10 Ways to Make MobileMe Perfect

78 Comments

When Phil Schiller unveiled MobileMe onstage at WWDC in 2008 and described it as “exchange for the rest of us,” I was sold. Who wouldn’t be? All my email, contacts and calendar data pushed to all my devices, all of the time? My entire digital life kept seamlessly, perfectly synchronized with zero effort on my part? I was completely sold.

But MobileMe had a rocky start. By “rocky,” I mean to say that it was an unmitigated disaster, released to the public when it wasn’t even properly baked. Since then, only about five people (including me) have bothered to pay for an annual subscription. But despite all that early negative coverage, I can honestly say that the vast majority of the time, MobileMe works brilliantly.

Of course, there are things that could be done to improve it. And at a time when about half of all new Macs are sold to Switchers, and the iPhone is dominating the smartphone market, it seems a prudent time to ponder what Apple (s aapl) could do to make MobileMe not only brilliant, but irresistible.

So, in no particular order…

Webmail

The web-based mail interface is sleek, minimal and…a bit rubbish. I totally get Apple’s design aesthetic, but every other webmail service on the planet offers more compelling functionality and mail management. The UI feels like it was made in 1998, not 2008. There’s no reason it can’t make it totally modern and totally “Apple.”

Performance

This is another web app issue. The web-based Mail, Contacts and Calendar are too slow. There are odd days when they just pop on the screen -– sometimes so fast I have to wonder whether it was the browser doing a little javascript burp. But other days they’re so painfully slow they time out. This happens to me on different machines, on different networks, in different browsers.

Browsers

While we’re on the subject of browsers…if Google (s goog) can get Gmail to work in different browsers without resorting to smug incompatibility warnings, Apple should be able to do the same. Dear Apple Engineers: So what if a customer is using IE7? Plenty of people are. That’s not going to change any day soon. Stop worrying about it and just deal with it.

Sync Speed

There are times when a change takes an interminable length of time to propagate through the system to my other devices. Not often, but it would just be awesome if that never happened.

Gallery Overhaul

The MobileMe Gallery looks beautiful. It’s also fantastic for sharing pictures and videos with family who would feel intimidated in Flickr. Yet, Apple really ought to look hard at Flickr and take notes; there’s a lot more the Gallery could do to make it a killer web app.

Massive Storage Upgrade

This one’s easy. In fact, I expect to see this happen, and soon. Google offers gigabytes upon gigabytes of free storage via Gmail, Picasa and Google Docs. Even Microsoft (s msft) offers more generous storage with Mesh, FolderSync and other Windows Live services. By comparison, MobileMe’s 20GB is not only meager, it’s downright mean-spirited.

More Granular Sharing Options

A MobileMe “family pack” already exists, but doesn’t offer the same kind of flexibility and fine-grained data-sharing one would find in an Exchange service. I’d love to “link” my MobileMe account with my spouse’s so we can both access and edit selected calendars. A global address book would be awesome, too. In a multi-Mac/iPhone household, that kind of granular sharing would be invaluable.

iPhone Backup

Speaking of iPhones, how about automatic wireless backup of an iPhone’s other data not already synced through MobileMe? Sure, emails, contacts and calendars are already covered, as well as Safari Bookmarks. But how about adding SMS messages to that list? Or application preferences? I dream of a day when I can restore my iPhone, or migrate to a new iPhone, and not have to spend an inordinate amount of time tediously configuring app settings one by one; instead, I’d enter my MobileMe data into the iPhone and a few minutes later all my preferences for all installed apps would be set for me. Bliss!

iWork.com

Schiller did say that iWork.com was free while it remained in beta. So once that service gets upgraded into something worth actually using (issues which range far beyond the scope of this article!) and Apple starts charging us to use it, it makes sense that all paying MobileMe subscribers should get unfettered access. Right?

iTunes in the Cloud

Imagine being able to synchronize your entire iTunes library (and I do mean everything in your library) to the cloud and then being able to access it over the web through any Internet-connected device. Would that be worth something to you? Say, $99 per year?

So there you have it — that’s my modest list. Ten simple suggestions for improving and expanding the MobileMe service that will make it a no-brainer for both Mac and PC users alike.

What do you think MobileMe needs to lift it from the doldrums? Share your ideas in the comments below, but, do me a favor -– resist saying “You’re crazy for paying when Gmail is free.” I know I’m crazy. But this isn’t about me.

Related GigaOM Pro content (sub req’d):

Is It Time for the “Web OS”?

