In Brief: The State of Sync on the Mac

In the mobile, digital world in which we live, it is more important than ever to have your data, calendar appointments, contacts, notes, and to do lists up-to-date, no matter where you are or what device you are using.

In a perfect world (for me, anyway), all of the software I use would stay synced with MobileMe (and MobileMe would be free!). Unfortunately, that’s not the case, and different software developers provide different services and methods for keeping the desktop and mobile versions of their apps in sync.

So what are the options, and which one is best?

There’s No Easy Solution

It is important to note that designing and building a syncing service, from a developers standpoint, is a rather complicated endeavor.

A good sync service will sync all data, eliminate duplicates and redundancies, and implement itself relatively quickly. It will also make proper and consistent decisions in resolving conflicts and item differences in each instance of the application, as well as gracefully handling any number of other problematic scenarios.

Wi-Fi Sync

Wi-Fi sync is probably the least demanding in terms of developer commitment and ongoing maintenance, but it’s also the least versatile.

I first discovered Wi-Fi sync when I began using Things on my iPod touch. Syncing requires both instances of the app to be open, and both devices to be on the same wireless network.

It was handy for me because the Mac client remained open on my MacBook Pro pretty much all the time, and all I had to do to sync was run the iOS version when I walked into the same room as my computer. However, had I been using an iPhone, or needed sync capabilities while on the road, I would have been out of luck.

Wi-Fi sync is simple, sturdy, and reliable, but falls short when it comes to versatility.

Cloud Sync

Cloud sync takes your data and syncs it to a cloud service (naturally), which then is synced to the other instances of the software when needed. Some of the best implementations of this form of synchronization are services which provide a web portal, so your data truly is available anywhere, anytime.

These services include Evernote, as well as any and all Google Reader clients for Mac, iPad, or iPhone.

MobileMe is Apple's cloud service

MobileMe is Apple's cloud service

An extra benefit of cloud sync services in addition to the instantaneous availability of your data is that in most cases, your data is actually stored in the cloud, meaning that if something were to happen to any of your instances of software, or the devices they are running on, that data would still be saved and available via web portal.

A noticeable trend in the realm of cloud syncing is the idea of a subscription sync service, quite similar to Apple’s own MobileMe, but more application-specific.

Since one of my favorite genres of apps centres around productivity, I’ll yet again bring up Things, who hinted at the idea of charging for a subscription service. Also, The Hit List (yes, I’m still patiently waiting…) has some hard-to-find evidence that it will finally launch with a similar service.

I find this a delicate situation. As most of the developers considering switching to such a service have formerly offered syncing as a feature at no extra cost, requiring a paid subscription, in my opinion, would have to add some pretty awesome new features.


As I stated before, my perfect scenario would be a free MobileMe that synced all of my applications to the cloud. Obviously this is a little on the dreamy side, but the desire for simplicity and reliability still remains.

While I’m hesitant about the subscription model, cloud sync services have seemed to provide some of the best experiences as far as data availability is concerned.

So what do you think? Would you be willing to pay for cloud sync services? Would you need extra features to bolster the value of such a model? Or are you perfectly content with a localized Wi-Fi sync?