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8/15/2006
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Airset Continues To Surprise and Delight

Several months ago my wife and I started using AirSet to manage our family calendar. This weekend we discovered another reason to like AirSet  when we bought a new cell phone.

Back in February I wrote about Effective But Affordable Calendars.  We started using AirSet so both of us could maintain our family calendar. AirSet provides a free web-based calendar service with a flexible security model and multiple access methods to support small groups; mostly aimed at families, community groups, and small businesses.

We've been so happy with the service that we recently created an AirSet-based school calendar for families to keep up with events at our local middle school. In addition to being viewable through our parent group website, our school calendar is also available via webcal subscription and is hosted within an AirSet public group.

This provides parents access to the school calendar using their interface of choice which includes web browser, any webcal-compliant application (such as Apple iCal or Google Calendar), Microsoft Outlook and Palm Desktop through the AirSet Desktop Sync tool (and the PDAs they support), and on a number of mobile phones using AirSet Mobile.

In short, our school calendar is available within the context of just about any existing electronic calendar parents may use (AirSet, Google, Mac, Outlook, Palm, mobile phone, etc.). This significantly reduces the need to transcribe event information from announcements or newsletters and also reduces the risk of families missing events that change dates, times, or locations.

However, this weekend AirSet provided another pleasant surprise when we went shopping at our local Verizon Wireless store for a new cell phone for my wife. We bought an LG VX8300 to replace by wife's LG VX4500. The night before I started thinking about how to transfer the address book from the old phone to a new phone. At one time I used FoneSync to help with this. But the last couple of times I used BitPim, an Open Source application that allows you to manipulate data on mobile phones. But when I learned how AirSync handles contacts I discovered my problem was already solved.

My wife is really good at maintaining her contacts in Outlook. This not only includes email addresses but full contact information for our doctors, plumbers, and other services. Somehow during our transition to AirSet earlier this year I had uploaded her Outlook contacts to my AirSet personal contacts. At the time I thought it was interesting how this could be done but I was focused on getting the family calendar going.

In addition, I signed up for the AirSet Mobile  service to use on my LG VX4600 shortly after we first started using AirSet. A few months later my wife did the same with her LG VX4500. AirSet Mobile has become invaluable, providing access to our family calendar from virtually anywhere. At first I just used AirSet Mobile to read our calendar and only added events using the AirSet web interface. But later I started experimenting with creating events and entering text using the numeric keypad. Now I can easily add an appointment for next month before leaving the mall with a fresh haircut. Actually, it's almost too simple since "Larry haircut" is easily recognizable with T9 text input which predicts matched words from numeric keypad input (52779 42478 = Larry haircut, but I honestly do not look at the numbers when I am typing, just the letters).

When looking into it a little deeper I learned that AirSet can manage your mobile phone's address book all the way down to how the name is displayed and the speed-dial entry. So when I started experimenting with AirSet contacts I was presented with the challenge of merging my wife's Outlook contacts (which were copied to my personal AirSet contacts) with the contacts on my cell phone.

Oh boy, I thought, what a mess this was going to be. But, my initial concerns were misplaced. The AirSet web interface has a really good merge capability. In about a half hour I was able to merge all of my duplicate entries and pare my contact list down to the bare minimum. Plus, many of the resulting contact entries were richer in information than before because they now include full address, email, and telephone numbers.

So what started as an exercise to transfer phone address books ended up unifying our Outlook and mobile phone contacts. This is so cool.

However, the story doesn't stop there. It turns out that the LG VX8300 is so new that it is not certified yet for use by AirSet. Unfortunately, I had assumed that any Verizon phone with "Get It Now" would run AirSet. The good news is I was able to return to the store (with a list of AirSet-supported phones in hand) and, after looking at other options, ordered the older LG VX8100 model, which was just recently taken off the retail shelf. From what I can tell it is functionally the same phone as the LG VX8300 but is supported by AirSet.

It's interesting to see that we are now at a point where mobile phones are considered a platform and applications are starting to drive the consumer's choice of phone (at least, this consumer).

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