During her camping and hiking trips, Karin Meier found it easy to snap lots of photos with her cell phone. Getting those images out of the phone and sharing them with her friends was a little more cumbersome. Plus, Meier risked annoying her friends with countless images that cluttered their in-boxes. So she usually ended up just keeping the pictures to herself.
Then Meier began using Share on OVI, a Web site run by Finnish cell phone maker Nokia Corp., to automatically publish photos and videos from her phone to the Web. Now her friends and family use the Web site to keep up with her photo collection – which she updates several times a week. Meier, a 51-year-old program manager for a software company who lives in Bellevue, Wash., also checks out the site to see her friends' photos and videos.
“It is really cool for me to stay in touch with what's going on and for them to see what it is I'm doing,” Meier says.
The OVI site – Finnish for “door” – is just one of several services that aim to make the content in cell phones more accessible to personal computers and the Web. And companies aren't just focusing on the photos stuck on cell phones. Phone carriers, cell phone makers and third-party sites want to make it easier for you to access voicemail, text messages and address books from any gadget – whether it is via cell phone or personal computer.
In the past, many cell phone backup and syncing services focused mainly on corporate smart phones. So individuals with less-sophisticated mobile phones had to visit multiple Web sites to upload photos and back up their address books, for example. The newest services try to streamline synchronization – allowing it to be done without connecting cables to a PC.
These services may offer more features than casual users need. And even though a lot of these applications are free, customers could incur user fees charged by their phone carriers. Plus, setting up some of the services can be clunky.
Still, more customers have been asking for features to manage their cell phone on the Web, says Leslie Grandy, vice president for product development at T-Mobile USA.
Last fall, T-Mobile launched a new feature called Address Book. This free service lets users back up and edit the contacts on their phones from the T-Mobile Web site. Users can also back up the contact info from their Microsoft Outlook, Gmail and Yahoo accounts.
ZYB, owned by the European phone carrier Vodafone Group PLC, is another backup service for your address book, calendar and text messages. It works with all phone carriers, and most phones don't require any software to use ZYB.
After signing up for the free service, users can see their contact lists and calendar information, and can edit the content from the ZYB Web site. Dashwire, another software application, can sync the address book, text messages, voicemail and photos on Windows Mobile cell phones. Once the free Dashwire software is downloaded onto the phone, users can log into their Dashwire account online and see all the content on the phone.
ShoZu, a San Francisco-based startup, takes a slightly different approach. With ShoZu, users can automatically publish their saved photos or videos to multiple sites at once, including YouTube, Flickr and Facebook. John Schettino, a 46-year-old computer science researcher from San Jose, Calif., has been using ShoZu to publish his camera pictures on Flickr, a photo-sharing Web site. Before, he had to e-mail each photo to friends one by one in order to share them. The software, he says, is “an elegant solution to a nasty issue.” ShoZu also supports “geotagging,” which lets users with GPS-enabled phones add geographic info, like latitude and longitude coordinates, to the photos that they publish.
Finally, to view files from your home PC on your Web-enabled cell phone, there is a product called SugarSync, made by Sharpcast Inc., Palo Alto, Calif.
“The phone and the PC have to work as one, and today they don't,” says Gibu Thomas, chief executive of Sharpcast.