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  • The WWDC Report #2: Is MobileMe a Big Letdown?

    June 9th, 2008

    Shortly after the WWDC keynote ended Monday morning, an estimated one to two million members of Apple’s .Mac service received an email message from the mother ship, which began: “Today Apple announced a new Internet service called MobileMe — taking the best of .Mac and adding a host of new features. As a current .Mac member, your account will be automatically upgraded to MobileMe in July.”

    Now we all understand that .Mac has been an under achiever for an awfully long time. Even Steve Jobs has admitted as much. At $99, storage space of 10GB isn’t a big deal, and there are those erratic and never-ending service outages to contend with.

    Of course, Microsoft has notorious for rebranding a product that doesn’t succeed as well as expected, so you have to wonder whether Apple had any of this in mind in creating MobileMe. But that’s not the entire story.

    For most of you, the most significant new feature in MobileMe is “push.” As Apple says in that email: “Push email. Push contacts. Push calendar. In addition to Mac-to-Mac syncing, MobileMe now keeps your iPhone or iPod touch in sync too. MobileMe pushes new contacts, calendar items, and bookmarks to your Mac or PC, and over the air to your iPhone or iPod touch. For example, if you add a calendar event on the web, the change will automatically be pushed to your Mac and iPhone. New email will be pushed to your iPhone in seconds, eliminating the need to check for messages manually.”

    Just to clarify the market-speak, yes, sync capabilities are available from PC-to-PC and between Macs and PCs.

    Indeed “push” technology is a technique that immediately moves your data back and forth without having to wait for a fixed time for receiving email, or synchronizing the rest of your stuff.

    That’s what Microsoft offers with its Exchange email service, and simplifying and refining a usually arcane technology for regular people is a large part of Apple’s magic touch. So you can well understand how MobileMe is being promoted as “Exchange for the rest of us.”

    However, MobileMe is not groupware. It’s primarily a souped-up .Mac designed for for empowering individuals. And thus the interfaces of all the components that formerly constituted .Mac will be refined, made more elegant, and also easier to operate on an iPhone.

    The removal of the “Mac” label is also meant to make the service more palatable to Windows users, and it will be designed for both, same as iTunes, Safari and all the rest of Apple’s two-platform products. It will work with the current versions of the major browsers, ranging from Safari to Firefox and even Internet Explorer.

    So what’s going to happen to your existing stuff over at .Mac? Well, other than getting a new set of clothes, in keeping with Apple’s promise, you’ll lose none of your data. Your account will be automatically converted, and your storage allotment will increase accordingly.

    In addition to those new or modified features, and interface refinements, the standard storage package will double to 20GB, and if you opted for an extra-cost storage upgrade, that, too, will double.

    As to your email address, you’ll get two. One will be your existing mac.com address, and the other will be a me.com account, with the same username. Pick your poison. But at least you won’t have to send any change of addresses notices anytime soon. I do suspect, however, that after a few years of this, Apple might indeed phase out the various .Mac designations for the sake of simplicity, less confusion, or whatever.

    So what’s the cost of all this joy? It’s still $99, folks, although discounts can be had from time to time, particularly when you buy a new Mac, or you do a little price shopping online.

    I suppose MobileMe isn’t a bad name among the potential choices, though it sounds a little juvenile to me. I can imagine grade school students embracing that title without hesitation, but it seems a little much if you’re over 13. The same goes for that me.com email address, which is the main reason while I plan to hold onto my mac.com email address for as long as Apple will allow.

    The real concern, however, is one that was never discussed during the keynote, and that’s too bad. While I realize there may be some network glitches during the initial transition process, the question remains just how Apple plans to handle the ongoing service issues that periodically impacted .Mac over the years. In addition to the push messaging, they might have said something about working on the servers to improve reliability and performance.

    But they didn’t, and I remain highly skeptical that anything will change, other than that there will be more to break.

    At the same time, I’ve grown accustomed to my mac.com email address, and I do use the iDisk storage space on a rare occasion. So I’ll probably keep my membership active for a while longer.

    Apple, however, is going to have to work a lot harder to convert the skeptics. Let’s see how well they fare with the reinvention of .Mac.



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    20 Responses to “The WWDC Report #2: Is MobileMe a Big Letdown?”

    1. Paul says:

      Gene,

      I agree with you that MobileMe sounds juvenile. And me.com even moreso. But I can spin it to actually sound better. Don’t say “me” (as in you and me) “dot com” say “em eee dot com”. I have been essentially doing that with “mac.com” since many people are not sure if it is mac or mack.

      Just my positive take.

      Paul

    2. ZiggyBop says:

      Just call it “Mobile Mac Extreme” and “Mac Extreme dot com” and you’ll forget about the juvenility.

    3. Dana Sutton says:

      Gene writes “I’ve grown accustomed to my mac.com email address”. Well, Gene, although .Mac is being renamed, I sure do hope the renaming process won’t change the “mac.com” in my current e-mail address. I wish Steve had said something to reassure those of us who already have accounts that our service won’t be screwed up as part of the renaming.

