Dissecting MobileMe: How Useful Is It?

Lot of us work on quite a few computers and smartphones, thanks to the highly fragmented personal and professional computing environment. People these days don’t look for apps to sync their multiple computers and smartphones. They demand it. Google has a pretty good and simple syncing solution for Android phones, by linking the devices to the Gmail account.

While not as simple, Apple’s MobileMe is an elegant service that helps users stay connected over the air. From providing push sync to helping users locate missing iOS devices, MobileMe does a lot. After the break, let us take an in depth look at the usefulness of this over the air sync service.

Overview

MobileMe is billed as the easiest way to keep all your iOS devices, Mac and PC in sync. This cloud based service from Apple automatically syncs your email, contacts, and calendars over the air across all your devices. Now, that isn’t all that this web app does. If you happen to misplace your iOS device, the app will help you locate the lost iPhone or iPad as well.

Overview

Overview

If you land on Me.com and try to login with your existing Apple ID, you won’t be able to get in. First you will have to complete a sign up form to gain access. The sign up process takes place in two stages. In the first stage you will choose a username, password, location information and security information. Do note that changing the country name from the drop down will delete the data in the password fields.

The second stage is where you will have to open the wallet. A credit card is required to start your free trial. After your trial ends, the card will be charged an annual subscription fee of $99. To avoid getting charged, cancel the account before the sixty day free trial period ends.

Signup Complete

Signup Complete

Once the credit card is successfully verified, your MobileMe account details will be displayed and from here, you can proceed to set up the account.

Pricing

MobileMe has two subscription plans – Individual and Family packs. Both the plans are almost identical, except for the number of users and the storage space. An Individual subscription comes with 20GB of combined email and file storage, 200GB of monthly data transfer on top of full access to all the services.

Pricing

Pricing

The Family Pack will cost you $149 per year and comes with one Individual account with 20GB storage space and four Family Member accounts with 5GB of storage each. A free 60 day trial period with full access to all the services is made available for all users to evaluate the service.

Getting Started

After signing up you will be taken to the MobileMe inbox. The first thing you will notice about the email inbox is how radically different it is from Gmail, Yahoo or Hotmail inboxes. There are absolutely no frills or flashy design elements to speak and the three column layout looks a bit dated. On the left you will find the list of folders – which aren’t much to start with – the usual Sent, Drafts, Trash etc. However, you can create as many folders as you want and add emails to them by just dragging and dropping.

Inbox

Inbox

The middle and the right column is where the emails are listed and displayed in detail respectively. Mail operations like forwarding, archiving replying etc. can be performed by accessing the icons at the top of the app. I just couldn’t believe myself when the compose window opened as a new window. Really Apple?

Classic View

Classic View

MobileMe offers three different views to change the layout of the inbox and I found the Widescreen and Classic modes to be bearable.

Setting Up Sync

Before you start syncing your information across computers or devices, you need to set up MobileMe sync on each computer or device you want to sync. And those with a whole bunch of devices to sync should rejoice – you can set up MobileMe syncing on as many computers and devices as you want.

Setting Up a Mac

Setting Up a Mac

Setting Up MobileMe from a Mac is very straight forward. Head over to the Apple menu at the top left corner, select System Preferences, and then click MobileMe. From this window, you can choose which features and apps should sync back to the cloud. The frequency of sync can be set from here too and it can be set to sync in realtime, on a scheduled date and time or manually.

MobileMe Control Panel for Windows

MobileMe Control Panel for Windows

Despite being an Apple service, MobileMe plays well with Windows PCs too. However, you will have to download and install two apps to set up MobileMe on a PC – iTunes and the MobileMe Control Panel for Windows.

Setting Up an iPad

Setting Up an iPad

Now that the data from the computers are safely transferred to the cloud, it’s time to sync them with an iOS device of your choice. From the Settings screen select Mail, Contacts, Calendars. From the list of services listed select MobileMe and just sit back and check out all the data from your various devices sync in style. The experience in general is brilliant. It is fast, efficient and works seamlessly. I use Google Contacts to sync my iPhone all this time and had the issue of duplicate contacts (for every contact entry, there will be an additional identical entry), but that didn’t happen with MobileMe sync. Whether you own an iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch, the drill for setting up sync is the same.

Calendar

To switch between the apps of MobileMe, use the Cloud icon on the top left corner of the screen and select from the gorgeous overlay. I was pleasantly surprised when I saw the Calendar app. It’s minimal without the bells and whistles of the market leader, Google Calendar and may be that’s exactly why I liked it so much. The large and spacious layouts and design elements are awesome and you don’t have to squint your eyes to make sense of your schedule.