78 Comments

ben

I really want them to link it to my iPhone voice mail similar to Google Voice so I can retrieve my voicemails anywhere in the world I have web-access.

Ben

John

There are huge performance issues all over Europe. You can’t use iDisk for anything but small files. I guess Apple is too cheap to get some servers in Europe as well. This is a huge problem for the service.

chrish

Reduce the price to $20/year and/or make it free for Mac owners. MobileMe as it stands is ridiculously overpriced for what you get.

If you’re going to continue to charge for it, it had better offer a lot more than “competing” free services.

Ronald Lamars

re: Browsers.

I do not agree Apple Engineers should stop worrying about ie7 and just deal with it. I think anyone who consciously uses ie7 (or whatever version) should accept some nuisance. Just as the rest of us are forced to accept websites designed and intended solely for ie, and have a crippled or no acces at all (microsoft exchange, for example?).

the truth is: ‘There is a War’ (Leonard Cohen).

GoLo

So because web developers are lazy we should advocate that Apple takes the moral low ground?

Phonefreek

Really deb? All you have to do is turn off buzz with one click of the mouse. Not a great reason to jump ship to an inferior product.

Neil Shorey

Hi, you maybe interested to know that SMEStorage, the multi-cloud data access gateway, supports MobileME. Using MobileMe via the SMEStorage gateway adds extra features such as file encryption, file sharing via RSS and Twitter and lots of other features.

Also, if you purchase the LifeTime Cloud Option you can combine MobileMe with up to 9 other storage clouds giving you access to an amazing amount of storage.

BTW I am a developer at SMEStorage.

Ian Moffatt

Have to agree with Charles there. Plus I can still use
a mac.com email address!

Ian

Deb

Nothing personally against the people above wishing calendar invitations, collaborations, contacts sharing with family/spouse but i recently switched from Gmail to MobileMe [currently on a 60-day free trial, will buy soon] because google created the ‘Buzz’!

I really want my email & contacts to be separate, no one have to know about them. I don’t care about sharing my location, contacts, my breakfast list or color of shirt i am wearing via email. I like MobileMe for not-letting me do all that.

And i am a Windows user, may be / may not be switching to a Mac. Thats an entirely different decision. I want to pay & keep using MobileMe regardless.

My only wish as the author mentions if the web interface could be improved. By improvement i don’t mean add tons of features, just make it fast & responsive all the bloddy time! I even get 4/6 Can’t Send Email responses everyday, it just times out. Really Apple is it that hard?

Rob Oakes

If you are just trying to keep your email, calendar and contacts separate, you might take a look at Zimbra or hosted Exchange.

I get an account through my website provider (brinkster.com), and I’ve been very happy with it. Moreover, you get 200 GB of online storage for $4 /month. It works with all of my computers (Mac, Linux, Windows) and has been rock solid.

Steve

I agree with this whole list, and a bunch of little things:

– Add comments on pictures in photo galleries

– Let me create Reminders for my iphone and iCal from within the Calendar web-app (currently impossible)

– Fix the Calendar Web App. When you try to set a time for an appointment it very often tells me the start time is after the end time… even when it isn’t. Never a problem on any other platform

– Threaded conversations in webmail, please.

– iDisk – Integrate it into Snow Leopard. I can get to my iDisk in Finder, drag files into my public folder… but to share them with a link I need to open Firefox, surf to MobileMe, login, go to the iDisk page, click Public, find the file, click share, copy and paste the code manually…. Why can’t I just right click the file in Finder and say “Share and copy code to clipboard?”

– WebApp Reloating – Calendar and Contacts will often just reload themselves… mid-edit, losing my changes.

– Gallery – Photo galleries will appear, but when I try to open one I very often get a “Loading” screen forever.

– Gallery – Apple lets others upload to your gallery… but then you can’t edit the order of the photos without iPhoto. So even if a gallery was sorted by date, when someone adds new photos… they just get piled at the top.

– Gallery – And how about some way to identify who uploaded what photos, while we’re at it? Or even subdivide the gallery somehow into who uploaded what, with tabs? I have a trip I went on that has thousands of uploaded photos by like 10 people who attended. That’s too many to look through.

These are all things any heavy user of MobileMe would experience. So does Apple not have people using MobileMe all the time and looking for ways to improve it? Very weak.

Jim

I was using it way back when it was iTools (and was free!). I did sign-up when it fist switched names to .Mac – but quickly grew tired of slow or non-existent syncing, slow email with no spam-filtering (Gmail’s spam filters are awesome!). The final straw was when Apple forced iWeb down my throat, rather than easy and elegant way it used to be. And as others have stated already, the Calendard features (or lack of) are just a joke.

