Friday, May 6, 2005

Raising the bar

I am not a Mac user yet, so I am only theorising here. But I suspect Mac users look disdainfully over at their Windows-using friends and wonder, "How can they bear it? What makes a person endure so much hardship?" Well, I'm here to tell you: we just set our standards lower. It's true. A happy Windows user is one that just doesn't know any better. The rest of us are in denial.

So, in the world of personal information management (there's an acronym that peaked too early—PIM), I've set my sights pretty low. I don't have any customer relationships to manage, and I don't need to share my appointment calendar with friends. I just want to store some names, phone numbers and addresses. But—here's the catch—I only want to do it once. That is, I want to store the name, phone number and address of everyone I know in some central location that I can update. I want that location to send the information to, say, my mobile phone. Let's say the central location was my Palm Zire 71, but I don't really care if it's not. It would be neat if I could "synchronise" my Palm with, say, my mobile phone, so that if I add a new number to my mobile, it can tell the Palm there's a new number. However, in the spirit of lowering expectations, I don't care if it's only one-way traffic.

This doesn't sound like a big ask to me. But in the Windows world, it is. Let me give you two examples.

I used to own a Sony Ericsson T68i mobile phone. (This phone takes the honour of being the worst phone I ever owned. The user interface alone would have ensured this honour, let alone its other deficiencies.) The price of the (non-standard) cable to connect this phone to a PC was, if I recall correctly, somewhere between $50 and $100. So, instead, I bought a Bluetooth to USB adapter. I actually succeeded (after a procession of "wizards") to connect the phone and the PC over Bluetooth. Great. The missing link, however, was any software to then get names and numbers from the PC (for example, from my Palm desktop application) to the phone. The Sony Ericsson website was completely unnavigable, and seemed to constantly refer to using software that it no longer distributed or supported. There were a few poorly-written third-party applications floating around the web, all of which purported to do something useful, and none of which delivered anything, yet still managed to ask for a $US 10 payment. I struck out, and gave up.

I now own a Motorola V3. (And it has a much nicer user interface.) To my utter astonishment, Motorola provided not only a USB cable, but actual software to allow my PC to talk to my phone. Now, recall my PC hardware purchasing success story as you read on. This is a PC to phone interfacing success story. I have my desired one-way Palm to mobile phone information flow working at last. This is what I need to do:
  1. Export the Palm address book in vCard format.
  2. Import the the vCard file into the phone's desktop contact organiser. Here's an interesting fact: on performing this import, everyone's "Home" phone number as exported by the Palm application is imported as their "Home 2" phone number into the phone desktop application. Remember this, we'll need it shortly.
  3. Export the address book from the phone software as a comma-separated values (CSV) text file. I kid you not. People still use those.
  4. Load the CSV file into my favourite editor.
  5. The top row contains the field names. Change "Home 2" to "Home". Save.
  6. Import the address book from the edited CSV file.
  7. Transfer the address book to the phone.
(If you're thinking steps 3—6 were easy to deduce by trial and error, you would be wrong.) I may not have stressed this enough: this is a success story. I was happy when I worked all of this out. Can you see how low I've set the bar?

I understand that OS X has an address book that already knows how to talk to mobile phones. I hope it likes my Zire 71.

6 comments:

  1. I'm surprised to learn that you've lowered your bar that much. Surely you could export the address book to XML somehow and convert "Home 2" to "Home" using XSLT?

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  2. As a Unix old timer, I've been looking disdainfully over at my XML-using friends and wondering, "How can they bear it? What makes a programmer be so gullible?" Well, I'm here to tell you: it's shite, no matter how much XSLT and XPPR you sprinkle on it.

    XML is just the same old binary file in text mode with comments. Nothing else about it makes it any more useful, as the abundance of straight dumps in the same old proprietary schemas proves. Next!

    I have a T610, and I click a little round twirly thing in my menu bar and it all happens... two-way as well! Instead of a long stream of part numbers and frequencies, I too can relax in the "Really! Mine is GRAPE!" response. :)

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  3. You're gonna get a lot of this:

    http://www.penny-arcade.com/view.php3?date=2002-07-12&res=l

    When does your Powerbook arrive? :)

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  4. The source of the "mine's grape" reference I made earlier:

    http://www.penny-arcade.com/view.php3?date=1999-04-28&res=l

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  5. Congratulations on your Maccle adventures, I asure you they will be great! However, I fear the Motorola phones are a bit of a pain when it comes to iSync-ing. All the Moto's I looked at getting were unsupported anyway. However, the phone I now have (sonyerricson k700i) talk beautifully and all my address book is matching across my pBook, iPod and Phone.

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  6. Thanks, Michelle.

    The Motorola V3 (it's also known as the Motorola RAZR v3—thanks, marketroids!) is on that list. Thanks for the URL, I had not seen it before. The Palm Zire family also gets a place, but then again so does the abominable Sony Ericsson T68i, so it's not a very discriminating club.

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