INSIDE MOBILE: Sharing Information Across a PC, the Web and Mobile

Information-sharing and viewing across PCs, Macs, the Web and mobile is different from just doing file backup. The problem of information-sharing is simple to define, but it's quite difficult to actually do in a manner that works technically and is easy to use. Knowledge Center mobile and wireless analyst J. Gerry Purdy explains why, and discusses some information-sharing and viewing solutions that are now available.


I'm sure that you need, at times, to get access to information located on the Web or in your PC while mobile. Take the case of having some favorite photos that you'd like to have available on your mobile phone to share with friends. Or you might like to share a photo album via the Web with family and friends. Or you might want to keep your contacts and calendar on one system "in sync" between two computers and the Web and your phone. Or you might want to share the latest version of a (possibly large) file with a number of others.

The problem of information-sharing is very simple to define and visualize, but it's quite difficult to actually do in a manner that works technically and is also easy to use. Here's why.

There are a number of different data types that users can create on a PC or Mac. For example, there are photo types such as JPEG and GIF; text types such as .txt, .doc and .docx; music types such as MP3, Advanced Audio Coding (AAC), Windows WAV files and Audio Interchange File Format (AIFF); video types such as Windows Media Format (WMF), Musical Video Interactive (MVI), MPEG and QuickTime MPEG-4 part 2 or M4V; and spreadsheet types such as .xls and .xlsx. There are also presentation types such as .ppt and .pptx, and more complicated file types such as Microsoft Outlook Personal Storage Table (.pst). That, itself, contains internal sub-file types for calendar, contacts, tasks and e-mail. There are also file types such as Adobe Acrobat (PDF) and many more.

All of a sudden, you have a tremendous technical challenge if you want to share and view files across a PC to the Web to a mobile phone. On top of this, mobile represents another challenge not typically found between the PC and the Web: the screens are smaller and the files may have to be modified in order to provide a good viewing experience on the smaller device.

One of the first companies that attempted to do this was FusionOne ( They raised more than $100 million in venture capital. They were going to create data centers around the world to store the information shared via the Web, and they attempted to allow users to view information on their phone. They found it too difficult and ended up focusing their technology in one area: backing up data on cell phones. This has become a viable business for them.

MobileMe and SugarSync

A few companies have recently developed technology that again addresses the sharing and viewing of information across the PC and/or MAC, the Web and the mobile phone. Apple has launched MobileMe, which allows users to sync information from their PC, Mac, the Web and their iPhone. It cost $99 per year.

There were a number of technical difficulties when it was first introduced that demonstrated how difficult it is to solve this problem elegantly. But now, Apple has the service working. Remember, this is a subset of the more generic problem, as MobileMe isn't designed to be a backup service (although it does achieve that for calendar and contact information) and it only syncs to the iPhone (not to any other mobile devices).

Sharpcast announced SugarSync early last year and has received rave reviews. They provide backup and viewing for many file types, especially photos. But they do not back up Outlook PST files or sync Outlook contact or calendar entries across the Web and onto mobile phones-although they have told me they will provide support for such services sometime this year.

SugarSync is priced according to the amount of information that is backed up, and costs range from $2.49 per month for 2 GB to $24.95 per month for 250 GB. I like SugarSync's user interface. The product is easy to use, even though it won't yet back up all of the data on your system. But it does an excellent job backing up and then enabling viewing on the Web and phone for the file types it does support.