    4. DanB says:

      We will lose something, bookmarks will no longer be available from the web, this is a bit of a problem when you rely on accessing computers other than your own and finding the sites the you require for work ( I have hundreds bookmarked). Does anybody know why this has happened ?

    5. Dave says:

      Like Gene, I also like having a mac.com email address. I would have immediately made a decision to not renew the service if that had been lost, even though it’s not the only reason I use .Mac. A me.com address sounds juvenile and vain. My renewal doesn’t roll around until January, so hopefully by that time I’ll know how the transition has developed.

    6. adam says:

      Gene writes “I’ve grown accustomed to my mac.com email address”. Well, Gene, although .Mac is being renamed, I sure do hope the renaming process won’t change the “mac.com” in my current e-mail address. I wish Steve had said something to reassure those of us who already have accounts that our service won’t be screwed up as part of the renaming.

      Apple’s informational email makes it clear that the mac.com designator for your email, website, and web gallery will remain available for all of us existing customers. If you want mac.com, join up now before the transition.

      I keep hearing about all these plagues of service outages. I have had a mac.com address since the days of iTools, excepting 2004. Maybe I’ve gotten lucky, but I have not been plagued by outages. I can remember a handful of occasions where there was a service-level issue with sending and receiving mail, all of which were cleared up fairly quickly. It certainly hasn’t been perfect, but it’s been far from a plague. I would expect reliability to go up though. The addition of push technology will really be a re-build of the way the services are provided. It is my hope that the new services will be developed out to the point of full reliability with redundant servers, etc… as needed. I already find enough value in .Mac to be worth $8.25 a month, but if I’m going to stay on with any subscription service I expect improved service as time goes on.

      My subscription expires in 38 days. I was planning on renewing anyway, but now it is truly a no-brainer.

    7. Steve W says:

      Does mobile millennium edition sound better than mobile me?

    8. John Fallon says:

      Whatever the name of the service, it needs to be much more reliable. As a backup target, iDisk has been unpredictable for me. Having 20 or 40 gigs of storage is nice, but if access to it isn’t reliable, it doesn’t matter. The .Mac mail servers aren’t much better. Whether you like Google or not (I don’t much), their stuff is reliable.

    9. rwahrens says:

      I, too have had .Mac since it was iTools, and can second the experience of there being no “plague” of outages that has ever affected me. With the sole exception of last Friday (or was it Saturday?), I have never experienced a long outage that affected my usage of the service.

      I use the .Mac sync service currently to sync my idisks between two Macs – a desktop and a MacBook, and it works well and keeps my document folder synced so that I always have the same documents on both machines. I never use the documents folder in my Home folder any more. It also gives me a backup – offsite – to keep my documents safe from loss.

      I plan on buying an iPhone 3G, and welcome the always on “push” services to keep it synced with my Macs. Now that the capacity has been doubled, I will most likely also save my 3.75 GB of music there, too – as an off-site backup. At least half of it was bought from iTunes, so that is important to me.

      I can always get the subscription price lower through the Apple discount program through my employer, so it doesn’t ever cost me the full price, either.

      Add in the Web apps, and this is becoming a really good thing to have – I am glad I hung in there through this past few years – I think my .Mac email address is going to be a coveted thing in the years to come!

    10. auramac says:

      One of the main reasons I bought .Mac several weeks ago was that I wanted a business e-mail address that identified me as a Mac user/tech- thus, mac.com sounds more professional than aol.com. I finally activated it yesterday, and hope I am allowed to keep the @mac.com- MobileMe does indeed sound juvenile and elementary. Even Windows-like- “My Computer,” “My Documents,” etc. I’d even prefer AppleMobile.com.

    11. adam says:

      There is a FAQ for current .Mac subscribers. According to Apple:

      Will I still be able to use my mac.com email address?
      Yes. You may continue to use your current mac.com email address to send and receive email just as you do today. If you have any email aliases at mac.com, they will also continue to work.

      See the FAQ at http://support.apple.com/kb/HT1932

    12. Link33 says:

      I use .mac primarily to circumvent my previous hosting services. I was paying $9.99 a month ($119.88 a year) to host my website and e-mail. Now that iWeb and .mac support private domain name website hosting I switched in a skinny minute. I did lose a lot of normal control over my e-mail but I routed that through gmail, again keeping my own domain name. I don’t use the e-mail at all but I might if I could use my personal domain with it.
      I guess then I don’t care about the name of the service because I really don’t ever see it. My iDisk just mounts and my webpages don’t say mac.com/anything. I rarely log onto the service on the web because I’m usually on a mac that I can do the same stuff on.

      I will say I am looking forward to the ability to get a URL to e-mail links to files in the public folder. That will be very useful to me. That and the push capability for my iPod Touch. Bout time for something so simple.
      I like the idea of 20GB but I and I suspect many others don’t have upload capabilities to really take advantage of that. I mean I can only upload at 30kbps. It takes sometimes 3 hours to upload a feature film movie file for backup. I don’t care for the wacky way the Finder copies to iDisk either so I use Transmit for WebDAV access to upload to my iDisk.

