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Paul Thurrott amazes again, turns iPhone's Yahoo! synching feature into a complaint

David Chartier

Uh oh, famed purveyor of the SuperSite for Windows and spinster extraordinaire Paul Thurrott is at it again with a third installment of his iPhone review that focuses on the iPhone's performance as an actual phone. Never faltering in his ability to spin a genuinely innovative feature into a mark against a product, Thurrott found a way to blast the iPhone's ability to sync contacts with Yahoo!'s address book for being the only web-based service that made the cut:

First and most obviously, Yahoo! is the only Web-based email/contacts store supported: If you use Hotmail, Gmail, AOL, or any other Web-based email service, you cannot sync between contacts stored there and the iPhone. This is a glaring functional lapse that the early Mac-using iPhone reviewers neatly skipped over

Boy, iPhone users sure are screwed, especially since, outside the Helio Ocean (whose site isn't clear on whether it actually syncs with Yahoo!), I can't think of another mobile phone OS - including Windows Mobile and BlackBerry - that syncs with a web-based email or contact service out of the box (note: sync - not simply 'allow access with some custom UI'). At least, not a significant or even publicized phone from any of the big players like Nokia, Motorola or Samsung. The simple fact is that most mobile phone OS developers haven't made that leap yet, primarily because the web-based services like Gmail and AOL haven't opened themselves up through an API (Application Programming Interface) like Yahoo! has for the iPhone. This is probably because, in the past, it hasn't been worth the effort. Most users who want to sync their contacts with a mobile phone are either power or business users, and they're already using desktop software like Outlook, Entourage or Apple's Address Book that is primed and ready for synching. Apple likely took a chance and opened this partnership to sync with Yahoo! because the iPhone is arguably the first consumer-friendly phone to bring the concept of synching to the general user. For those still wondering why Apple chose Yahoo!, it's likely because they are the leading worldwide webmail provider by a landslide; as of April 2007, Yahoo! Mail's market share doubles Hotmail's and, believe it or not, Gmail trails in an incredibly distant 3rd with 1/13th the traffic of Yahoo!.

Thurrott continues, however, with a mixed bag:

If you happen to use one of the few supported sync partners, you're in luck. If you don't, you're screwed, and even more so when you realize that because Apple won't allow third party developers to extend the iPhone's capabilities in any way, there's no way that anyone outside Apple can ever add this support.

He's right that it's a bummer that Apple hasn't allowed outside developers into the iPhone, but opening up synching to comparatively obscure 3rd party services and apps like Thunderbird or Facebook has never been the strong point of any other mobile phone OS in the position to do so. Microsoft's ActiveSync platform is certainly open to 3rd parties who are willing and able to built support for compatible apps, but Thurrott is making it sound like the iPhone is the first phone to not sync with these other services out of the box, and that simply isn't true. Apple, Microsoft and BlackBerry can broaden the scope and power of their mobile phone OSes only so far before extra features and compatibility begin to drag down reliability, security and the overall experience of a device. With something as complex as a mobile phone, you simply can't have everything just yet.

To his credit, Thurrott is pretty positive throughout the rest of this segment of the review series. He praises the iPhone's abilities as a phone and pats Apple on the back for truly innovating some of the fundamental grievances the iPhone solves, such as Visual Voicemail and the generally refreshing phone UI. While I agree with his and everyone else's gripes about the lack of 3rd party app support, beating that particular drum is already getting old. By now I would imagine that Apple has at least some idea that, oh I dunno, maybe a few of us would like to see 3rd party apps sooner or later, but skewing innovative features into a ding against the iPhone isn't the way to get Apple to open it up.

Engadget’s parent company, Verizon, now owns Yahoo. Engadget remains editorially independent.

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