MobileMe: What it Syncs, When it Syncs, and Why I’m Staying With It

Recently MacLife magazine reviewed Apple’s MobileMe service. My problem with the review is that it lists something as a negative that continues to spread misinformation: 

Doesn’t “push” your email instantly, rather every 15 minutes.

This is wrong. In this article I’ll touch on what gets synced with MobileMe, when it occurs, and why I’m happy with it. 

First, keep in mind the following about MobileMe:

  • Many think MMe is just email, contacts, and calendars, but that underrates the service. I’ll discuss everything MMe can sync.
  • The sync process depends on what is syncing, and where the update was made. 
  • Updates can be made on as many as three different “device types.” I’ll refer to them as the Web, which means you’re logged into, the iPhone, and the Desktop, which means a desktop computer.
  • While the iPhone and desktop can have their sync/push configured, the web always syncs/pushes. 

Calendars and Contacts

I’m assuming you have Push enabled on your iPhone, and ‘Automatically’ enabled on the desktop. 

Any change made on the iPhone or Web will be pushed to all three devices. In other words, iPhone and Web are “true” push, in that the change is propagated immediately everywhere.

However, a change made on Desktop is not pushed immediately, but rather takes as long as 15 minutes to be sent. This is because the ‘Automatically’ setting in sync is actually on a 15-minute timer. Obviously, this is not true push, and it’s what Apple clarified after the MobileMe launch, stating that they will no longer use the word “push” unless and until they change this. Keep in mind this doesn’t change that iPhone and Web do push, only Desktop does not. 

To sum up, iPhone and Web both send and receive calendar and contact data via true push. Desktop receives data via push, but sends only at regular intervals up to 15 minutes. 


Mail works differently than Contacts and Calendars. This is because Desktop has its own setting for checking Mail (i.e., it does not use the ‘Automatically’ setting above). 

For iPhone and Web, an email sent to you is received instantly. Again, this is a true push. For Desktop, email will be received at the interval set for checking (as often as one minute). So Desktop does not receive via true push, though checking every minute is pretty close. 

To sum up, iPhone and Web send and receive mail data via true push. Desktop sends mail immediately, but otherwise receives at the interval set in the Mail app.

Bookmarks, Widgets, Dock items, Keychains, Mail Accounts, Mail Rules and Sigs, Notes, and Preferences

These are the remaining items on the Sync tab in MobileMe System Preferences. While most of these don’t apply to iPhone or Web, those that do (such as Bookmarks) are pushed when updated.

On Desktop, however, just like Calendars and Contacts, these are not pushed; an update takes up to 15 minutes to get sent. Many of these (such as Mail Rules) only apply if you have multiple Macs, so a change on one Mac may take 15 minutes to reach another. 

To sum up, once again we see that iPhone and Web operate via push, whereas Desktop will receive updates via push, but send at 15 minute intervals. 


Finally, we come to the last sync option within MobileMe. The biggest difference with iDisk syncing compared to the others is that it’s not based on time. In fact, there are only two options for syncing your iDisk, either you do it manually, or automatically.

In iDisk, ‘Automatically’ works as you would expect it to. Instead of waiting up to 15 minutes, it notes a change and triggers accordingly. This seems to be true no matter where the change is made. How quickly the change is propagated depends on your connection speed and the size of the file(s) changed, but generally speaking the sync starts quickly. 

To sum up, if set to update automatically iDisk syncs whenever changes are made to it. 

Why I’m staying with MobileMe

With my iPhone set to push, my desktop Mail set to check every minute, and MobileMe and iDisk syncing set to  ‘Automatically’, I don’t worry about any of the above. Basically, it just works.

It’s true that when I enter contact or calendar data on the desktop it won’t hit the iPhone or Web for up to 15 minutes, but since I’m actually at the desktop (obviously) when that occurs I’ve never been bothered by the wait. Same is true for any Mac-to-Mac change; if I’m at a Mac and change a Mail Rule, I’m not concerned it may not hit the other Mac for 15 minutes. 

Email is even less of an issue. It’s not pushed, but I get it within 60 seconds. 

Sure, I’d like Apple to make Mail, Address Book and iCal push clients — and wouldn’t mind a few features that Exchange has — but the above issues are pretty trivial. How often do you make, say, a contact change on the desktop and then have to see it on another device within 15 minutes? How often will waiting 60 seconds for emails at your desk be an issue?

While I had numerous gripes with the initial rollout, thought there were too many early bugs, and think the web interface still needs work, I love MobileMe now. I have three Macs, one PC, two iPhones, and an iPod touch syncing with the service on various levels. It’s working great.

I have zero interest in potential alternatives that must be assembled from disparate third-party software and services. Seems to me that’s just the software equivalent of cobbling together your own PC instead of simply buying one. I like it all under one umbrella, and consider $8 a month (even less through Amazon) very reasonable for what I’m getting. Syncing works great for me, it’s simple to configure, and the non-push items are just not an issue in the real world.

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