Google and Microsoft have teamed up to let Google Calendar and Google Contacts users sync their data with an iPhone, without the need for Apple's help, via a utility called Google Sync. Google is using Microsoft's ActiveSync technology to provide--for free--the same over-the-air synchronization that Apple's MobileMe charges $100-a-year for.
No longer is iTunes necessary as an intermediary between the worlds of Google Apps and iPhones.
Besides an iPhone, you can also sync your iPod Touch, Blackberry, and some Nokia and Sony/Ericsson handsets using the Google service. There is also good news for the five people who own Windows Mobile devices--they can sync, too.
Like everything the company seems to do, Google Sync carries the word "beta" as part of its name.
Not so long ago, people would use an announcement such as this one, made last week, as a sort of Rorschach Test for the interlocking relationships between Google, Apple, and Microsoft. The late Ray Noorda, founder of Novell, coined the word "co-opetition" to describe these sorts of deals, where competitors sometimes find it sensible to actually work closely together for the common good. Sometimes, as in this case, customers seem to win as well.
This deal is probably most attractive to Windows users who have chosen Google Apps over Microsoft Office. These people get the most benefit and that may bring some undecideds among their ranks over to iPhone ownership. Why Microsoft wants to help these people avoid Office and buy iPhones, I'm not sure.
Mac users who find the OS X Address Book and iCal to their liking will likely stay with MobileMe, though the new Google/Microsoft sync offering might cause Apple to rethink its pricing strategy. Nah, Apple hardly ever--as in I don't remember the last time it happened--lowers its prices in response to competition.
More likely is that Apple might actually turn MobileMess, as some people called it in the wake of major roll-out problems last fall, into something that works better and does more than today's limited feature set.
Syncplicity, DropBox, and Microsoft Live Sync also offer Mac and PC synchronization. I didn't include links for those services because I'd like to take a look at them before I offer a tacit recommendation for products I don't know much about.
It's great that synchronization is finally getting the attention it deserves. Everyone I know has several computers and portable devices and all of them would benefit from being able to carry the same information, especially address and calendar information, but also notes and files, too.
I recently took a look at--and am pleased to recommend--an online note and file synchronization service called Evernote that has been a real help for me. Getting the right files on the right machines and keeping all the versions current remains a challenge, however, and I will report back as I search for solutions.
David Coursey is a 25-year veteran of the tech world, and he practically lives through his iPhone.