Contact Synchronization: Ovi.com vs. Google

I'm the kind of person that loses his items quite easily (wallet, keys…), those who are like me know pretty well that having a backup of the phone contacts is something essential. A year ago I lost my phone and by the time I was just using the Addressbook app in Mac OS X as it was the only software piece I could get to sync with my phone by Bluetooth, however, that event ended up with me writing a python script to translate a CSV file into something the Nokia PC Suite could understand to shove it into my new phone.

Since then I've been looking for a more universal way, and now that data access through 3G is moderately affordable, I've been having a look at online services for doing this instead of USB/Bluetooth methods. My main requirements were that I could backup and sync within several phones, a web UI to manage the contacts and a public API that allowed 3rd party integration.

Ovi Contacts

Ovi.com is Nokia's online integrated service, they offer maps, music store, calendar, pictures… and of course contacts sync. Since my two phones are Nokia I reckon I would give this a try. Setting it up was a piece of cake, you register your phone model+number and they send you an SMS with the configuration settings ready to be loaded in your phone, after that, you just have to the synchronization option in the connectivity menu and you're phone would upload all your contacts to Ovi.

The Good

  • The Web interface is quite neat (though contact navigation could use some AJAX love)
  • The setup was really smooth and the steps to follow are pretty straightforward plus the web interface to manage your contacts is not too bad.
  • Standard compliant (Ovi accounts are XMPP, sync is done through SyncML)

The Bad

  • The lack of publicly available SDK or documented API
  • SyncML is the only public way to access it from a 3rd party app
  • SyncML endpoint settings are not documented (found them in a forum entry)

The Ugly

  • Only supports Nokia phones which is a big show stopper

Google Sync

Google Contacts is a neat hidden feature of your Google account in addition to Google Sync allows the synchronization and management of your personal addressbook. They have setup instructions for a wide range of phones models. However with non android phones you have to set the syncml endpoint manually which is kind of a showstopper to non tech savvy people.

The Good

  • Setup documented for a wide variety of phone models from many vendors.
  • Google Data API with many SDKs for different platforms
  • Standard compliant (Google accounts are XMPP, sync is done through SyncML)
  • Matches Google Talk/XMPP custom aliases with phone contacts (someone's avatar showed up in my phone out of the blue. neat!)

The Bad

  • The contact database can easily be mixed with your automatically added gmail contacts which can be quite messy over time.
  • No SMS setup, SyncML settings have to be inserted manually.

The Ugly

  • Web interface sucks, managing your contacts is a pain in the arse.
  • Google knows enough about us already? 🙂

Conclusions

Eventhough Ovi was keeping me happier in general terms the first time I tried it, the lack of documentation and support for developers and non Nokia phones is kind of a show stopper in general terms. I'm not suggesting they should support every service on phone in the world, but supporting some of the basic services the best selling ones (iPhone, Android, Blackberries…) would be a huge win to gain mindshare around the service.

As for Google Contacts/Sync, the fact that it's already supported by many apps and phones around is a big point for it, the web interface and it trying to be too smart at matching your google talk/gmail contacts with your phone contacts is a bit annoying some times but still nice.

I'm gonna use Google Sync for now as I don't want to be stuck with Nokia in case a switch phones in the future.

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