Nokia (N95) mobile phones play nicely with Apple OS X

  • April 29th, 2007

UPDATE: Nokia now offers a free official utility dubbed Media Transfer which provides support for transferring photos & videos with iPhoto, and music with iTunes. The utility also provides support for application management on your handset.

Having spent my fair share of time with various mobile handsets, I’ve spent a noticeable amount of time and patience in order to get both my cellphone(s) and computer(s) synced and "playing" nicely. "Playing nicely" referring to simple tasks such as syncing iCal events, todo lists, contacts, and notes to more frivolous tasks as syncing music, photos, or video libraries.

The problem that most OS X users will face is the fact that most mobile phones do not include the necessary software and / or drivers required. From my own personal experiences using a Palm Treo 700p, BlackBerry 8703e, and a BlackBerry 8100 (Pearl) getting devices to sync as expected required the help of individual or 3rd party developers rather than official software / drivers provided by manufactures for OS X.

In order to sync my previous devices with OS X, I was unable to turn to the manufacturer or Apple for full support. Rather, I was forced to turn to Mark/Space for any syncing needs. Recognized as the best solution for syncing Windows, Palm, or BlackBerry mobile phones with OS X, Mark/Space is the only solution available for reliable results. Although Mark/Space does offer discounts for cross-grades between different syncing software, the amount of money that I had already spent moving between different devices had me gritting my teeth after moving to the Symbian powered Nokia N95. Fortunately, Nokia supports its users across both – Apple & Windows – platforms.

Apple iSync + Nokia, instant support out of the box

Compatible handset downloads - Nokia iSyncApple offers users a convenient syncing utility known as iSync which works wonderfully for a wide range of devices out of the box (Apple’s official mobile phones support page) – support for select Motorola, Nokia, Panasonic, Sony Ericsson, Sendo, and Siemens handsets.

Nokia users will notice that iSync supports quite a number of devices out of the box – 43 devices as of this article. Rest assured that although the support page does not list all of the newer Eseries & Nseries devices, Nokia provides official iSync downloads which will ensure your devices is supported. Visit the Nokia iSync Software downloads page for additional information and installation instructions.

Once iSync has the appropriate drivers installed for your device (assuming your handset required a supplemental download from Nokia), you can immediately enjoy the the simplicity of iSync to move your calendar items, todo lists (iCal), and Address Book contacts + pictures.

iSync screenshot with Nokia device installed

Apple iSync with the official Nokia N95 supplemental device driver download installed – Supports USB or Bluetooth

iSync supports both manual and automatic syncing via USB or Bluetooth, as well as added customization of specifying syncing [only] Address Book contacts with phone numbers, not synchronizing events prior to a specific date, or instructing iSync to ignore events older than x days, weeks, or months.

Connecting your Nokia (N95) via USB or Bluetooth

Fortunately, connecting your Nokia device is as simple as using the included USB cable or running the OS X Bluetooth Wizard. Nokia kindly walks users through both setups on its Nokia / Mac page. Users who plan on syncing their device via USB will want to bookmark Nokia’s Initial USB Setup page. Bluetooth users will want to do the same for the Initial Bluetooth Setup and Pairing Your Device With Your Mac. All three tutorials are incredibly easy to follow – thanks to both Nokia and Apple’s thorough documentation and wizard walk-through.

It is important that Bluetooth users authorize their computer permanently in order to eliminate the "Accept connection from [computer name]" prompt each time iSync connects with your device.

Automatically sync your Nokia (N95) mobile phone via Bluetooth

One convenience that I was never able to setup correctly with any of my previous devices – Palm & BlackBerry – was the ability to automatically sync my desktop iCal events, todo items, and contacts via Bluetooth. Blame it on the fact that neither of my previous mobile phones interfaced directly with iSync. Fortunately, after creating a simple AppleScript Automator application, I discovered two methods which support automatic synchronization – an iCal event which triggers the Automatic iSync application, or Home Zone (Blueooth proximity) which triggers a sync when the mobile phone is within Bluetooth range.

Both methods – iCal & Home Zone – require that a) your device has been successfully paired (check the previous Nokia tutorials above), and b) the Automatic iSync Application (below). The 56KB zipped directory includes the free Automatic iSync Application & README. Note that this application is not limited to Nokia handsets. Automatic iSync will support any devices which communicate successfully with iSync – check the supported devices list for mobile phone.

Automatic iSync Automator Application
Download icon

Scheduled syncs with iCal

My preferred method of syncing events, todo items, and contacts requires both iCal and the Automatic iSync Application. Rather than syncing data automatically whenever the device is within Bluetooth range with Home Zone, an iCal event can be scheduled to run daily, twice a day, or every other day depending on how often you update your handset or desktop. Because I am sure to be at my my desktop computer both as soon as I wake or before heading to bed, I create two sync times – one at 8AM, the second at 7PM. You can create similar triggers by following the steps below.

  • Open iCal and create a new event titled "Mobile Sync" (or whatever you prefer).
  • Select "All-day"
  • Move down to "Repeat" and select "Custom" from the drop down menu. Select "Weekly" as the Frequency and "Every 1 week(s) on:" M-F.
  • Select the "End" date when your syncs should stop. June if you plan on picking up the iPhone.
  • Locate "Alarm" and select "Open file". iCal will issue a prompt asking if you would like to apply the trigger to a single event or all repeated events. Select "All". You will now see a new drop down menu underneath "Open file". Select "Other" and specify the location of the Automatic iSync Application.
  • Underneath "Open file" select "The same day" from the drop down menu and specify a time (8AM).

