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What is SyncML?

By R. Kayne
Updated May 16, 2024
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Synchronization Markup Language (SyncML), now known as Open Mobile Alliance (OMA), is an open-source standard for digital devices to interoperate regardless of manufacturer or brand. For example, SyncML might be used between a cell phone and a computer, or a personal digital assistant (PDA) and a network. The advantage of SyncML is that it is platform-independent, making it a flexible solution for connecting digital devices of all kinds.

The power of synchronization is that it allows updates on one device to be automatically and instantly reflected in all other devices without manual updating. To a single user at home, this means that synching a PDA to the computer will update the calendar or task list automatically. But what happens if a company wants to update inventory to a field of 200 internationally placed sales representatives?

As portable digital devices have become ubiquitous, the languages these devices used to synchronize with computer systems have been largely proprietary. If using a BlackBerry PDA, for instance, special accompanying synchronization software was necessary to get the BlackBerry to “talk” to a network and collect email. As consumers began using more interoperable digital devices, it became clear that a single unifying language would be preferable to a large family of competing proprietary languages. Enter SyncML.

Using SyncML, a home office can, for example, update field reps without thought as to what type of device each salesperson has, or what language is required to communicate with that device. As long as all devices are SyncML compliant, a single task is all it takes to update all devices on the network. The use of SyncML through Internet cafés, wireless hot spots, and virtual private networks can mean increased productivity and convenience for consumers and businesses alike.

SyncML is the brainchild of Philippe Kahn, who also invented the camera phone and founded Borland, Starfish Software, LightSurf, and FullPower Technologies. Motorola purchased Starfish Software in 1998, while Verisign now owns LightSurf. Heavy-hitters such as IBM, Lotus, Sony Ericsson, Nokia, Palm Inc., Siemens AG, and Motorola already build SyncML compliance into their products. It is hoped that SyncML will become a global language for both wired and wireless technologies, providing a common language the world over for digital connectivity.

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