Apple and Microsoft out of sync

Apple releases the final version of its iSync application, in what could be seen as an attempt to trump new synchronization software coming next week from Microsoft.

Apple Computer on Thursday released the final version of its iSync synchronization software, in what could be seen as an attempt to trump new software coming next week from Microsoft.

In late September, Apple released a beta version of iSync, which lets people synchronize calendar and contact data with Bluetooth-enabled cell phones, Palm PDAs and the Apple iPod digital music player. In December, sources close to the Cupertino, Calif.-based company had said that iSync would not ship in time for next week's trade show in San Francisco.

Analysts now speculate that Apple may have stepped up its development schedule in response to new synchronization software coming from Microsoft. The Redmond, Wash.-based company is set to release on Tuesday its Plus Digital Media Edition for the Windows XP operating system. One new feature, called Plus Sync & Go, lets people using handhelds or other devices running Microsoft Pocket PC software more easily synchronize digital music, news clips and other content with a PC.

Content providers for Plus Sync & Go include, Warner Music Group and People designate the providers and content, which can include digital video and music.

"It clearly sounds like Apple found out about Microsoft's product, and they didn't want to get beaten to the punch," said NPDTechworld analyst Stephen Baker. "That Microsoft would have a (related) synchronization product would be impetus for Apple to get iSync out the door quickly. This is an important product category for Apple."

IDC analyst Roger Kay offered a similar opinion. "It must have been ready, and they wanted to time it for marketing purposes," he said.

Apple representatives were not immediately available for comment.

This would not be the first time that Apple and Microsoft have locked horns over product announcements in connection with Macworld. In July, Microsoft announced a barrage of upcoming, competing products at the time of the show's New York edition. Relations between the two companies had soured over slow sales of Office for the Mac, which Microsoft in part blamed on Apple's marketing of Mac OS X.

Both Apple and Microsoft see synchronization as an important emerging software category, particularly as consumers look to attach more devices to their computers.

In an interview last month, Phil Schiller, Apple's executive in charge of worldwide marketing, emphasized the importance of synchronization for cell phones. People tend to "get a new one much faster than you would get a new computer--often once a year," he said.

"What happens when you lose your cell phone?" Schiller asked. "If you lose your cell phone, you don't need to lose your life--you just sync it up with your computer."

Schiller also predicted that synchronization with portable devices would play an important role in which "platform"--Macs or Windows PCs--people chose to buy.

This is a more serious concern for Apple than for Microsoft. Apple's share of the overall operating system market has receded in recent years as Windows gobbled up share and Linux grew in popularity. IDC estimates that the market share for Mac OS dropped to 3.1 percent in 2001 from 4.6 percent two years earlier. Windows, in contrast, has more than 90 percent market share. The market researcher has yet to tabulate full-year 2002 figures.

Final availability of iSync could be an important first step for Apple, say analysts.

"Apple wants to continue to provide a viable information world for its existing base and hopefully to pull people from the other side," Kay said. The company needs to have this product in its universe of applications for the Mac to remain healthy, he added.

Concurrently with the release of iSync 1.0, Apple also updated its iCal calendaring software to version 1.0.1. Both products require Mac OS X version 10.2.3.

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