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Step-by-Step Introduction to Microsoft® My Phone

show_info Together with the many announcements this week on the new Windows phone (aka Windows Mobile 6.5) there was also an announcement about the updated public release for the My Phone cloud service for Windows Mobile devices.

I will take a quick step-by-step view on the product and it’s features. I will attempt to use lots of screen shots so you have a good feeling on how the product works and operates. At the end I will state some observations from the corporate and consumer sides on the product.

History and Background

First a little history. Codenamed “SkyBox”, it was first publically announced way back on February 16, 2009 together with Marketplace (codenamed “SkyMarket) and Windows Mobile 6.5 at Mobile World Congress 2009 in Barcelona Spain.

As described by Mary-Jo Foley on February 3, 2009, the current launch release does appear to be “SkyBox v1.5” she described way back then. So the vision and features she described behind “SkyBox v2.0” might indeed show the light of day with the next release of Windows phone (aka Windows Mobile 7.0).

Much of the technology behind My Phone is believed to be from the acquisition in June 2008 that Microsoft made of the Portuguese company called MobiComp. This can also be confirmed by viewing the location field in the product team’s blog. :-)

Also back in 2008, Microsoft Live Mesh, appeared to be the cross-platform synchronization solution that would take data from/to mobile devices. The direction with Microsoft My Phone today appears to make a distinct path away from Live Mesh, at least where the Windows Mobile devices are concerned..

What does it do?

Microsoft My Phone provides a free backup and restore mechanism for Windows phone/Mobile devices.

The default settings will synchronize your contacts, calendar appointments, tasks, photos, videos, text messages, songs, browser favorites and documents between your phone and your My Phone web account.

From the password-protected web site (Windows Live ID driven) you can organize contacts and appointments on your phone, and search through your old text messages. Changes appear on your phone the next time you sync.

Please go here for more details.

New Features

Since the first early limited beta access in February 2009 to the public beta in May 2009 much of the feature set remained the same. With the Windows phone launch announcement on October 6, 2009, several new features where announced (as quoted from the e-mail announcement):

Share photos on popular social networks

“With just a few clicks, you can post photos to Windows Live, Facebook, MySpace and Flickr from the My Phone online portal or directly from your phone.”

Find your missing phone

“My Phone can show you the last known location of your phone on a map.  To activate this feature, select "Send phone location" in your phone's My Phone settings.  Not available in all markets.”

Premium features

“My Phone can help you secure a lost phone using new Premium features.  You can lock or post a message on your phone from the web.  Or, if you know the phone is gone for good, you can use My Phone to erase all your personal information so it doesn't fall into the wrong hands.  For a limited time, you can try these features for free, so be sure to check them out.  Premium features are not available in all markets.”

Important to note from the launch announcement, that several features are currently available only in the United States at this time:

“The My Phone Premium package includes the ability to immediately locate the phone’s current location on a map (in the U.S. only)”

“Windows Mobile 6.0, 6.1 or 6.5 can access the premium package free of charge until Nov. 30, 2009. After that date, seven-day access to the premium package will be available for purchase for $4.99 in the U.S.”

Upgrade

The upgrade process from my previous version was fairly seamless and mandatory if I wished to continue the free service. A reboot of the device was necessary to complete the upgrade installation.

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New Installation

If not already present on your device (from your OEM or Mobile Operator) a new application installation on a device can occur in several ways:

- Accessing http://myphone.microsoft.com directly on the device or desktop/notebook, can lead you to the Microsoft site where it can send you a text message with the download link.

- Accessing http://myphone.microsoft.com\install directly on the device, and download it directly onto the device.

- Accessing Windows Marketplace for Mobile and download the free application to your phone.

After the installation when you start up the application for the first time, you will see screens like these to setup and configure your device:

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After you hit Finish, a manual synchronization process will take place with the selected data types.

Menu and About

The main menu options, and the version tested is 01.05.2128.0401.

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If you hit the “Sync” option to the bottom left you will activate a manual synchronization.

Now some quick screen shots of each of the main menu options.

Sync Details

Show changes made and useful information such as total size and date/time of last synchronization.

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Synchronization processes continue in the background (wonderful multitasking features Windows Mobile continues to have isn’t it?).

Sync Options

Please notice that if you have an ActiveSync configuration to an Exchange server or using Windows Live for e-mail the Contacts and Calendar options will not be available for selection.