      Anyway. Because of my circumstances, the price, domain hosting, and sync features outweigh by far the name and anything else with the service.

    13. Climber says:

      I started using .mac about 6 months ago and it has never really worked quite right for me. The syncing features always seemed to be not working correctly.

      However, about 2-3 weeks ago everything started working correctly and I haven’t had a problem since. I can’t help but wonder if Apple had fixed the “back end” problems of .mac and rolled out an upgrade of their service in anticipation of the new mobileme. Obviously, Apple can’t afford to rollout mobileme to the pc marketplace and everyone start comparing the flawed .mac service to the flawed Vista/Microsoft operating platform. It appears that Apple has finally decided to implement the same quality control/usability/stability that they insist on for macs, ipods, iphones on their .mac/mobileme service

    14. hmurchison says:

      I really don’t care about the name. I tend to try to keep my computing in the realm of productivity and
      there’s nothing more/less productive about me.com.

      Mobile Me however is a productivity boost. The $200 priced reduction in the iPhone means that it certainly will be my next phone and I will indeed sign up for a Mobile Me account. I need my information available to me at all times and on multiple platforms. Mobile Me accomplishes that task quite well it appears. My guess is Apple revamped the whole backend and they know that there will be a huge influx of Windows iPhone users. iTools/Dot Mac has finally come of age. I’m ready.

    15. Wayne says:

      I will stick with MobileMe as long as I can keep my mac.com email address. If they drop that, I’ll consider dropping them. I had my previous email address for 10 years and I intend to keep this one for 10 years. If Apple interferes with that, I’ll go somewhere that holds a longer view.

      Other than that, I do like the new push services and the looks of the new web-based apps… I hope that my wife will not find them much slower on her (we’re going to replace it) Windows laptop or at work.

      One thing I’d really, really like to see would be a way to have specific synching between family accounts. My wife and I have our own sub-accounts, and it’d be great if we could share a calendar between us, but only share some of our Address book entries (i.e. our friends and family, but not our work contacts), etc.

      As far as I can tell, .Mac and MobileMe are great for synching everything for a single account, but don’t have the family-wide perspective that would make it that much nicer.

    16. climber says:

      Try busysync (www.busymac.com).

    17. Greg says:

      Well lets hope they fix all the problems with .Mac with the new rollover. However on the bight side at least now the service will start to be worth what they have been charging to use it…

    18. David says:

      I still get images of Windows ME in my head when I see or hear the new name of Apple’s online services. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to such a terrible name.

      I’m glad someone mentioned using Transmit to access the iDisk, but my big question remains: is it any faster? On the high speed connection at work small file uploads appear to take only seconds, but then the window sits there “closing file” literally for minutes. I know the upload speeds at work are at least 10 times what I get from my cable connection at home so I don’t even attempt iDisk uploads from home. It’s a terrible waste of 10GB of off-site storage.

      I don’t understand why bookmark sync had to go because that was one of the truly useful things for me, but the new features more than make up for that. I’d still put it into the “hobby” category along with AppleTV, but at least it’s no longer the neglected step child it was throughout the .Mac era.

    19. Link33 says:

      I still get images of Windows ME in my head when I see or hear the new name of Apple’s online services. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to such a terrible name.

      I’m glad someone mentioned using Transmit to access the iDisk, but my big question remains: is it any faster? On the high speed connection at work small file uploads appear to take only seconds, but then the window sits there “closing file” literally for minutes. I know the upload speeds at work are at least 10 times what I get from my cable connection at home so I don’t even attempt iDisk uploads from home. It’s a terrible waste of 10GB of off-site storage.

      Your comments about the iDisk access are exactly what irks me about the service. One of my internet connections I routinely use is also on cable and it is pathetic to upload to iDisk with it.

      The Finder I believe is only allocating the space for the file and then “Closing” the file aka writing the actual data. I don’t know for certain though. That is why I like Transmit—it’s not faster per se just more informative. It will actually show the data progress as it happens instead of the Finder’s “Closing FIle” for 30 minutes on a large file. I too have a faster upload at work and it’s OK for smaller files up to 5MB but after that I just hate waiting in limbo to see if it really is working or not. I don’t think Apple had to do it this way but maybe they have a good reason.
      Transmit is rocking for a transfer program. It’s easy and has a clean interface. I would definitely look into it.

      I have to use Fetch at work and it’s so obstinate about being just a FTP program it doesn’t try to be more useful like having WebDAV support which Transmit does (iDisk). (I’ve used it for ages and it’s just about the same program it was when it was free.)

    20. Dana Sutton says:

      For doing automated pre-scheduled uploads to iDisk, which I use as a remote storage site for important work files, I use ChronoSynch, which is also WebDAV-friendly.

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