Calendar View

Calendar View

The app works just like any other modern calendar app and supports repeat events, alerts and multiple views. You can alter your schedule by just moving the meetings around and can have multiple calenders to achieve work-life balance.

Gallery

To put things in perspective, the Gallery app is supposed to be the Picasa of MobileMe. Well, in reality it isn’t. The app is clearly lacking in features and except for being a cloud based backup service for your priceless photos, there isn’t much you could do with it. You can rotate uploaded images and a few settings, but that’s just about it.

Album Settings

Album Settings

The app syncs photos from iPhoto and Aperture apps from a Mac, but if you are PC user, you are out of look. But as a small consolation, you can upload photos from your iPhone or from the emails received. A public URL for your Gallery to share with friends and family is a notable addition.

iDisk

iDisk is your own personal storage space in the cloud. Consider it to be the stripped down version of Dropbox if you may. You can store files on your iDisk and access them anytime from any Mac, Windows computer and iOS devices.

iDisk

iDisk

You can also put files on your iDisk that you want to share with others, including files too large to email. To do that, you will have to email people the link to your public iDisk folder.

Find My iPhone

Turning on Find My iPhone

Turning on Find My iPhone

A lot of people purchased their MobileMe subscriptions thanks to this feature and it works like magic! Interestingly enough, though, if you have an iPad, iPhone 4, or fourth-generation iPod Touch, you can now activate Find my iPhone for your device for free, without a full MobileMe subscription.

Since we have already associated the MobileMe account with the iPhone, just ensure that the location services is turned on to use this feature.

Found my iPhone

Found my iPhone

As soon as you hit the Find my iPhone icon, the search begins and within seconds your phone’s location will displayed on a Google Map. I found the location to be very precise and there are additional options to make the iPhone alert you of its hiding place.

Message to the Finder

Message to the Finder

Type a message to intimate the one who found the mobile with your contact information or alternatively make the iPhone make a noise. If you find the device to be in an unknown neighbourhood and are sure that it can’t be retrieved, use the lock or wipe the device feature to render the device useless to the one who “finds” your iPhone. In my opinion, this is the star feature of the entire bundle.

Final Thoughts

Simply put, MobileMe is half baked at best and is nowhere near the quality that Apple is known across the globe for. Sure, there are some cool and interesting features, but given the fact that this is a paid service (a highly priced one at that), they simply don’t cut it. Mail and Gallery apps are absolute disasters and they bring down the overall rating of the app. iDisk has a lot of potential and combined with the Find my iPhone feature, MobileMe would become a crowd puller overnight, if there is a major revamp of the other apps.

In its present state, I wouldn’t recommend MobileMe for anyone as it does not offer a lot of value for the money you are paying. My verdict is wait to for a few weeks to see if Apple is announcing the much awaited revamped MobileMe. Rest assured, if there is a new version of the suite, you will read about it here!

Share Your Thoughts!

Are you using MobileMe? How do you feel about the app and have you renewed the subscription beyond the first year?


Summary

MobileMe is a subscription service that makes it easy to access your email, contacts, calendars, photos, and important files from wherever you are. It stores your information in the cloud, and automatically syncs it with your Mac, iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, or Windows computer.

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  • Ok, I have to speak up here. Because I think you’re fairly dramatically missing the mark, especially with regards to your comments on the mail interface.

    “The first thing you will notice about the email inbox is how radically different it is from Gmail, Yahoo or Hotmail inboxes.”

    Am I missing something or are you really using this as a negative? Are you seriously suggesting that gmail and hotmail are design triumphs? They’re nightmares.

    “There are absolutely no frills or flashy design elements to speak and the three column layout looks a bit dated.”

    I’m sorry, again this is being compared to what? Gmail? Apple’s mail interface is a pixel perfect clean minimal and elegant layout. I’m not sure what you are looking for in terms of frills or flashy design, it’s an email client. The goal is to present to you emails in a usable and elegant way. Which is does and does significantly better than gmail does.

    How can a 3 column layout be dated? This isn’t a 90’s data driven monster site with content centered. You can’t just deem that because it’s using a 3 column layout that it’s in the same boat as those archaic sites.

    It’s using the minimal 3 layers of hierarchy that is required to efficiently display your email inbox.

    Not to mention it’s a far more efficient layout than a side bar + horizontal split ‘classic’ email pane. Emails are very purposeful designed and crafted to be displayed optimally on a portrait sized space. Not to mention that also makes for better reading on straight textual emails.

