There are cross-platform contact management services. There are remote mobile device management tools. And then there’s Phonedeck, a scarily comprehensive platform that offers much of the same functionality, and considerably more.
I say scary because Phonedeck, which finally opened to the public after an invitation-only test phase on Tuesday, allows you to abstract almost all the ‘phone’ bit of your mobile phone’s functionality to the cloud. All you need to do is install the app on your handset and sync it with Phonedeck’s servers.
Sure, we’ve seen things like online contact back-up and management before, and services like Airdroid also let you send and receive SMS text messages through a browser interface. But Phonedeck takes it a step further by making it possible to initiate, accept and reject phonecalls on your handset, all from a connected desktop or tablet.
Phonedeck also provides a crazy amount of insight into your usage — right down to the amount of charge in your device’s battery — and allows you to post much of it to LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter, if you should so choose. Is a friend complaining that they call you more often than you call them? Post the stats to prove them wrong.
If a friend is also using Phonedeck, when they update their contact details on their handset, the edit shows up in real time on yours.
By pushing your mobile phone into the cloud we make it more social, convenient and fun to use,” Frank Fitzek, Phonedeck’s founder and CEO, told me. “It’s a tool that you would use for keeping your phone under control.”
As you can probably tell, Phonedeck plugs into very core phone functionality. That’s the main reason it’s an Android affair – iOS users need not apply, as Apple doesn’t provide the API access needed to notify the user through his or her browser that a call is incoming.
“We don’t want people to get a bad impression,” Fitzek said, explaining that Phonedeck has developed an in-house iOS version but won’t release it until it can offer all the functionality of the Android version.
There is another version of Phonedeck that’s out there but also lacks the incoming-call interception feature, and that’s Nokia’s Series 40. Remember Series 40? The near-dumbphone OS that tech-heads forget? The one that’s sold one-and-a-half billion units?
Fitzek has a long history of work with Nokia. His Gedda-Headz game is wildly popular in China, and comes pre-installed on Series 40 Asha devices there. “On Series 40 we also can’t trigger incoming calls, but Nokia is doing something to fix that,” he told me with evident confidence.
Unusually for a Berlin-based web entrepreneur, Fitzek doesn’t seem too bothered about his product not being available on iOS. “If you see the numbers, Android is much bigger, and if you see [the numbers for] Series 40 it’s even bigger,” he pointed out.
Indeed, Phonedeck looks to be particularly useful for handsets like those running Series 40. Typing out texts and organising contacts through an HTML5 browser on a desktop or tablet is infinitely less painful than doing so on an old-style numerical keypad.
So, back to Phonedeck’s scariness.
You really wouldn’t want to leave a laptop lying around while logged into the browser-based console (or, even worse, with the Chrome extension that allows calls to be accepted or rejected without the browser even being open). Doing so would reveal all your SMS messages, your call logs, your most-contacted people…
Competitor Airdroid deals with this issue by only allowing the phone to communicate data to the desktop while the two machines have a wireless connection, but Phonedeck’s connection all happens over the internet. Fitzek insisted that it’s a secure connection, though.
“Everything we have is SSL protected,” Fitzek said. “What we will do in the future is encrypt the data as well, but the problem with that is you need to then decrypt it. At the moment, the user experience is more important.”
The service is free right now and will stay so for consumers, as Phonedeck wants to build as big a user-base as possible. Fitzek explained that a paid-for version will follow, that will let business users publish phone events to platforms such as Salesforce.
With arguable competition from ResearchGate and Soundcloud, Phonedeck is the most genuinely useful service I’ve seen come out of Berlin. Using it, the only part of a handset’s phone functionality that still requires picking up the phone is engaging in a call – and even that is likely to change soon (Fitzek hints that it may soon be possible to activate the handset’s speaker when Phonedeck accepts or initiates a call through the browser).
As I say, the amount of information it can suck in and display is quite disconcerting. But there are already 200,000 Phonedeck users who joined during the soft-launch period alone (50,000 on Android and 150,000 who downloaded it for Series 40 during a four-day Ovi store promotion), and I can see those numbers going through the roof after Tuesday’s full launch – iPhone or no iPhone.