Fun with phones

I got a great new toy yesterday. It's a $13 cable. But not just any cable - it's a data cable for my cell phone. Combine it with BitPIM and you have the solution to a problem that's been bothering me for a while now.

You see, my wife and I both have Verizon cellular phones. If you don't already know, the deal is that you sign a two-year service contract with Verizon and they give you an obscenely huge discount on any phone that you buy at the same time. I'm talking like 50% or more off the normal retail price. And sometimes they even have brands that are buy one, get one free on top of the discount. So unless you're filthy rich, you can't afford not to get a new phone every time you renew your contract. This is kind of a win-win situation, since you get new hardware at a good price and Verizon gets to keep down the amount of old hardware on their network.

The only thing that bugs me about this is that every time you get a new phone, you have to sit down for an hour or so and enter all your contacts into the new phone. Sure, if you buy the expensive phone they'll give you a data kit that can sync your calendar and contacts with Outlook, but as a Linux user that doesn't do me much good.

Another annoyance surfaced a year ago when I got our current phones. This time I got camera phones - a pair of Samsung SCH-A670 camera phones, to be precise. I actually only got them because they weren't much more expensive than the non-camera model (like $20), but it turns out that having the camera is kind of handy sometimes. The only problem is getting the pictures off the camera and onto the computer. Sure, you can sign up for Verizon's picture messaging service which has some kind of web interface, but that adds something like $10 to your monthly payment. You can also send the pictures by e-mail, but then Verizon charges you $0.25 per message. That seems pretty silly when all I want to do is move the pictures the three feet from my camera to my hard drive. I ought to be able to do that for free. And it turns out I can.

A couple of weeks ago, I saw a comment on digg.com that made reference to BitPIM. It's basically a PIM application that's designed to sync with cell phones. It can sync calendar and contacts, download pictures, ring tones, text messages, and various other things. There's even a feature that lets you browse the phone's file system. And the best part? It's written in Python with wxWindows, so it works on Windows, Linux, and MacOS.

(Note: There is no Ubuntu package for BitPIM, so I had to download the RPM and convert it with alien. The only problem I had was an error about being unable to find libtiff.so.3. The correct way to fix this is probably to install that version of libtiff. However, I used the "cheap symlink" fix, which was to create a symlink named libtiff.so.3 that pointed to the version that's actually on my system, which was libtiff.so.4. It worked for me, but your mileage may vary.)

So now I can get all the data on my phone onto my PC. BitPIM even has an option to import and export vCards and other formats, so it's possible to sync my phone with Kontact, even if it is in a round-about way. Now all I have to do is find out if there's any way to make KDE talk directly to my phone. The ability to sync with KAddressBook and KOrganizer would be great. An ioslave to access the phone's filesystem would be great too. I think I feel a new project coming on....

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