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Microsoft Sees Opportunity in Mobile Phone Data Storage

Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) will unveil a new service next week that will sync data between mobile phones and the Web, including backing up and restoring phone information.

Microsoft's My Phone service will be discussed in greater detail at next week's World Mobile Congress in Barcelona, Spain, but the software giant has posted some initial details on a Web site. The site's existence was reported by Endgadget Mobile.

A company spokesperson said My Phone, codenamed "SkyBox," is a "significant milestone for Microsoft as it connects the phone to the PC and Web."

The free service syncs information such as contacts, calendar appointments, tasks, text messages, photos and video on a user's mobile phone to storage space on a Web site hosted by Microsoft, allowing users to access and manage content on the phone and share it with others.

According to the My Phone Web site, "If your phone is lost or stolen, or if you upgrade to a new phone, you can easily restore the contacts, calendar appointments, photos and other information that you stored on My Phone to a compatible new or replacement phone."

Users will be limited to 200MB of storage space for the service, which will initially be available in a limited, invite-only beta for Windows Mobile 6.x customers.

Apple's (NASDAQ: AAPL) MobileMe service, by comparison, offers 20GB of storage and greater sharing features, but costs $99 a year.

Also this week, Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) announced that it is beta testing its new Google Sync cloud-based synchronization services that links users' iPhone and Windows Mobile calendars and contacts with their Google accounts and automatically keeps them in sync. The service is based on Microsoft's Exchange ActiveSync technology.

Going Mobile
With users increasingly reliant on smartphones and other mobile devices, analysts say keeping the information on them safe is a growing need.

"For all of the Windows-based mobile phone and PDA users out their like myself, this is fantastic to either complement how one currently backs up or synchronizes with an office computer, or to extend the capability to sync up while traveling without your laptop or other computer," said StorageIO founder and senior analyst Greg Schulz.

Given their vulnerability to loss or theft, Schulz said such devices need backing up more than users realize. "Now if the online backup and cloud managed backup service providers can add this similar functionality, as well as a service for doing the same protection for the BlackBerry and iPhone, wow, that will give those providers a shot in the arm," he said.

Schulz said Microsoft "needs to make Windows Mobile V6 more easily obtainable to help promote this service." Getting an update, he said, "is easier said than done."

Enterprise Strategy Group analyst Lauren Whitehouse called such services "a first line of defense for protecting basic data such as the phone book, calendar items, etc. Users that leverage their phone for data are often tied to a corporate or personal-delivered service that probably has some built-in data protection capabilities. The scenario where data could be at risk is for data that originates on an endpoint device and doesn't synchronize with a central system or service."

Taneja Group senior analyst Eric Burgener said such services can also make it easier to switch phones by easily transferring contacts and other information to a new device. "This clearly solves that with limited manual involvement from the user," he said.

"As we began to use our phones for e-mail, calendaring, etc., there got to be more data on them that we needed to be persistent," Burgener said. "The size of PDAs is a limiting factor in how much can be stored on them, and the size and speed of an internal device to store data was a power drain. Cloud seems like a great answer — you have virtually limitless storage capacity that pulls zero power from your cell phone unless you're accessing it. If a service of this kind adds maybe $20 to $30 a month to your cell bill, in the long run it's something that I think most business users would use, and a good percentage of more computer-savvy personal users would too."

Burgener wondered which firms will most benefit from offering such services. "I'm not sure the hardware suppliers are the right guys, although somebody like an EMC that has a cloud-based data protection offering already may have a play," he said. "This seems like a service I would want to buy from my telco provider for ease of use, billing, etc."

"The availability of something like this will encourage business and personal users alike to rely more on their PDAs and less on portable/luggable equipment, although there will always be a market for the latter, at least for the foreseeable future, due to usability limitations with PDAs," said Burgener.

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