separate folder.
5. Takes time but works. Since the files now land in proper folders which you can control, you can even link your UIQ or S80 or S60 or S90 WINS emulator to them.

And you can use your phone while this process is ongoing!!!
Martin Harnevie (Bluetooth, RFID, ZigBee ...)

Last edited by martinharnevie; 24-01-2005 at 04:11 PM.

Old 24-01-2005, 07:50 PM
slitchfield slitchfield is offline
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I agree with a lot of this thread, though (credit where credit's due), the brand-new SyncML-based syncing, as used in the Nokia 9500, is absolutely 100% rock-solid. For me at least.

I was a bit sceptical when SyncML was started a few years back. But now in 2005, it seems that the system could be the vital stabilising influence that the non-MS syncing world needs.

Steve Litchfield

Old 24-01-2005, 10:49 PM
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Yeah I agree with Steve. The SyncML stuff is great. I just think it needs extending for the web and Outlook... i.e. the stuff is getting off the device fine, but beyond that it could be better.
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Old 25-01-2005, 04:00 AM
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Palm Hotsync is king. iSync can't hold a candle to Hotsync. Even Activesync is better than iSync. The only saving grace of iSync is the breath of devices it supports.
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Old 25-01-2005, 10:07 AM
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JUst to say that my business life is run from a PC and Outlook is a vital part of that. I'm sure that applies to a large number of businesses. The last thing I need is another program to organise my schedules.

It may have taken a long time but syncingwith my SE P900 is certainly a lot more reliable and solid than it used to be with my Psion Series 5.

What I do need is categories to be syncronised although from previous comments I get the impression this will never happen.


Old 25-01-2005, 10:42 AM
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I, for one, have only ever had trouble synchronising with a Microsoft based device. My Psion 5 machines, 7650, 9210 and 6260 all sync without a hitch.

I don't understand how Microsoft claim to have better reliability; they don't. Sure, they have options like some server stuff which normal Joe-on-the-Street will never want, but has anyone here seen the complaints by ActiveSync users? It doesn't take much for it to get its knickers in a twist, I can tell you.

My experience with the new Nokia PCSuite is that something that was more than good enough just got better. It offers far more feedback and user-useful and user-readable information than ActiveSync ever has.

Just my 2p :-)


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Old 25-01-2005, 03:59 PM
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I have to pipe up and say that my synch via bluetooth with an OSX powerbook works wonderfully for me.... although I understand that Nokia's updates to their newer phones is not compatible with this.

But finding and pairing my phone was pretty straightforward, and now I can just push a button to synch my contacts and calendar with the built-in apps on OSX. Painless, and it works great for me.


Old 26-01-2005, 10:27 AM
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Symbain One have an interview online jsut now with a company hoping toi fix the Sync problem. Worth a read.
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Old 26-01-2005, 02:52 PM
Craig Carroll
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Beer synchronisation

There are some very interesting views expressed here. I have had a Psion (like other people who have replied) since the Psion 3a. Here I used the excellent psi-sync to sync with outlook. Since then I have had the 5, dabbled with wince, pocket pc, the p800, and p900 and now own a 9500.

The symbian platforms have been technically superior from their windows adversaries in that they are quicker, people develop applications with a small footprint and they don't require a pc. I gave my ipaq away as it just drove me nuts waiting for it to do things and my last jornada which was also a smartphone was a good excuse if you didn't want to speak to anyone. Again this has been consigned to sat nav but does get annoying when the reminder appears whilst navigating/driving.

The big issue where these have all fallen down is pc connectivity either synchronisation or networking. The pocket pcs excel in this - but hey who wouldn't if your Operating system is on most of the servers/pcs in the world. If you can't create a pda and software to sync to your pim software you must be losing the plot. Active sync is a great product when syncing to outlook and handles all of the appointments, birthdays (a big symbian sync issue) and snoozing reminders but the backup solution it offers is bad. And it isn't long before your pocket pcs always require a desktop pc to do something simple whereas the symbian platform just get on with it. Lastly the pocket pcs can link into pc based networks because of the built in smb client and offer native pptp vpn access... (I was expecting this on the 9500) It may sound like I am a supporter of them <g> but I have actually found it better to have several devices and use each one for its own purpose - hence don't take a hammer to put in a screw in.

Working within IT support I would like a small machine (not a laptop) that can interface with a pc, either at the network level (smb & vpn) and to sync with my outlook fully. The 9500 whilst a good machine has potential to be a business killer with the built in wifi, it has native office interoperability but the pc suite sucks. It cannot do outlook notes (just plain text files), the birthday reminders are dubious, it cannot cope with snoozing reminders, and it cannot do embedded emails/memos in contacts or appointments. Since the days of psiwin it has come far but if they cannot get the simple fundamentals right like reminders, notes and to-do items its got a long way to go. What I cannot understand is the p900 can do some of these but the 9500 cannot?

There will always be people who don't require any of the above and others can cope finding alternative. But imho the symbian partners need to sit up and make their products more interposable because for the moment the Microsoft world is not going away, it may change to Linux or something else in time but there will always be the issue of cross platform interoperability. Whilst there is still a Psion community the company is somewhat non existent. Their latest netbook pro runs on wince instead of epoc/symbian – this says something. I own an old netbook and again think its great and is let down when connecting to a pc.

Let’s hope symbian don’t make the same mistake and go the same way, that they buck up their ideas and get the pc connectivity sorted out. There are enough partners like the original article said to get together release their own pim and cross platform sync software. For example why don’t nokia speak to sony ericsson and find out how to sync outlook notes? Vice versa se speak to nokia on how to do birthday syncing. (would be great if nokia’s product work correctly with mobipocket)

Whilst I am tempted with the sharp zarus platform at the moment because it is based on Linux and the huge amount of open source software available which fill some of these plugs – this is another symbian need to watch out for, lets hope someone hears us and just irons out these issues.

Craig Carroll

Old 27-01-2005, 05:13 AM
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Unhappy Syncing

It is interesting that Synchronization is recognized as a weakness, since I understood that all the hype about SyncML was basically to standardise the Outlook format. I have been struggling with this issue since the 9210 when I had contacts that just refused to transfer completely to Outlook (version out at that time). Now I simply do not trust any syncing results so just pull out the MMC and copy it into a directory on the PC.

Yesterday I got my hands on a QS100 which amazed me and have since ordered 2 handsets. It is sad though as I have been a Communicator user since the very first 9000, (which I still have including the 9110, 9210 and now the 9500).

Recalling the PC Suit3e from the 9110 days where we can edit and add contacts from the PC, syncing was seamless then, alas those were the days.

Old 27-01-2005, 08:54 AM
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Although wasn;t the 9110 PC Suite syncing with a Nokia written desktop application, and a text file? IE their own proto-PIM suite? ;-)
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Old 27-01-2005, 09:13 AM
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9110 PC Suite

Indeed it was written by Nokia which explains why the syncing of the 9110 with the PC Suite was so seamless. This is essentially due to the horrible field mapping exercise of Outlook to pick up all the entries of the contact fields of the Communicator. I could never work out how to do field mapping in Outlook despite 4 years of trying!!! That shows you what an impossile job it is.

Incidentally before someone reading his assumes that I am an incompetant (they may be right after all) suffice it to say I had 3 of my work colleagues plus a friend in our company's IT department workng on field mapping of Outlook and all failed.


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