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Please notice the new “Current location” option that can be selected, compared to the previous My Phone release.

Sync Schedule

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Share Photos

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The new Share menu option lets you select a picture on the device and send it through the configured e-mail or Text messaging.

The Social Networks options supports 4 social services at this time:

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The Flickr feature alone could make other 3rd party add-on applications obsolete depending on the features and be another value to using My Phone.

Account Options

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Give you a basic fare of account options.

Microsoft My Phone Backend

But the real magic is now on the new backend. After you signing to your account using your Windows Live ID at http://microsoft.com/myphone and click on “Connected phones”, and out for the icon for your phone click on “Locate your phone”. This new screen appears:

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Clicking the “Get started” link for the brings up a 2-step process to sign up for the new Premium Features:

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After input of the phone number and a few brief seconds of magic (with no new text message announcements on the phone), it appears it was happy and announced i was confirmed:

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Please note that the free trial of the Premium Features is available per device you are using with the free service. Going back to the previous page, I now see usage options for the new features. Take note of the limited number of free usages and the short 7 day trial period. Is there a reason why it couldn’t be a tad longer, like 14 days?

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Locating your phone

Even in the free My Phone services, locating your phone can be performed. However this is using the last synchronization data, either automated or manual.

As part of the Premium Features you can poll the device location on-demand. It appears this is using text messages. Most likely OMA DM type messages.

Once you do have a GPS coordinate synchronized in My Phone with the back-end server(s) you will see a active link and last known location:

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Location Issues

An ongoing problem with many devices today is the reliability of the public available GPS, especially in-doors where it was never designed to function. :-)  Many applications are now using hybrid solutions using Mobile Operator/Carrier tower triangulation, or the currently connected tower location. Battery consumption when having GPS enabled also continues to be a problem with the power usage and battery technology available in the devices on the market. Although that is starting to change with better A-GPS chipsets, LCD/LED screen and CPU designs.

It appears that My Phone is dependant on a good GPS signal at the time of the synchronization or the on-demand Premium functionality, so you may have some issues until that falls into place.

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I would advise to seek help from the OEM or Mobile Operator where you received your device from if you have general GPS issues or questions.

Microsoft My Phone Limitations

The main basic limitation is the support for down-level Windows Mobile operating systems. So you will need Windows Mobile 6.0 or above to use the device application and cloud service.

For the free services, there is not much to point out limitation wise:

- There is a 200Mb limit of storage per account for all data of any kind (text, docs, pictures, storage card etc).

If you do select to backup the contents of the storage card, or have a large number of pictures, the 200Mb limit may be a bit tight understandably. There is also no flexibility at this time to specify certain folders or file filters.

I can only hope that Microsoft will work on increasing this 200Mb limit as the product matures. Think of Hotmail when it first started, and the high limits we have today. :-)

- As to the maximum number of devices you can “connect” to on your same My Phone account, I’m unsure.

I’m personally currently up to 5 different devices and no complaints. :-)

- Data transfer. No limitation from the application side, your Mobile Operator may think otherwise…

Since there currently is minimal flexibility of the selection of on-device content you wish to synchronize you should be aware of any data plan concerns on your device from the Mobile Operator/Carrier side.

May device/plans may have restrictions of the amount of data you can transfer monthly. And if you are roaming and/or travelling internationally you might to seriously consider to turn off automatic synchronization to save yourself from an enormous bill. 

Microsoft My Phone Paid Features

Apart from the free services currently being offered, the new paid Premium Features is the big news in this round.

Depending on the final pricing structure (USD $4.99/month?) the features currently available may appeal to certain consumers who don’t have corporate e-mail (like Exchange) and want to have similar remote-wipe capabilities. The phone location feature of course could appeal to any parent of children, family or small-sized companies. And the ring and lock features could pay for itself quite rapidly in my mind.

I would also hope that the paid services won’t have any of the advertisement banners that the freebie My Phone web site has after you sign-in.

Microsoft My Phone Paid Features – Ring your phone

I was impressed with this feature, since I validated it even if your ringer is off, once activated it will turn on the ringer!

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On the device itself, a visual notification will also appear:

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Microsoft My Phone Paid Features – Lock your phone

This Premium feature has some nice additional features to customize the activity with a PIN and custom message which will be used on the phone:

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Please note that there is a 52 character limit.

