78 Comments

Summary:

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 […]

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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 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 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 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.

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  1. 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.

    1. Google Apps is working fine. Mobile Me is some much worse in terms of performance

  2. 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.

    1. 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!

    2. 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!!

      1. I actually bought mine on e-bay for $50!

    3. 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.

  3. 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???

  4. 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.

  5. Niels Rasmussen Thursday, February 18, 2010

    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.

    1. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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…

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

    1. 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.

  9. 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.

    1. 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…

  10. 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.

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