    Again I cannot see how this is any kind of a failure because they have enough insight in to the way emails are crafted to produce the most efficient layout as their base template.

    Popping out a new window, yeah ok.. its a dated practice by these standards, but is there anything but “web2.0” snobbery making that argument valid? Does it REALLY hamper the user experience?

    No, not really. It’s replicating a windowed application. Any desktop mail client does the same.

    Is apple worried about offending a web elitist who thinks that spawning a popup window is satanic? or are they more concerned with recreating a workflow that people are familiar with. Say, those used to using mail.app or outlook. Think about it, really.

    Overall I fairly strongly disagree with your diagnosis here, I think you’ve been more than a little short sighted in regards to the mail client.

    Generally otherwise, you’re right. It’s not worth the money, and I only personally keep it because I continue to use the @me.com email address.

    • Besides agreeing with your points, I’d also like to offer an alternate perspective on the opening of a new window issue for the OP.

      As far as I’m concerned, there’s a good reason desktop clients do this, and it carries over naturally to the web: if I’m writing an email and need to make reference to a conversation in a different email, how else am I supposed to get at the information efficiently?

      What’s easier? Flipping between a compose window and the main inbox where I’ve got the other email open, or writing a bit, saving a draft, navigating to the other email, reading, flipping back to my draft, writing more, saving…etc.

      And that’s just one instance of where I’d much prefer having the compose window open separately. If that kind of user friendliness and attention to email usage patterns is archaic then I’m happy to be a dinosaur, I suppose!

  • To be fair, Greg, the three column layout may feel dated to many people because Microsoft Outlook has been using it since the 90s. But then again, every email client looks dated to me. However, the appearance is very nice. Much better than Google, Yahoo or any webmail service. I would like to see an email client that gives you options for the layout. Maybe I only want 1 pane for my email, not two or three. Maybe I want a large top pane with a small scrolling thumbnail list at the bottom.
    It is funny to me that in the days of “the most advanced operating system in the world” we still don’t have the level of customization we did with OS 9.

  • Yep i’m with the others here Justin – MobileMe’s webmail is probably the one awesome thing about it and it’s saviour. It’s by far the most enjoyable webmail experience i’ve ever found.

    For me the big downfall (and subject you didn’t go into much) is the lack of ability to really use MobileMe on your own domain. Considering the cost you would expect that to be a given, but it’s really not. In the beginning you couldn’t even send mail without it appearing as ‘from’ your me.com account. They fixed that but have now made the same mistake with the new calendar format. I now cannot invite anyone to an event without that invite having MobileMe branding all over it and the from address being my me.com account instead of my own domain.

    With the old calendar system the whole MobileMe solution was probably the best i’d found for over-the-air sync of contacts and calendar with a truly useful IMAP mail system. The recent calendar change has forced me away and back to Google Apps but to tell you the truth, the whole experience is just a nightmare. I’m really looking forward to something to change with MobileMe so that I can go back to it.

  • Great post Justin. To the previous posters, just because you spent $100 a year on MobileMe doesn’t make that piece of crap email system better than Gmail. The very suggestion that MobileMe’s email interface is in any way better than Gmail is insanely laughable. The extensibility of Gmail is staggering. Also, you can’t disregard labels in favor of folders and claim to have an interface worthy of being called modern. MobileMe is a complete and utter joke.

    • I feel like were seeing the coin from two different sides.

      As is usually the case with google, their technology is fantastic, design is awful ( or non existent ) my comments are aimed at usability of me design. And the op’s over the top criticising of good design.

      Please don’t insinuate that I’m here defending my investment, for one thing my boss pays for my account, I just enjoy the elegantly implemented ui of apples webmail more than the powerful yet mad under design of gmail.

      Why do you think there are so many external gmail clients? It’s not because their browser design is good.

  • The mail reason I use MobileMe is for the Find My iPhone and sync across multiple computers and devices.

    Though I’ve gotta say that the day-at-a-time calendar view is by far the best of any web service I have used. I even prefer using it over iCal.

    It looks great (like a page-per-day calendar) while also showing all my appointments in a timeline, as well as a list summary.

    I also think the layout and design of the Mail in MobileMe is incredibly elegant and minimalist, however there is no groundbreaking functionality that they provide. With regard to the pop-up window for emails, it is a plus to be able to drag the window on to other screens and spaces where I have information that I need to reference, this is something I do all the time with Mail.app, and so it certainly is a feature rather than an annoyance for me.