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Today in Apple history: With iSync launch, Macs sync at last

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September 30, 2002: Apple introduces iSync, a tool that lets Mac users synchronize their address books and calendars with their cellphones, iPods and Palm OS-compatible handheld organizers via Bluetooth.

It represents a big leap forward in the ability of computers and mobile devices to talk with one another. And it hints at some of Apple’s later advances.

iSync: The start of something big

“iSync is the beginning of something really big,” Apple CEO Steve Jobs said in a press release announcing the iSync public beta. “With the push of a button, iSync synchronizes the address book and calendar on your Mac with those on your mobile phone.”

It was, as he stated during a Paris introduction to the technology, the arrival of “Mac to mobile.”

Today, iSync is something of a forgotten app. The idea of an audience applauding the ability to call contacts from your Mac using your cellphone seems as retro as the early Sony Ericsson mobile phones used in Jobs’ demo.

In fact, iSync was an ingenious tool. Using an open SyncML standard, it made it possible for the first time for Macs to easily talk with Apple’s still-new iPod as well as gadgets made by third-party manufacturers.

Sure, other proprietary apps would let you sync a specific device to your computer. But iSync’s wireless approach made it something everyone could do.

In short, it made syncing painless. That’s something Apple is still trying to perfect today with services and features like iCloud and Handoff.

Predicting Apple’s future

Today in Apple history: Apple debuts iSync, software that let Macs sync with a variety of other devices.
iSync was a killer app for its time.
Image: Apple

Apple didn’t actually develop iSync. (FusionOne built it.) However, iSync fit perfectly into Apple’s “digital hub” strategy.

At the time, hearing Jobs talk about the importance of cellphones, PDAs and Macs — and their life-transforming capabilities, if one device could speak to the other — is a pretty neat summary of what Apple managed to do with the iPhone, iPad and Mac less than a decade later.

“You want to start looking at your phone as a peripheral to your Mac,” Jobs said.

Since iPhone sales far outnumber Mac sales today, Apple likely would not use those exact words now. Still, the impulse that these devices should talk to each other certainly seems right on the money. So does Jobs’ early dissatisfaction with tiny cellphone keyboards, expressed during his talk.

And, hey, who doesn’t get a tiny bit nostalgic at the sight of Apple’s old brushed-metal icons?


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