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Summary:

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 […]

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 http://www.me.com, 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

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. 

iDisk

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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  1. I believe that MMe will eventually be a good thing…but I have experienced (twice now) a complete blackout of my contacts. This was very scary! I had my contacts set on my iPhone to sync via MMe…and it worked great…uhh, when it worked. But out of nowhere my contacts would disappear. I couldn’t understand why, but had found out that a lot of other users were having the same problem. This is very scary when you are trying to call a client when you are on the road. Very frustrating!!!

  2. Oh..and one more thing. Now that I no longer keep my contacts synced via MMe, I tried at least having the Safari bookmarks synced…never worked! The only thing working is iCal. Until they get it right I’m playing it safe by plugging my iPhone in to sync!

  3. I agree with the you entirely as I have never suffered a problem with MMe since I got my iPhone. Yes I will be sticking with it as well and I am happy to wait for the improvements that will come with time.

  4. But still Microsoft offers essentially the same for free.

    You have Live.com for email, calendar and contacts and Live Mesh (or Skydrive) for a few gigs of storage online. Both for cell phones with Windows Mobile.

    It’s just not as polished and colofrul as Apple’s solution.

    (Sure, you have other sync options – when some apps support it, etc., but still it’s not worth $100 in my opinion)

    Don’t get me wrong. I love Apple hardware and desktop software… I just don’t think MobileMe is the right product.

  5. I think you are wrong with the Mail application not having Push. While the rest of the services sync, the Mail application always pushes emails to and fro (that is, when the service is working right).

  6. One very aggravating thing about the MobileMe sync with my iPhone is custom ringtones assigned to contacts. These get reset to “Default” every time a sync occurs. I have about 30 people to whom I assign custom ringtones and it’s a major pain to reset them. I have seen my ringtone settings last less than 5 minutes.
    I assume this is because my mac’s Address Book and my MobileMe contacts do not have a field for ringtone.
    Come on, Apple. Fix this!!!!!

  7. I always thought dot mac was worth $99, but MM since its first configuration has been a beta app. Initially, It lost mail, forgot passwords and doubled or tripled everything I synced.

    When, after 4 months of trying, I syill couldn’t sync my key chains between 2 computers, I gave up and quit.

    I generally love Apple and I’m a big fan of Macs, but this software has been only a disaster for me and no way will I ever go back to it

  8. Scuba,

    Sorry for the problems you’re having. I “lost” — actually, not lost, I tuned sync off and back on to get them — my contacts once, but that was a while ago. I currently sync contacts to three Macs and two iPhones without a ripple.

    As for Bookmarks, I sync mine to two Macs, one iPhone, and one PC (two PCs if you count my VM) with zero problems.

    Halogan,

    No, Microsoft does not offer the same services. I run the Windows Live stuff on a PC and also played with both Live Mesh and Folder Share.

    First, what they do offer is beta; there is no way I’d move to the cloud with them until they at least pull the beta tag off. That likely won’t happen for another six months or more.

    Second, even then it’s still not enough. Where is my iPhone push and syncing? Where is my Mac-to-Mac syncing (mail rules, keychain, etc.)? Where is Back to my Mac? Where is bookmark syncing? etc.

    Third, as “free”, I have to put up with ads on the web pages and in their IM. I do not like ads. Some of the services, such as Hotmail, have pay accounts with no ads, but then it’s not “free” anymore anyway.

    Finally, as I said in the article, even if not Microsoft there are other services you could use to assemble a “similar” solution, but I have no interest in doing so. I mean, for $8 (or less) a month? What’s your time worth?

    Michael,

    The desktop Mail application sends emails via push, but it does not receive them that way. It does not receive until it checks for them (which for me is once a minute). My iPhone rings when it’s been pushed an email, and I have to wait up to 60 seconds to then see it on the desktop (or just check manually, which I usually do at that point since I know something’s there).

  9. Tom,
    Really? I remember trying to turn it off and on and it not working:( But I’m open to try it again. It’s just an awful feeling when it happens and you’re not at home and you can’t remember anyones phone number…

  10. Tom:
    Microsoft’s solution is not Mac-to-Mac, more like Windows-to-Windows. I know it’s OS centric, but why should I pay for something on one platform, when I get it for free on another platform.

    As for beta: At least Microsoft is honest enough to tell you it’s beta, whereas Apple releases a very buggy service… and charges for it.

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