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Trouble Signs Already With Microsoft's New "My Phone" Service

Posted by: Peter Burrows on February 6, 2009

In reporting on Microsoft’s soon-to-be-unveiled mobile strategy last week, a common theme from company executives was that the company was going to be much more focused on the consumer experience. With the mobile Internet now taking off, it wasn’t enough to just sell an OS to device makers. Instead, Microsoft would take responsibility, Apple-style, to make sure future devices would be a joy to use—no perplexing interfaces, no compatibility gotchas, no unneeded clicks. The first evidence of this new approach, to be unveiled on Feb. 16, would be a My Phone service that would automatically back-up all of the contacts, photos and other files on your phone to a website, for easy synching with your PC. Sure, it sounds a lot like Mobile Me and other cloud-like services. But Microsoft, because of its huge presence in PCs, the Net and in mobile, argues that it can do a better job of tying these worlds together.

It sounds good. But the specs for the My Phone service the company posted don’t give me much confidence that Microsoft has found the key to convergence nirvana.

Why, you ask? For starters, because—and this I find amazing—it won’t synchronize Exchange with other types of services, such as Yahoo Mail or Google Calendar. If there’s one thing most smart-phone users would like, it would be the ability to easily integrate their personal email/contacts/calendars with their corporate email/contacts/calendards. This is certainly what Palm hopes to do with its new offerings. I look forward to hearing from Microsoft about its future plans in this regard.

Then, there’s storage. I’m not sure if this is a typo, but the document says it comes with only 200 MB of free storage. Maybe there’s some explanation, but storage these days comes in increments of GBs.

Also, Microsoft hasn’t figured out a fix for one problem even Apple hasn’t solved: How to give smart phone owners total confidence that they know what data charges they’ll have to pay for using My Phone. The company says:

Microsoft does not charge a fee for the My Phone service at this time. But the data plan you have with your mobile operator may require you to pay data-transfer charges when you use the service. If you are unsure of your plan coverage, please contact your mobile operator.”

Maybe it’s unfair to think that Microsoft would have solved this problem, which involves carriers and other players. But hey, they’re playing catch-up in mobile. These are the kinds of problems they’ll need to solve to start catching up.

Instead, there are other gotchas of the sort that have earned Microsoft its reputation for less-than-delightful-to-use products:

If you have Windows Live installed on your phone, it will synchronize your Windows Live contacts with the Windows Live web site, and My Phone will synchronize your other contacts to your account on the My Phone web site.

If you have an external memory card and selected My Phone’s recommended settings, information on the external memory card will not be synchronized.

If you store contacts on the SIM card provided by your mobile operator, My Phone will not synchronize these contacts.

If you have any documents stored outside the My Documents folder on your phone, My Phone will not synchronize these documents.

I realize this is just a first version of the service, and a beta at that. I’m sure it will improve over time. But even the first iPhone, for all of its imperfections, presented consumers with a simple, easy-to-understand new way of using phones. These first details about MyPhone leave me wondering about its mass appeal.

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Bloomberg Businessweek writers Peter Burrows, Cliff Edwards, Olga Kharif, Aaron Ricadela, and Douglas MacMillan, dig behind the headlines to analyze what’s really happening throughout the world of technology. Tech Beat covers everything from tech bellwethers like Apple, Google, and Intel and emerging new leaders such as Facebook to new technologies, trends, and controversies.



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