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Sync Services Framework (How It Works and What You Can Do)
Pages: 1, 2, 3

Missing Sync for hiptop/Sidekick from Mark/Space

Sync Services is a low-level API that offers developers great control and flexibility. My favorite example of a success story is Mark/Space's Missing Sync for hiptop, also known as the T-Mobile Sidekick. For several years, I've been a Sidekick owner, but haven't been able to synchronize the data from my Mac to the device. I used it anyway and hand-entered my contact and calendar information. I fielded a lot of hungry queries from Mac owners every time I pulled it out at MacWorld, WWDC, or at O'Reilly conferences.

I hated disappointing potential buyers but while I raved about the device, I had to confess that I couldn't as yet sync it with my Mac. Mac owners are notorious for loving beautifully designed and cool devices, so it's no surprise that many of us bought and used the hiptop and trusted that we'd get it working with our Macs eventually. I haunted the Mark/Space hiptop list, patiently waiting for news.

In spring of 2005, Mark/Space finally released beta software, and then version 1.0 release software for Panther. Of course, with Tiger imminently due to arrive and with the new Sync Services framework integrated into the OS, the waiting game began again for a new version of Missing Sync for version 10.4 of OS X. Patience is a virtue--and in late August, Sidekick users with Tiger installed on their Macs could finally breath a sigh of relief. The new Tiger version of Missing Sync for hiptop is a great illustration of an application that has been retooled to take advantage of Tiger's Sync Services framework. In the Panther version of the software, you added the hiptop device through a plugin using iSync.app. The Tiger upgrade includes a standalone Missing Sync application:

figure 24
Figure 24. Missing Sync for hiptop.app

1. As a precaution, back up your iCal and Address book databases by selecting the appropriate backup option under File in the menu bar of the particular application (iCal -> File -> Backup Database... and Address Book -> File -> Back Up Address Book).
2. Go to Mark/Space's website and download the software ($29.95, free upgrade for version 1.0/Panther registered users) and double-click the Missing Sync for hiptop installer package.

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Figure 25. Begin installation

3. Enter your contact information and the registration code (you will have received a registration code via email with your paid download).

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Figure 26. Enter contact information and registration code

4. The application will initiate a connection through the internet and verify your registration. This effectively registers your computer with Mark/Space. You are allowed to install the software on two computers and Mark/Space keeps track!

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Figure 27. Register

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Figure 28. Registration confirmation

5. Go fetch your hiptop/Sidekick and turn it on. Double-click the Missing Sync for hiptop.app and you'll need to fill in your cellular provider account information. This may actually be a username instead of your account number. To check for your username, turn on your hiptop/Sidekick and go to Menu -> Settings -> System Info. Select all of your calendars or check the specific calendars you want to sync to your hiptop. You'll also need to designate which one of your contact groups you want to sync (if you have more than one) and one calendar name you want your events to show up under, on your hiptop.

figure 29
Figure 29. Initial Missing Sync for hiptop preferences

6. Click OK and you're ready to begin the first sync. Remember, the first sync under Sync Services will take a longer time than subsequent syncs, because the client is registering with the sync engine and the truth database is being populated (slow sync).

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Figure 30. Initial slow sync

7. You'll be asked to verify a sync with your Contacts with Address Book and other devices (note that my nano is included). You have the option to delete all your Contacts from your hiptop before syncing.

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Figure 31. Contacts sync

You'll see a progress bar.

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Figure 32. Syncing progress bar

8. Then, you'll be asked to verify a sync with your Calendar with iCal and other applications (again, my nano is listed) and you'll also be able to zero your hiptop calendar items first, if you've hand-entered some.

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Figure 33. Calendar sync

When the syncing completes, you'll be notified.

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Figure 34. Missing Sync for hiptop initial sync completed

9. Check out your hiptop or Sidekick, and you'll see your address book entries and calendar items!

Some caveats to be aware of:

  • You can only register two Macs to use with Missing Sync for hiptop.
  • There is a 1,000-item calendar limit and a 2,000-contact-entries limit imposed by the server side (your cellular provider). If you have recurring events (birthdays, holidays, or weekly/monthly meetings), you may receive a "Synchronization Failed!" error.
  • There is a limit of eight syncs that can be done in a 24-hour period. You can set up a cron job or a third-party app like Cronnix to sync automatically and comfortably within this time limit.
  • The hiptop/Sidekick can only hold 50 task records.

Some current (temporary!) Missing Sync issues:

  • You need a first or last name in your Address Book (including company names).
  • For debugging options, open Missing Sync for hiptop.app, hold the Option key down, and click on the Missing Sync for hiptop menu bar name. Instead of Preferences..., you will see Debug Options....

figure 35
Figure 35. Debug options

Enable Debug Logging and you can view the Missing Sync for hiptop.log file in ~/Library/Logs/.

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Figure 36. Using Console.app to view logs

Usually, after a "Failed" entry, you will find the record that caused the problem.

Final Thoughts

Apple is the innovator in integrated devices, applications and services. The Sync Services framework opens up a previously insular API to third-party development and extension. Taking advantage of the opportunity to incorporate non-Apple clients into the Sync Services framework is an exciting challenge for developers. What Sync Services doesn't supply at this time, however, is a way to sync files and global preferences. It would be a natural extension of the framework to enable file and preference synchronization across multiple Macs. Also, Apple hasn't extended network services outside of .Mac for obvious reasons, so that functionality isn't open to third-party providers. But no doubt the future will show Sync Services evolving into a broader framework and Apple will provide a wider range of integrated solutions involving this new service.

Mary Norbury-Glaser is the IT director at a University of Colorado affiliate center. She has over 15 years of experience in cross-platform systems administration in the education sector. She loves fast cars and geocaching.


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