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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