Solving The Duplicate Address Book Problem Is One Of The Drivers For Development Of Personal Cloud

At yesterday’s HP Summit 2011, CEO Leo Apotheker made a public case for personal cloud — online services that work together to orchestrate and deliver work and personal information across personal digital devices (such as PCs, smartphones, and tablets). For people planning strategy at vendors, what are the implications of personal cloud? End users will need help getting access to their information across their devices seamlessly.

One type of information ripe for help from personal cloud services is contacts or address books. Every person using a mobile phone (251 million in the US, most of which can do email) confronts the issue of how to get all their work and personal contacts into a new mobile phone. Can they simply sync with an existing source? Do they have to export? Or <shudder> re-key them?

We’ve been researching how many people are actually using a sync service or would be interested in using one. The market for contact or calendar sync is vastly underserved today: Only 4% of North American and European information worker respondents (those using a computer 1 hour or more per day) report that they used a website or Internet service that required a login for contact and calendar synchronization, integration, or enhancement for work (Source: Forrsights Workforce Employee Survey, Q3 2010).

Yet, when Forrester asked US consumers whether they identified with the statement, “I have several electronic address books and can't always find the contact I want when I want it,” only 4% chose that as a frustration or concern that they experience with the information they’ve stored in their PCs, devices, online services, or mobile phones (Source: North American Technographics® Omnibus Online Survey, Q4 2010 [US]).

When I talk to friends and family, I hear complaints and frustration, but many people don’t seem to be aware that there’s a better way. People solve this problem in a variety of ways today — so I think the survey results understate the numbers of information workers that use address book sync and the numbers of consumers that experience frustration in their personal lives.

There are many ways that people try sync their contact information. Smartphone users at firms that use Microsoft Exchange can sync Outlook contacts; but they have to export those contacts when they leave their employer — and only if they’re allowed to do so. There are many options that are completely under personal control, such as the address books of Web-based email, such as in Gmail, Yahoo, and Hotmail — with some sync features in each. Apple’s MobileMe offers contact sync with Exchange, Macs, and iOS. Plaxo (owned by Comcast) offers an online address book with broad sync options and features. I’ve used the Dymo CardScan business card scanners for a long time; it offers Cardscan.net, an online service for maintain contacts, but it mostly syncs to Outlook and hasn’t kept up with the age of social. And some people try to use Facebook or LinkedIn as their address book. But many users of those services don’t post full contact information, so they are very inconsistent in everyday use.

For vendor strategists, the market is challenging. If your firm owns an address book sync service, how do you expand the offering and garner broader support and integration into work and personal? For the rest of the vendor ecosystem, which address sync service(s) do you federate with? Existing address book players need to up their game to solve the broader problem. And large players that haven’t yet cracked this will be looking to build or acquire more capabilities. Given HP’s big ambitions for webOS, HP Synergy, and building a true personal cloud that spans work and personal, I think HP is working on the build or buy decision right now. If you’re responsible for planning strategy at firm whose offerings touch end users, at work or in their personal life, then you need to plan to support one or more of these personal address book services.