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?


Add Yours
  • I also am looking for something that will sync all my devices over the air. Things is a great app, and I love it, but it is quite annoying that I have to be on the same wireless network to sync my ToDos. Cultured Code (Developers behind Things) have been trying to develop many different ways to sync their apps over the cloud, but to little avail. Yet!

  • I wish MobileMe was free. Windows offers cloud based services for free. Mac should too. Or at least make MobileMe cheaper. Say 50$ a year maybe.


  • Sorry, maybe I don’t get it. But why are you not using Wunderlist from
    It runs on nearly on every device (soon in the Web) it syncs perfectly over the cloud.

  • I’m currently not paying for any cloud sync service, but I think that both Dropbox and MobileMe are interesting choices, MobileMe is more Mac friendly, of course, but the 20GB space, doesn’t convince me.

    I won’t pay for an application-specific service, unless the costs are very low.

  • While your article didn’t seem to go into any detail regarding specific services, I personally use Google Sync. This allows me to fully backup and sync my phone contacts and calendar. If I lose my phone, I don’t lose my contacts, and I also have a 100% up to date copy of my contacts stored online for reference.

  • It would be great if MobileMe were free for basic sync services (Calendar, Contacts, Bookmarks), with other features such as storage, email, etc. as paid tools. At least it should come free with the purchase of an iPhone for 2 years (the life of a contract on your phone plan).

    One positive trend is that many “small” software titles are allowing us to sync via Dropbox and/or MobileMe, allowing us to take our settings and licenses anywhere. Very useful.

  • I use Google. It syncs my calendar, contacts, to-do list, and mail between my Mac and my phone, wirelessly, via the Internet. It’s free. I could use dropbox for files, and there’s a free bookmark sync for my phone, but I’m really not bothered about those things.

    Seriously, this is hard?

  • I find the Wi-Fi sync for Things is flakey. Actually, Wi-Fi sync with any app I’ve tried it with is flakey at best. Wallet for Mac and iPhone can do both Wi-Fi and MobileMe (or DropBox). Again I find the MobileMe sync to be the least problematic system.

    I would never pay for app specific cloud sync. You’d end up with too many accounts in too many places and I don’t feel I should have to pay for syncing. I pay for MobileMe for numerous reasons, let me sync to that.

    MobileMe works out to be about $8.50 month. Drink one less beer at the pub every month and there ya go! ;)

  • Actually, for more and more apps, Dropbox is becoming the One True sync service. I personally use it to keep all of my files synced, and don’t know how I lived without it before. For everything else, Google Apps with IMAP or Exchange Activesync works great for email/calendar/contacts syncing. And I’ve switched to online services for bookmarks, passwords, notes, and more, so I never have to worry about not having them (unless my internet is down). Sync is much better today than it was even several years ago, mostly thanks to Dropbox, though I’ll definitely agree it has a long ways to go :)

  • My favourite sync method is that of Evernote and Dropbox. It’s online, and it’s offline, at the same time. Do something in one place, and it’s everywhere else, without me having to “do” anything.

    Dropbox’s automatic (and free) backup element prevents accidents from happening, too.

    Client-side apps reflecting cloud data. That’s the way forward.

  • I’ve been using SyncMate for a few months since getting a MacBook Pro. it wirelessly syncs pretty much everything between this and my iMac.. calendars, contacts, safari bookmarks, selected folders, plus photos, music etc if I need to.

    I also use DropBox for instant syncing, but for scheduled sync I’ve found SyncMate is excellent. A lot of people don’t seem to be aware of it.

    Here’s the URL ..

  • How about the Agile/1Password method by utilizing Dropbox as the cloud for the source file? – I think this a brilliant implementation of cloud based syncing, without a need to subscribe to a service (unless of course, you’re using DropBox pro).