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On the phone itself this is what it looks like:

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These are the screen shots if you enter in the wrong unlock PIN code:

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For a deeper explanation of the custom “unlock screen” My Phone has now enforced on the device, please see Andreas Helland’s article here.

A confirmation on the Lock displays on your account screen:

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Once the phone is unlocked with the right code, it appears a reboot was enforced on my test device. Possibly to undo the Unlock screen that was enforced..

Microsoft My Phone Paid Features – Erase your phone

This feature is pretty self explanatory, but one nice feature is that you can mandate a final My Phone synchronization before the remote wipe happens.

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Once erased your device will also no longer show up in your “Connected phones” page on your My Phone login.

Enterprise Concerns & Solutions

The Microsoft My Phone service is very consumer oriented and driven towards features consumers would use and like. However many of these features could be very appealing for corporate users and IT administrators alike. 

With ActiveSync enabled on the device, the Contacts and Calendar options are not available for My Phone synchronization and assumed safely stored on the server side. Although the thought of corporate documents and text messages (or even links, if intranet access is available) placed on a 3rd party server with no corporate supervision or access will have most corporate security staff antsy and concerned. So the recommendation there is to have a Device Management solution in place and block the ability to run/install Microsoft My Phone on your corporate assets.

Even with the upcoming Exchange 2010 release and it’s promise of text messaging integration there are still some gaps at this point. Exchange does have the remote wipe feature through ActiveSync, and all the same limitations (device must be connected) apply to either solution (or any for that matter).

Other 3rd party Device Management solutions do have more of the backup features of Microsoft My Phone, of course for a price. However in a corporate setting this additional price could be justifiably due to security, legal and information loss concerns.  One slick new product in particular has many interesting device-backup features (off device AntiVirus and virtualization). Please check out MobileIron if you wish to know more. Sybase iAnywhere Afaria also supplies some enterprise solutions for mobile backup and file transfer.

Regarding location features on the enterprise side, many solutions are out there due to the LBS (Location Based Services) needed by the transportation industry. The Device Management solutions from MobileIron and SOTI MobiControl even have easy to use and powerful mapping features to visual see one or more of your manage devices from a corporate perspective.

The easy to use features of My Phone highlights the needs from the Enterprise side to have similar solutions in the corporate space.

Solutions that compare to My Phone

On the one off, consumer side, there are also some paid utilities with some of the same location and backup features My Phone offers as well.

Sprite Software’s Sprite Backup and Sprite Terminator come to mind. Sprite Terminator actually goes further and provides some additional very cool features. Such as, Remote Lock-Down, SIM Change Alert and Activity Retrieval. Sprite Backup has PC, FTP and SD card backup location features, but no Internet “cloud” storage like Microsoft My Phone..

Apple MobileMe

Of course the similarities to the Apple MobileMe service for the iPhone is there. It has a 60-day free trail and a USD $99/year cost. With that you 20Gb of storage, and a monthly 200Gb transfer limitation. Family Packs are USD $149/year with 4 additional e-mail address and 5Gb of storage each. Additional free for extra 40Gb of space.

The current Apple MobileMe features do appear slightly less flashy however. It covers mainly e-mail, contacts, calendar and pictures and the synchronization of them between the iPhone, Mac/PC and website(s).

Dashwire

The free Dashwire solution has been around since the CTIA conference in 2007 and offers some very mature synchronization features. But it is no longer accepting new users, and appears to shutdown at the end of the year. It provided a great web interface and synchronization of the various data content on your phone. But no location and remote wipe features. I was personally using this before Microsoft My Phone on my Windows Mobile devices.

Dashboard

As recently announce at the CTIA 2009 conference a branded Best Buy Mobile version of the Dashwire technology, now labeled Dashworks Platform was unveiled. It is called mIQ. Here is a promo screenshot:

Dashboard Full - 2

It appears to provide a similar data content backup/restore functionality, and across several platforms (Windows Mobile, Symbian, Blackberry and soon Android in Q1/2010). But again, no additional features such as remote wipe at this time..

Reference links

Home page:
http://myphone.microsoft.com
Product Team Blog:
http://myphoneteam.spaces.live.com
Forum:
http://social.microsoft.com/Forums/en-US/MyPhone/threads
Twitter:
http://twitter.com/msmyphone

|\\arco..
Oct 11, 2009: Updated with Dashwire information.
Oct 12, 2009: Updated with My Phone map info, and Premium feature details.

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