Review: MobileMe — Apple must try harder

Media_http1bpblogspot_fgxxo

Over joyous on acquiring my iPhone 3GS, I went ahead and signed up for Apple’s MobileMe service, on a two-month trail basis. I’ve kicked MobileMe’s tyres, and I’m not impressed with any of its features; Apple must try harder.

Below I review each section of MobileMe’s features:

  • Mail
  • Contacts
  • Calendar
  • Gallery
  • iDisk
  • Settings

Mail

Good:

  • Push email to your iPhone
  • 5 email aliases (>Gmail offering of none)
  • Forward your @me.com email to another address
  • up to 20GB storage

Bad:

  • Only allows 1 external POP fetching account (Gmail = 5)

For me, the single external POP account is a deal breaker. I have several addresses (home, work), and it would be good to be able to go to a single online email client to read all and send/reply with any desired email address (via me.com’s servers).

Alternative: Gmail

7GB online storage. Up to 5 receive external POP accounts and “send from” other email accounts (must send message from within Gmail, online or mobile, for this). IMAP access (fetch Gmail from Apple Mail/Outlook) means constant connection between Gmail and mail clients (desktop/mobile).

For me, I have set up aliases of my POP accounts and have Gmail fetch that email, which is delivered in my Gmail inbox in Apple Mail. Everything is thus automatically saved/backed up in Gmail.

Contacts


Good:

  • Nothing. Okay, online access.

Bad:

  • Expensive OTA syncing if out of home country (international data roaming)
  • Difficult syncing
  • Address format USA regardless (me.com)
  • Date format USA regardless (me.com)
  • No photo stored with individual contacts (me.com)
  • Poor print rendering

MobileMe Contacts is okay, but overhyped. For starters, I wouldn’t use it when travelling abroad (ironically, a likely time I’m collecting new contacts away from my computer), because of extortionate international data roaming charges.

My solution is to perform wired syncing via iTunes (you have to do wired syncing for music, photo, and podcasts anyway). If you want this method, then ensure the following settings (backup iCal and Address Book first!):

1. Mac desktop (Apple icon)>System Preferences>MobileMe>Sync>Synchronize with MobileMe: Manually (and tick “off” Calendar and Contacts)

2. iPhone>Settings>Mail, Contacts, Calendar>Accounts your@me.com: switch “off” Contacts and Calendar

(“What would you like to do with the previous synced MobileMe contacts in your iPhone?” Keep or Delete: if your iCal and Address Book are clean and what you want to sync, then select “Delete from My iPhone”; otherwise you’ll end up with duplicates! Next, verify you have no contacts or events on your iPhone.)

3. Connect iPhone to your Mac. Open iTunes (if not done automatically). Verify following: Devices>your iPhone>Info tab: Contacts and Calendar does NOT say “Your Contacts/Calendar are being synced over the air from MobileMe” (because if it does you risk duplication; if says this, then return to step 2 above. Within this Info tab, (a) tick “on” Contacts>Sync Address Book contacts (and select further preferences); (b) tick “on” Calendar>Sync iCal calendars (and select further preferences). Click Apply button (bottom right): this will initiate sync of iPhone (“Sync in Progress”).

Alternative: Google Contacts


In step 3 above, in iTunes>Devices>your iPhone>Info tab: Contacts, tick “on” Sync Google Contacts. You’ll need to enter your Google username and password. I have found this a reliable service, i.e. no duplication.

Calendar


Good:

  • Nothing. Okay, online access (but for me, current month’s iCal events do not appear on me.com!)

Bad:

  • Expensive OTA syncing if out of home country (international data roaming)
  • No RSS calendar import (why the dickens not?)
  • Can’t figure out how to delete added folders (me.com)
  • Poor print rendering

Altnernative: iTunes sync with iCal (see above)


For me, I use Huddle.net feature of RSS subscribing your Huddle calendars to iCal. Google Calendars RSS subscription is another option. Either results in subscribed (view only) calendars appearing in your iPhone.

Gallery


Good:

  • Nice online slideshow feature

Bad:

  • Only an entire album can be set public or private (same as Picasa, while Flickr allows individual photos to be set public/private)
  • .mp4 videos fail to play in embedded QuickTime player (me.com)
  • Dearth of features. Apple should have extended its iPhoto-Flickr plug-in: (a) display desired Flickr album within me.com; (b) display your Flickr RSS feeds within me.com.

Alternative: Flickr

The Flickr sync feature in iPhoto is very good, genius. On your iPhone, browse (Safari) to m.flickr.com. Login. Touch the “+” button at bottom, then “Add to Home Screen”. Result: instant access to your Flickr photos on your iPhone (when data roaming is on).

iDisk


Good:

  • Convenient. iDisk alias placed on user’s Mac desktop. Drag and drop works cleanly.
  • Up to 20GB storage
  • Files accessible anywhere with internet connection (no iPhone app just yet though)
  • Share files (with static links); individual file/folder password option

Bad:

  • No file syncing (why not?)
  • Share file links only last 12 months (why oh why? thus not practical for links to blog etc; should be default infinity option, with workable link so long as me.com account is current)

Alternative: SugarSync

There are actually several viable options to iDisk:

  • Flash/thumbdrive
  • USB external drive (more reliable than Flash/thumbdrive; your redundant iPod will work as one)
  • Box.net (1GB free “Lite”; 5GB $8/month “Individual”; 15GB $20/month “Business”. Static links (e.g. to embed audio files) require “Individual” account or higher.
  • SugarSync

I’m still testing SugarSync’s online disk storage product, but it appears to offer the best of all worlds: automatic folder level backups to online account, recall file version feature, online and mobile access to any file/folder (with automatic syncing of any changes), file/folder sharing (with additional password option and ability to allow other to edit and upload to any designated folder). The iPhone application, which allows file access and quick link sending to others, puts this ahead of the rest of the competition. I may write a separate review of SugarSync.

Settings (me.com)


Good:

  • Family accounts allow 5 users (versus Individual single account). “Family” users do not really need to be members of the same family, i.e. they can be your friends/colleagues, but obviously those you trust!
  • Storage: you can allocate Mail/iDisk storage as you wish, to a total of 20GB.
  • Remote Wipe: the only unique feature of me.com, and the only reason to consider the annual £59 charge. Useful if your iPhone is stolen AND data roaming is on.

Bad:

  • Find My iPhone’s fatal flaw is that it only works with data roaming on, i.e. (1) it’s expensive outside your home country (international data roaming) and (2) it’s easily circumvented by a knowledgable thief (turn data roaming off).

Alternative: Google Latitude

Same pitfall as Find My iPhone: it won’t update if you turn data roaming off. However, you can manually enter your location. Also, instead of tracking your mobile, you could use Google Latitude to track your computer/laptop (works by checking your computer’s IP settings, contantly). I’m sure someone’s used this to pin down a stolen laptop!

Overall, I’d rate MobileMe/me.com 2/5 stars. One star that it functions. Second star for Remote Wipe feature (which I’d pay for as part of Apple’s Extended Warranty service, but am having a hard time justify £59, per annum, for this single feature).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s