Monday, December 1, 2014

Why is getting your data on a new phone so much work?

Recently my wife upgraded her phone after finishing her two year contract with our mobile provider. She transitioned between phones on the same carrier made by the same manufacturer.

For some context, my wife's primary email comes from a standard IMAP server. She gets her calendars from a standard CalDAV enabled server. She gets her contacts from a standard CardDAV enabled server. She downloads her music and files from a standard WebDAV server. She installs her applications from two app stores, Google Play and Amazon Appstore.

It took us over 4 hours to transition everything from her old phone to her new phone. Why in 2014 is this still so cumbersome?

What transferred/setup without any work

  • The applications installed from the Google Play Store.
  • GMail.
  • Home screen background image.

What we had to manually transfer/setup

  • Applications that were NOT installed from Google Play Store.
  • IMAP email.
  • CalDAV calendars.
  • CardDAV contacts.
  • Lock screen background image.
  • Phone PIN.
  • Phone home screens
    • Widgets.
    • Application Shortcuts.
  • Alarms.
  • Application Settings.
  • Her camera pictures.
  • Her downloaded music.
  • Her downloaded files.
  • 3rd party application data (Instagram, Facebook, Pintrest, and etc).

There's nothing on the second list that couldn't have been automatically transferred. I'm not sure what the right solution is to this problem, but I do know this shouldn't be as much work as it was.

As technologists we put way too much on the shoulders of our users. We expect them to do the heavy lifting for things that we can do easily through software. I think part of this problem is that we, as an industry, don't think enough about the import/export scenarios for our mobile products. But that's sad given that most people are on 2 year contracts with their carriers and they have an opportunity to upgrade their phones if they can financially afford it.

In my opinion this is real opportunity lost.


  1. Fractional software ownership is the reason I think. Start with Android, add phone manufacturer (e.g. Samsung's) modifications of Android, add the carrier's flavor of software (sometimes), and then rely on Amazon + Google for apps. Who wants to write software that integrates all those platforms and pitch it to the user as a solid way to back up their treasured data? Seems an impossible task to keep up with the software changes of all these companies specially when phone manufacturers barely seem to update their software over the life of the phone.

    I went through this experience with my Galaxy 2 years ago and was the main reason I switched to iOS...upgrading my iPhone this week and hoping the transition goes much smoother!


    1. I totally agree. The problem exists anytime you try to do something outside of a particular companies ecosystem. But I don't think that it HAS to be that way.

      I'm working on a post that talks a little about this problem in the context of Open Standards.