Once you’ve created your repeated event(s) using the settings above, iCal will trigger the Automatic iSync Application every week day until your specified end date at 8AM. All that is left to do is to ensure that you have your handset within range with Bluetooth enabled at the time specified by your event.

Bluetooth proximity syncs with Home Zone

Home Zone (public beta) is a menu bar application which automatically runs specified action or changes your computer configuration based on the proximity of Bluetooth devices or AirPort base stations. Setup is a little more involved, but the extra features offer far more flexibility and functionality outside of the scope of a simple data sync between a mobile handset and iSync.

Home Zone operates using three configuration options: 1) Zones – defined by one or more Networks or Bluetooth devices, 2) Triggers, and 3) Actions – performed when entering or leaving a zone.

Similar to triggering Automatic iSync with an iCal event, you can instruct Home Zone to do the same whenever your mobile handset is within Bluetooth range.

Home Zone configuration settings - Apple OS X Bluetooth

Screenshot of Home Zone configuration settings for mobile phone syncing – click for larger preview

  • Under "Zones", add a new zone titled "Mobile Sync". Your Mobile Sync zone should appear with a status of "Not available".
  • Under "Triggers" create a new trigger selecting "Bluetooth Device" as the "Kind", and then press the ‘Select Bluetooth Device’ button. The OS X Select Bluetooth Device window will appear where your pre-paired device should be listed. Highlight the device and press ‘Select’
  • Under "Actions", create a new action. In the "Action" preference window, you can select "Enter" or "Leave". For the purpose of syncing, select "Enter".
  • From the "Action" drop-down menu, select "Open file" and drag the Automatic iSync Application into the drop-zone or select the built-in "Synchronize iSync".

Following the settings above, Home Zone will automatically sync your mobile phone whenever it enters or re-enters Bluetooth range. If Growl is installed on your machine, you will recieve a Growl notification whenever an action is completed. Home Zone can be used for far more than simple syncing including enabling a screensaver password, disabled a screensaver password, pausing iTunes, setting a default printer, etc.

Manual Nokia (N95) mobile phone syncing with Quicksilver

Quicksilver users can sync their Nokia (N95), or any mobile phone via Bluetooth using the Automatic iSync Application and a custom defined trigger. Create a custom trigger which opens the Automatic iSync application following the steps below:

  • Open Quicksilver Preferences and select "Triggers" from the top menu bar.
  • Press the plus sign at the bottom of the window and select &quotHotKey".
  • Drag the Automatic iSync Application into the "Select an item" field and press ‘Save’.
  • Highlight your new Trigger and select the "Trigger Info" button at the bottom of the window.
  • In the Info pane, re-title the Trigger if needed and specify your custom "Hot Key". Double-check that Activate "On Press" is selected and close the Quicksilver Preferences window.

Rather than relying on scheduled or proximity syncs via Bluetooth, Quicksilver users can quickly sync their device via USB or Bluetooth with defined Triggers before stepping away from their computer.

Manual photo, music, and video file management

Unfortunately, I have yet to find any OS X applications which provide support for two-way syncing of photos, music, and video files. At this time, the following are the only sure-fire ways of getting theses types of files to and from your mobile phone.

Browsing mobile phone files via Bluetooth on OS X

Moving files to and from your device via Bluetooth is easy with the OS X Bluetooth File Browser

  • Automatic import into iPhoto – If your mobile phone supports USB Mass Storage as the Nokia N95 (Eseries & Nseries) does, iPhoto will automatically import photographs and videos into your computer library. Simply connect your device to your computer via USB and ensure that Mass Storage is enabled on your device. Alternatively, your device should appear on your desktop as an external drive allowing you the freedom to browse and file manage individual directories.
  • Nokia Music Manager – Not as convenient as an iTunes plugin, but Nokia does offer a Music Manager. The Nokia Music Manager provides support for managing the Nokia N91 playlists, importing CDs, and shuffling music to and from your mobile phone and Mac. Here’s hoping for similar support for the rest of the MP3 enabled handsets.
  • Browse device via Bluetooth – With Bluetooth enabled, and a supported handset, freely browse your devices memory using the OS X Bluetooth File Browser. Easily shuffle files to and from your device via Bluetooth.

Although much of this article was written to address the needs of Nokia users, the tutorials and syncing options can be applied and used to sync any mobile phones listed on iSync supported devices page. If your device is not listed, check your manufacturers website for official support, or Google for individual developer software and drivers support.

Would official support affect your next mobile phone purchase?

Nokia has yet to provide a comparable application for its Windows PC Suite – which allows Windows users to browse, manage, send, and receive messages, conduct firmware upgrades, or create custom themes – for Apple users. Whether or not a cross platform application will be released is nothing more than a dream. However, it is very clear that Nokia users are not left completely in the dark or forced to pay for additional software in order to enjoy their devices on both platforms. Will other manufacturers follow suit? Will future mobile phones be delivered with both a Windows and OS X support / software discs in the box?

Will your next mobile phone purchase be affected by knowing whether or not the device manufacturer provided official software support for both Windows and OS X? Or have you accepted the idea that paying for privately developed software / drivers is the only way to enjoy your future smartphone? With the upcoming release of Apple’s OS X 10.5 Leopard, will we see more mobile devices supported out of the box? I believe Apple is going to create a truly amazingly seamless desktop / mobile experience with the iPhone & OS X that will surely force manufacturers to develop OS X friendly software to compete. What are your thoughts? [Digg it]

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