In my opinion, Apple needs to focus on bringing the existing feature set up to speed with other providers offering more features for free (such as Gmail) before they think about adding new features.

I’m actually OK with the 20GB cap of storage and paying for more. I doubt even with my Flickr photos that I would hit that cap any time soon.

The only other problem is that Apple tends to be fickle. Apple’s MobileMe service could go away, raise its price, add or remove features at any time — and Apple could care less what you think about it. For some reason, I trust that Google’s Gmail, Docs, Calendar services just aren’t going anywhere any time soon – so I trust it more.

adam jackson

Just make it WORK.

I spent two hours today trying to get some rogue Google Calendar invites that were read only out of my Me.com / iPhone sync. I had to disable calendar syncing on the iPhone, remove the calendars from iCal, reimport my calendars, run some crappy applescript that deletes Google Calendar files from the iCal ICS XML code then replace calendar date from my iMac to Mobile Me then from Mobile Me back to my MacBook Air. Finally, I had to replace all calendar data on my iPhone via iTunes sync then re-enable iCal sync.

All for a few calendars that simply got out of sync and I had 4 duplicates all repeating every week FOREVER that couldn’t be removed and showed up on my iPhone every thursday at 2PM.

Apple needs to fix this BS.

Oh and then I open Finder, iDisk was out of sync…. I kept trying to resync no luck. had to disable iDisk syncing from sys preferences and then re-enable to fix it.

I have an iMac 27″, Macbook Air, Windows PC and iPhone 3GS. At least one of them is always screwed up in some way when it comes to syncing.

Rob Oakes

Wow. Sounds like an enormous headache. And you pay for this? Why not just go with Google Calendar and Google Sync? It does the exact same thing, but “just works.”

Or for that matter, you could go with Zimbra. I’ve got a Zimbra account through my webhosting company that I’ve been using for the better part of two years. It syncs to my MacBook Pro, desktop (Linux) and home PC (Windows) without any problem whatsoever.

Bree

I use MM for “Find my iPhone”. Hubs and I will check in on each other (where in the commute are you so I can have dinner ready…) or just pop a message onto each others phones.

You can get many of the other services free elsewhere though, so it’s hard to justify $99. That’s where Amazon comes in though.

I do love the synching and it would be great to have iTunes in the cloud. I’ve read rumors that is what they will use Lala for though, anyone know if that’s true?

Gazoobee

I agree with most of this except the part about the email interface being old-fashioned. Not sure what you’re talking about there but it seems like a personal aesthetics issue you’re having more than anything.

For me the webmail is almost un-useably slow and has been from it’s inception. The syncing is also unreliable, slow, and worse, seems to be mostly manually initiated. It drives me crazy for instance that I have to open my iphone and check my email every time just to get rid of the red badges when the email has already been marked as read in the cloud. These changes are not propagated until you actually access the mail folder, so that’s hardly even something that can be called “syncing” at all is it.

I also end up with multiple folders and assorted junk links in each of my various computers based on what MobileMe *thinks* I want to do. This is more a complete failure of the whole IMAP concept than anything, but it would be nice to have the service actually match the advertisement for it. Bt that I mean it would be nice to have my email in the cloud, and to have all my devices have a synced copy of this “master” email record. Even though this is how the service is sold, it never actually does that and one can’t actually rely on the email and all the folders being the same in each device.

Overall, I’d like to see them work on the actual “sync” part. Almost nothing on MobileMe actually syncs with anything. For instance I can have my iDisk on the desktop, or load it from the cloud on any of my computers, but it isn’t actually synced no matter what settings you use. When you go to open the mounted disk it (sometimes) initiates a sync, but more often you have to manually trigger it and then wait for the files to transfer. Even the times it initiates the sync automatically, it’s not really a “synced folder” if it doesn’t do it automatically in the background but simply waits for the first time you access it and then drags the files over.

All through the system, it relies on manual cues from the user to initiate syncing and simply does not keep things in sync without that input. Microsoft’s solution might not be the best, but at least it’s an actual synced folder and at least the mail in exchange is actually synced automatically and in all folders.

Phonefreek

-easier calendar sharing (gmail has this)
-able to send from other email addresses… OUTSIDE of me.com (gmail has)
-more storage so I can have an “archive” of emails (gmail has this)
-speed up the web app

So why am I paying for mobileme again??

