Review: Apple MobileMe
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Price: $99 per year for a single license; $149 per year for a five person Family Pack
Pros: Streamlined interface for sharing e-mail, calendar, and contact information between computers and iPhone or iPod touch devices.
Cons: Wireless syncing doesn't go far enough; Calendar not robust enough.
If you've been waiting for a time when it was safe to try Apple's MobileMe, the waters seem to be calm now.
MobileMe, the successor to Apple's .Mac suite of online tools, experienced perhaps the rockiest launch of any Apple product ever. Approximately one percent of existing customers couldn't access their mail and lost old mail for weeks, while many more couldn't use the online services. A host of smaller bugs caused syncing problems.
The worst is over and MobileMe is behaving as it should at this point. While we'd love to share what the transition problems were like, we had a perfectly smooth time moving from .Mac to MobileMe. Most users didn't have any trouble.
The old .Mac (which is still in use for people using OS X 10.4 and older) allowed people to sync and store important information with their online accounts. MobileMe is a refinement of the service that brings the iPhone and iPod touch into the equation. The key benefit is that users can wirelessly sync information between their computers, handhelds, and online account. While Apple has surprised us by dropping colorful but less-used parts of .Mac, it's successfully focused on providing a simple user experience for the most important features.
The slimmed-down MobileMe offers fewer components than .Mac, but ups the online storage to 20GB (from 10GB) and keeps the same reasonable $99 per year price for a single license.
Subscribe and you'll get mail, contact, and calendar syncing. You'll also get an online photo gallery and an online storage folder called iDisk. Not just for Mac users, MobileMe lets Windows-using iPhone and iPod touch owners share the fun, although they'll be syncing different desktop applications. We did our testing on a Mac.
Mail: Online, MobileMe offers a crisp, easily navigable interface modeled after the iPhone's. It's actually easier to move or delete multiple messages on the iPhone, though, thanks to the iPhone's new editing tools. Changes made to any of your mail or other information is synced from your desktop automatically every 15 minutes, or by a schedule you select. Apple initially called it push synching, but had to change its terminology when people complained that this isn't true push: changes aren't relayed instantly. Subscribers get a .me mail address and older subscribers are allowed to keep their .mac addresses. Subscribers can also create alias e-mail accounts, as previously with .Mac, except now they'll be .me accounts.
Contacts: This syncs data between the user's desktop Address Book and an iPhone or iPod touch's Contacts application. Images attached to an entry, including those taken with an iPhone's camera, are also synced.
Calendar: While Apple's Calendar app has a lot going for it, including the ability to make differently-colored personal calendars so that users can view or share just certain data, we're still waiting for Apple to make iCal (on a Mac) and Calendar (on an iPhone or iPod touch), as robust as they should be. Where are the To Do items? It's a mystery why MobileMe doesn't sync them from the desktop.
Gallery: Upload pictures directly from iPhoto or from the iPhone to share with friends and family. Those people can then add pictures to your gallery, which are downloaded automatically to your desktop.
iDisk: Everyone should have online backup for crucial data, and iDisk makes that easy. Your first job with iDisk should be downloading the Backup utility that used to come standard on Macs (before Time Machine came along) and set up an automated online backup. You can change the MobileMe preferences to determine how much of your 20GB is used for mail and how much for storage. You can also share files in the Public folder or make them password-accessible.
Extras: That 20GB is a lot of storage space, so put it to better use. If you own a domain name and a copy of iWeb (part of the iLife suite), you can park your site at your MobileMe account for no extra fee.
What's Missing: If wireless synching is the heart of MobileMe, why doesn't it go farther? We'd love to see iTunes syncing without a cable. Apple has also removed site-building tools, online greeting cards, online access to bookmarks, and groups found in .Mac.
Many have pointed out that users could find the same tools that come with MobileMe at lower prices or free, but that's not all that MobileMe is about. It also delivers a smooth and seamless experience that makes using the service hassle-free. At least, it does now that the bugs are worked out.
- For more by Troy Dreier, read "Understanding WiMAX," "Review: HP iPAQ 110 Classic - PDA Like It's 1999," "Review: Samsung SCH-i760."
- For more Apple reviews, read "Review: Apple AirPort Extreme," "Review: iPhone 3G (Génial!)," "Review: iPhone 2.0 Software Upgrade."
Troy Dreier is a regular contributor to Web Video Universe, PDA Street, Intranet Journal, and Laptop Magazine. He also writes a weekly consumer technology column, which is published in the Jersey Journal newspaper and distributed by the Newhouse News Service. His first book, CNET Do-It-Yourself Home Video Projects: 24 Cool Things You Didn't Know You Could Do, was published by McGraw-Hill.