Synergy: Pre's Ace in the Hole

I’ve been eagerly following news about Palm’s upcoming Pre smartphone. Even though I am not presently planning to pick one up for myself (for starters, there’s no way in hell I’m signing up for Sprint service), I’m quite excited about this new contender in the smartphone market.

This is the first product coming to market that will be competing with the design of the iPhone.

The rest—including the T-Mobile G1, featuring Google’s Android platform, the BlackBerry Storm, and any number of other handsets from Nokia to LG—are merely “Hey, I’ve got a touch-screen, too! Buy me!” products.

I’ve frankly chosen to look past the argument the Android platform represents something much larger, and with deeper and brighter promise than anything merely available in the G1. The future promises of a technology or platform is not a matter I’m going to mind when considering what the current incarnations of the technology offer. Frankly, the only people even looking at that platform are developers and gadget geeks. By and large, consumer reception to the G1 has been luke-warm, driven by consumers that don’t like the iPhone or love Google.

The Pre, on the other hand, demonstrates an effort to replicate implementation details that work from the iPhone, and a thoughtful attempt to improve upon those things in a smart way.

The three things that have me most excited are:

1. the extensions and enhancements to the gestural UI implemented for the device,
2. the “deck” multitasking metaphor, and
2. Synergy, the Pre’s framework for interconnecting the all your data.

Synergy is the most exciting part. In fact, I believe that it’s the one feature that should most concern Apple, provided—of course—that Palm actually pulls it off properly.

But what exactly is Synergy?

Ars Technica published an article describing it back in January. From the article:

Users just make changes to their data (contacts, calendar, mail, etc.), and Palm’s webOS handles committing those changes to whatever canonical data source it is accessing in the cloud. And herein lies the most important difference between the webOS and Apple’s iPhone OS: the iPhone was originally designed under the assumption that the canonical source of a user’s data (contacts, calendar, music, tasks, etc.) is [their computer]. Palms webOS, in contrast, presumes that cloud-based services are the canonical source for your data…

Looking at someone’s contact information in the address book, you might see their phone number, three email addresses, an AIM screen name, Facebook profile URL.

Although you might largely be able to see this information on someone’s contact info on your iPhone, the information in the Pre’s address book has likely been pulled together from a number of different sources on the network. Your contacts were loaded from your GMail address book, Facebook friends list, and AIM buddy list. The key is that Synergy needs to be smart enough about figuring out who’s who, in order to properly merge the details of your friend, Kevin Smith, who appears both in your GMail adress book and Facebook friends list into a single entry in your address book.

But the idea behind Synergy is that it’s access to this data is meant to be bidirectional. That is, once you update Kevin’s email address on your Pre’s address book, Synergy would then update his address on GMail, etc.

But Synergy isn’t just for contacts.

It can manage events, too. Check out the demo in this video from Mobile Crunch, wherein the presenter is showing off and talking about the Fandango app in development. Like the website, the app’s purpose is to allow people to buy movie tickets to movies they’d like to see.

The statement that floors me occurs at 00:47:

One of the things they did interesting on it is: once you purchase a ticket, it’ll actually make a meeting request for you. So, it’ll go into [the] calendar that I have a ticket to go to the show at this time, and I can actually invite other people with that…

And you can bet that if Synergy is pulling your calendar data from your Google Calendar, the new event will show up your Google Calendar next time you login from your computer. Can you picture how this could work for concert tickets? OpenTable reservations? Travel itineraries?

Now that’s some serious wu wei.

If Palm gets Synergy right (and assuming they don’t bomb on the hardware or battery life), their Pre is going to give Apple’s iPhone a serious run for its money.