Blog Post

MobileMe On the Cheap

ScreenshotApple’s newly-announced MobileMe service looks to offer a variety of useful features for the web worker:

  • Continuous push synchronization for email, contacts, and calendars
  • Online access to your mail, contacts, and calendar
  • Photo-sharing through MobileMe Gallery
  • 20GB of file storage that mounts as a drive on OS X and that includes public file sharing

The web interface for MobileMe looks gorgeous, and there is direct integration with many of the Mac’s desktop applications and the iPhone’s native applications. But this polish comes at a cost: $99 per year, every year as long as you want to use it. If you can do without some of the eye candy and the Apple name, you can save a bundle and get nearly equivalent services. Here’s how.Synchronization: This is the toughest nut to crack, but there are some worthy contenders out there. Soocial (currently in closed beta) is tackling the contact synchronization space, including OS X Address Book, GMail, Highrise, phone, and online. Spanning Sync ($65) offers calendar sync (Mac, Google, iPhone) and has contact synchronization in beta. Open-source project Funambol has announced wireless sync for iPhone 2.0, including push email, contacts and (later) calendars and notes.

Online Access: If you go with a synchronization solution that includes Google compatibility, then GMail and Google Calendar are the obvious answers here. They are not nearly as pretty as the corresponding MobileMe applications, but they have their own attractions (such as the amazing search capabilities and available tweaks for GMail). They’re also free.

Photo Sharing: Flickr, Photobucket, DropShots – how many free photo sharing sites do you need? If you go with PhotoBucket you can use the free PictureSync application to get desktop features. Flickr users have the $25 utility Photonic for the Mac.

Online File Storage and Sharing: ADrive gets you 50GB of storage for free, with sharing features. We’ve covered a bunch of other alternatives, with varying features, all including “free.”

MobileMe certainly has things going for it: chief among these are its pervasive integration with OS X (both on the desktop and in the iPhone) and Apple’s legendary design sense. Whether that’s enough to pay $99 per year for is an open question, though. Given the number of different services that overlap its capabilities in many areas, that will be a tough price to justify for many web workers.

17 Responses to “MobileMe On the Cheap”

  1. Phil Ricketts

    Your data is important. Using free / open source services, or those provided by small unheard-of companies is just risky.

    I doubt apple’s service will have these potential issues. I’ve lost all my data before.

  2. Found this article while researching for MobileMe alternatives.
    Really a good starting point and well researched!

    I found another alternative. Might be interesting for other readers, too. It’s called fruux.

    The app syncs the addressbook, ical and safari bookmarks between macs. Just installed it on my iMac and my Macbook. Works without any issues so far.

  3. Andrew

    My current choices:
    * Microsoft Exchange from Sherweb – that takes care of email, contacts, calendar and tasks
    * Foldershare – syncs my media files
    * Dropbox – syncs my documents that I want access to without a PC being on

    I agree with the comment from Jason – I’m willing to pay for something that brings it all together, but so far I haven’t found one service that does. Microsoft has all the components but doesn’t grasp how to bundle for consumers and small businesses.

  4. Jason

    The funny thing about free is… it isn’t free. Unless, of course, you don’t work for a living and as a result find yourself with countless hours to crawl the web looking for free stuff. There’s time and effort involved in piecing together a ‘free’ alternative. Many commenters on this subject seem to forget they weren’t born knowing where all this free stuff is. At some point you made an effort, be it large or small, to conquer one or all of these problems. I have too much to do to go looking for all the free stuff that might work together on some level but might not. That said, if you like the free lifestyle, more power to ya! Just don’t knock those of us who choose the other road, there really is a REASON for it, and it’s not because we’re stupid or lack “web-savvy”!

  5. The post (and all the comments so far) seemed to miss one major point of Mobile Me which is almost enough to get me purchasing on its own: push syncing. The thought that I can add/change any contact or appointment on my desktop, laptop, iPhone or through a browser in internet cafe, and see those changes across all my devices within minutes, is rather appealing to me. It’s fairly likely that others will produce a similar service for free, or at least cheaper, but you can almost guarantee it won’t work as well.

  6. Well, Google went hibernating all this time, they should create a tighter integration between their services a few month earlier. I’m still waiting for an easy GTD/To-Do list in Gmail with Gcal integration. Maybe they are going to start working on that to compete with MobileMe.

  7. The giant hole in MobileMe for me is that it only gives me one email address and a huge part of the reason that I use Outlook is that I have about 6 addresses for various websites I run.

    I love the simplicity of having everything in one service like that – sometimes convenience is worth a price – but it’s not convenient if it doesn’t do everything I need.

  8. Another useful feature of .Mac (and hopefully MobileMe) is in application syncing. While keeping my mail, calendar and address book in sync, .Mac syncs my applications like Yojimbo, TextExpander, and soon OmniFocus data. Switching from desktop to laptop is seamless because my data is already there.

  9. I’m quite surprised that no one has mentioned Plaxo. I use it to synchronize my Gmail, Mac and Outlook address books and calendars. I use Gmail so, no synch needed for that. Plaxo is free and has been working really well for me for the past 6 months.

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  10. Dustin Beltramo

    Umm, I think the big point this post seems to be missing is that, when you sign up for MobileMe, you only have to sign up once. All of the capabilities from the numerous services you list above are under one MobileMe umbrella.

    I’m all for competing services, and I’m glad there are alternatives. But you’re going to have to remember 10 different usernames and passwords, and a whole host of different config options across all the devices you’re trying to sync.

    If you like fiddling with your systems, the free approach is a good route to go. If you want to get work done, integrated services like MobileMe may be worth the price.

  11. I’m on the fence. I currently use gmail and gcal, and I’m testing BusySync right now.

    I also use Fluid on my Mac to create an “app” for a single webpage. I have one for gmail and one for gcal, so it runs like a native Mac app.

    I love Apple’s design, but if the search function is not as good as gmail, I won’t use it.

    We’ll see. I’m definitely moving to an iPhone now, with GPS and other new features. In doing that, it might be worth my while to use MobileMe.

  12. My choice for Google/iCal syncing is Busysync from I prefer it because it doesn’t rely on 3rd party servers. Now that Address Book has Google contact syncing built in, and I’ve started using Google Bookmarks, I really have no reason to use .Mac/Mobileme.

  13. Not really, Goodman. I do it for a living — admittedly as a Mac consultant. But it’s like anything else. If you want/need/like the features, it’s worth the money.

    Otherwise you should stay with Google mail.