Khürt

I dropped MobileMe in favour of free syncing to Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Contacts, Flickr, (via Mail, iCal, AddressBook, iPhoto) and Dropbox. I’ve got Google Docs as an iWork.com stand-in.

jem

MobileMe’s biggest problem is the complete lack of speed, it so slow (at least in Europe) that it’s useless.

Mona

I’ve been using MM for about a year now, got a macbook pro & iphone; hubby has a PC & iphone. Would LOVE to be able to share calendars with him & the kids in our family pack – we both use google email and never use our me.com email because google email is free & unlimited & will presumably (as of now) last forever; I may one day decide not to pay for MM and would hate to have to deal with changing emails again. Your list makes sense and if apple did even half of those things I may actually use the features that I’ve been paying for. Right now, just the syncing & find my phone functions are all I really use!

anon

Mona,

My family shares calendars via mobile me. My wife and I created calendars in ical for each of us (and our two kids) on our imac. We both have iphones setup with the same mobile me account. Mobile Me keeps both of our phones and mac in sync. I have my calendar set as primary on my iphone but I can see/edit all four calendars via my iphone. In the same way we share the address book. It’s great to be able to look at the all calendars view to see if there is any availability when planning family stuff. It works well for us.

-anon

Daniel

What keeps me from even considering switching from Gmail to mobileMe is the online calendar and the way it allows absolutely no cooperation with mail. It seems insane to me that somebody asks $99/y for a service that can’t even accept calendar invitations and invite people to calendar events… And can I subscribe to calendars in mobileMe on line calendar…?

CJ

I agree with Daniel’s points and would add — why can’t I set an alarm for a calendar event on MobileMe?!? It drives me crazy to have to plan how to add events to my calendar. If I add an event using MobileMe I cannnot invite others OR add an alarm… If I add an event on my iPhone I can add an alarm but cannot invite others… The only fully functional option is my home mac! So at the end of the day I have to sit down and “fix” all of my calendar entries. There must be a more elegant way to do this…

hmurchison

I like Mobileme (Family Pack user here)

I haven’t even taken advantage of the Galleries or iWeb yet but just the syncing feature alone is almost worth the money (Amazon prices here folks)

I want speed as well and I want iWork.com to be a part of Mobileme (will come in handy when I get an iPad). I hope Apple’s forthcoming Datacenter in North Carolina is going to be used to boost up Mobileme.

I’d also like more of a desktop native feel. Something like Mailplane (which is a desktop encasing for gmail) which give more more of a native desktop feel on Macs.

I want the sync options to become more granular. I’m reading developers who aren’t using Mobileme sync because it’s just not granular enough for their data types. From a developer’s perspective it appears that Mobileme needs to become more sophisticated.

Nan

You’d better make that 6 people who have it. I’ve carried it since it was .mac.
I’m with you on the list. I’m sorry to see that someone else is experiencing the problems I have with it. I don’t like it but it has certain charms I’m unable to turn away from, Damn you Apple!

I’m completely synched with it on my iPod Touch. I’m never parted from that device. I have all my mail and my huge gallery of photos (app). Because of MobileMe, I only use my Mac to down load music, apps, etc to iTunes.

I did discover that I can buy it outside of Apple to save a few bucks a year.

Excellent article, thanks for sharing!

Mcwop

The online mail App simply does not work – it is horrible. It was the reason I switched to Gmail. Synching is shaky too, especially with calendar, and the address book. They need to simply fix the basics, before they can go any further.

Sara

iTunes syncing? That sounds like the most fabulous pipe dream. But it would only take a few dozen people like me who measure the libraries in terras to make them go no way.

Maybe just syncing the stuff I bought thru iTunes? It would be a good start and honestly I might sign up just for that feature.

But I’m still going to use Google docs because when I share with someone they don’t have to pay to get in there and get dirty with the document. And until they make more changes to things like that to make it smoother to interact with nonApple users it just won’t be my go to. I’ve tried. I want to like it but not yet.

GoLo

Disagree. The point with iTunes Synching isn’t that you download your purchases, rip your CDs then upload them to Apple. It’s that Apple recognises matches in your database either via metadata or some Shazam-like nifty-ism and adds said tunes to your account database.

Where it falls down for me is that I actively avoid AAC encoded tracks even without DRM. I want my music to be as portable as possible and like MP3 thanks.

Actually, maybe this is better something for Amazon…

Galley

A thought I had last night was Safari’s RSS feature. Perhaps the feeds and read states could be synced via MobileMe.

impaler

I really really want to use the RSS feature. It is too limited for me. Google Reader lets me read feeds from my Windows PeeCee at work, both my Macs, old fashioned cell phones, and of course on my iPhone. The sync is broken at best and is currently reported as broken with 10.6.2, due to fixed. The problem is that the sync status will only update if both machines are running the same version of Mac OS X. Rubbish. Shouldn’t matter.

