We've been watching the progress of BlackBerry Desktop Manager for the Mac for some time, with RIM always being clear that they would be releasing a solution for Mac users. That fateful day has arrived, but is it the end for third party solutions like PocketMac?
BlackBerry Desktop Manager has been sympathetically designed for Mac users, so you'll find the interface is simple and easily recognisable. Those who have used the PC version will also recognise the look and feel and find that the settings are all very straightforward.
We tested it with a BlackBerry Curve 8900 on a MacBook running OS X 10.6.1. After a quick installation we connected our BlackBerry and it was instantly recognised. You get the option to change the name of your device, as well as use multiple devices if you wish.
Ranging down the left-hand side are your main sync areas, divided into Calendar, Contacts, Notes, Tasks and finally Music. Across the top you have access to Back Up, Restore, Applications and the Sync button.
Back Up and Restore are simply what they sound like, with the backup files saving themselves in your Documents. You get the option of encrypting the data too, which some may opt for, but if you are saving the data on your synced Mac, it might be that the original data isn't encrypted in the first place…
Applications lets you add and remove apps from your BlackBerry, as well as updating native applications. There is no switch devices option like on the PC version.
Most of your interest, however, will be in the left-hand options which is where you will control the movement of information between your handset and your Mac.
Calendar identified available calendars in iCal (or Entourage) and presented them as options for syncing. This was a combination of local and synced calendars from Google Calendars, a typical setup. First up we struggled to get them to sync, as choosing the "All Calendars" option led to repeated syncing errors.
Manually selecting which calendars to sync resolved the problem, probably because it duplicated one of the calendars in iCal, which effectively didn't exist. There is one major option here: you sync both ways, or you don't sync at all.
In the advanced tab you will find the option to replace all the events on your handset – a sort of one time forced overwrite. You can also select whether to sync all events, future events or define a period of days. You are also asked to nominate an iCal calendar for any entries made on your BlackBerry device.
We found that on occasion the Calendar sync would want to remove our entire calendar history from the Mac, accompanied with a warning saying that more than 25% of the calendar would be changed if we proceeded. There is no option here other than choose not to do it, or to do it.
Those calendars syncing to Google through iCal are also flagged as Read-Only, so any syncing is one-way (despite the threats to wipe it all out). You could always opt out of syncing these calendars and use Google Sync on your BlackBerry for your Google calendars and BlackBerry Desktop Manager for any local calendars.
So Calendars is something of a mixed bag and we've found over the time we've been using the software that it is difficult to predict what the outcome will be. It is clear when it doesn't work, and when it did sync perfectly we found all the data was in the right place. Avoiding problems takes a bit of tweaking and experimenting.
Contacts seems to be handled much more smoothly. Desktop Manager recognised the existing groups we had in Address Book, so you could select work contacts only, or whatever you need. Advanced settings again gives you the option of overwriting all your device contacts.
Conflict resolution seems to work fairly well, asking you which is correct when presented with two different versions. You simply click the BlackBerry or Mac version to nominate which is correct. Once you've done the initial sync and cleaned out any anomalies, things should run smoothly.
Notes and Task syncing is also supported, if you use the functions, with Notes collection from Entourage or Apple Mail. Tasks, linked to calendars, again lets you specify which calendar tasks you want to sync.
The final option is music. You might have been content with manually copying music to your device or a microSD card, but BlackBerry Desktop Manager now makes this much simpler to get your music out of iTunes. You get the option to sync all your songs and playlists, or pick a playlist from the list. There is no support for DRM protected tracks.
Unless you have a huge capacity card, or a small music collection, you probably won't take the "sync all" option. Using playlists works very well, with the corresponding music finding its way into your BlackBerry media player once you disconnect it. If you want you podcasts, simply make a podcast playlist and off you go.
BlackBerry Desktop Manager is also mindful of the capacity of your memory card, so will alert you in advance if your selection exceeds capacity. It's simple, but it works. Oh, and you need to make sure that Mass Storage mode is enabled and worth setting this as the default mode on connection to your Mac, otherwise you'll have to try and hit the confirmation on the screen.
Only music is covered and there is no provision for syncing or moving your photos or videos, so these things will still need to be done manually.
There is also no option for wireless syncing. You'd hope that through the magic of modern networking that a Bluetooth or Wi-Fi syncing option would be available, but unfortunately it isn't. We raised this with RIM, who said it was something they were aware of, but wanted to concentrate on getting the basics out first.
The problem that all syncing software faces is the variety of different formats that it is going to be presented with. Each user is going to have a different collection of requirements and as a result, the syncing experience will be different for a great number of users.
BlackBerry Desktop Manager is simple and for the most part it works. However the calendar failures that we experienced marred the process somewhat. It is nice to have a RIM application to sync contacts and the addition of music support is welcomed. It's a shame that you can't just sync one thing as and when you want to without disabling other areas – it would have been simple to include a calendar sync button for example.
This is first generation software and for some we are sure it will work perfectly. For the rest, we have to hope that RIM support and update the software regularly to iron out the inevitable hiccups.
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