Sam

Unfortunately for me, my company is still in the dark ages with it’s corporate email and means of accessing it; So I’ve been using MobileMe since Aug09, and it has been by far better than my experience with company email…sucks that iPhone MobileMe Account doesn’t Recognize ICS files but when you create an Exchange Accnt via iPhone that accnt recognizes ICS files…my only bug to pick thusfar…

Kyle

I really wanted to like MobileMe, especially because I use a variety of computers – 2 mac’s & a windows machine at work. A mac, 2 windows machines and a linux machine at home, as well as having an iPhone. So the idea of syncing between them would be great – email, calendar, documents and music are what I need to sync. And this is where the problem is.

MobileMe charges for an email service that is significantly inferior to my 6 year old Gmail account, ditto the calendaring service. Most of my work is done via google docs, because I refuse to pay for an office suite when the free version does everything I need quickly, and thus all my documents are already held in the cloud. So all I’m left with to use is iDisk, which is slow and painful on a Windows machine at the best of times, and even worse over my iPhone. So the service doesn’t help me at all, and that is Apple’s problem – people already have free services that do all the jobs that MobileMe does, and they do them better.

If they got iTunes syncing working that would be fantastic, but only if it allowed you to sync non-iTunes purchased songs, something I think they would have serious problems with getting the licensing for.

It’s a shame, as like Andy I want to use the service, and I will pay, once it catches up to the market demand.

Niels Rasmussen

I use mobileme because I want to go All-Apple. I´m trying to get rid of google, but it is hard because all their webapps simply works.

I´m from Denmark and it´s annoying that mobileme isn´t translated into Danish yet – that´s what I call lazyness (Steve!!).

Another thing that would be nice-to-have is a feedreader and of course iWork as webapps as well.

I hope that Apple will put a lot more labour in mobileme now when they got all the hardware in place that one could need.

Rob Oakes

Why would you want to go all Apple? Or for that matter, all Google or all Microsoft? Completely turning over all your data and computing infrastructure is a recipe for disaster. Right now, Apple is at a peak; but what happens in ten years when they are in another valley and you *need* to move to another platform because their offerings are no longer adequate? Relying on a single computer vendor makes such a switch very difficult. If the vendor happens to be Apple, it is just about impossible.

CSBeer

As a small business owner with five collaborators spread across the US, I long for the day Apple seizes the small business space and transforms MobileMe into MobileBiz. They…just…need…to…grab…it.

Andy

I really, really want to like MobileMe and was the same for dotmac. I want to use it. I even want to pay good money for it but every year it just doesn’t add enough features to make me give it another go.

To me it doesn’t feel like an Apple product, it feels like its what they can get away with rather than being the best. I’m not saying that there aren’t good/useful features included but like your article says I want more. More feature, more reliability, more inovation.

Come on Apple I have money I WANT to give you… what you waiting for???

Charles Martin

I barely ever use the web-based apps, but I very much like that they perform almost identically to the desktop apps, so I’m really not sure what you’re on about there.

For me, the AD-FREE and UNSEARCHED email is a plus, the iWeb publishing is a plus, the iDisk is a damn useful plus (but I’m with you on its speed and size), but what makes MobileMe worth the 60-80 bucks I pay for it each year (hello, Amazon!) is the Gallery, the Back to My Mac, and the syncing. All completely and elegantly integrated so that it feels like a natural extension of my computer rather than a cobbled-together Frakenmess of fly-by-night services, ads-a-plenty and ever-changing passwords. If I enjoyed that sort of thing, I’d probably enjoy Windows.

I do not.

Jack

I agree – I’m new to Mac and Me, but regardless of the good the bad and the ugly. No more ever changing passwords, login names and ad supported syncs!

Dr. Theopolis

Charles, I was completely unaware that you could buy MobileMe at a discount at a place like Amazon when renewing! I just assumed that it was for new MobileMe accounts only.

How is this possible? At renewal it doesn’t ask for a code or serial number, just pay for the renewal price? Would love to know how to work this for cheaper!!

matthew carleton

Is there a way to use idisk to back up files automatically? I would love to not be just storing all of my stuff on a local harddrive via timemachine.

Alex

Never been a massive fan of MobileMe. I have noticed performance issues, but most web-based apps are the same so I can forgive it, I just don’t have a use for it.

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