It’s been a bit of a rocky start for MobileMe‘s launch. First, the launch window was pushed back two hours. Then once MobileMe was launched, it was taken offline repeatedly (Server overload? Some last-minute bug fixing? Who knows). And when it was up, the Mail web app still wasn’t working. Finally, this morning it appears that systems are go. Uh, mostly. But at any rate, MobileMe is here. How do the web apps stack up? Let’s take a look.
All the MobileMe web apps share quite a few things in common. For one, they all look consistent, and they’re downright beautiful. For another, each seems to be pretty dang full-featured as far as web apps go (drag-and-drop, anyone). And of course, they behave much like Apple’s desktop applications. If you know how to use the Finder, Mail, iCal, Address Book, and iPhoto, you already know how to use MobileMe’s web apps.
Features like drag and drop are implemented throughout each of the web apps. Take, for example, the Contacts app. You can add a contact card to your address book, create a group, and drag and drop an address card to a group. I don’t think I’ve ever seen drag-and-drop implemented in a web app. Readers tell me that Backpack and .mac’s HomePage app used drag-and-drop. Doh!
Oh, and it looks like the Calendar icon in the toolbar shows the correct date!
The shining example of this is the iDisk app, where drag-and-drop allows for an actual file browser where you can move files and folders just as you could in the Finder. Unfortunately, you cannot drag files from the iDisk web app to the Finder, or vice-versa (but if you could, wouldn’t that be awesome?). In the case of the iDisk web app, the basic file management features are there: New Folder, Rename, Duplicate, Delete; as are file compression features. Like in the Finder, the iDisk web app allows you to add favorite folders to the sidebar by a simple drag-and-drop. The big question: would changes in the web app appear instantly in the Finder, and vice-versa? The answer is no; even if you make a change in the Finder, the change is not instantly reflected in the iDisk web app. By and large, though, the iDisk web app is a great piece of Web 2.0 goodness.
The Photo Gallery app will probably turn out to be popular. Imagine iPhoto and .mac Web Galleries merged into one. This basically describes the Photo Gallery app. It is a good bit faster than a Web Gallery, and a little more flexible. The Photo Gallery app allows you to organize photos into albums, which in turn allows you to easily create new Web Galleries. Each album uploaded onto MobileMe is represented by a tile, similar in nature to the Events tiles in iPhoto ’08, complete with skimming. I wonder if one day we’ll see full iPhoto library syncing to MobileMe. Imagine, you plug in your camera, the photos are downloaded onto your computer, then pushed onto MobileMe. From there, you can create Web Galleries and share your photos from anywhere. I know we’re a ways off from that (in an era of 1 GB+ flash cards for digital cameras, you would need a blazing fast connection for a large upload job to finish in a reasonable amount of time), but I could totally see that coming in the future.
Calendar, Mail, Address Book
Calendar, Mail, and Address Book look and work very much like their desktop counterparts. For example, the Calendar app allows you to add events exactly how you would add them in iCal: click and drag from the start time of an event to the end time. Events can be moved around by clicking and dragging as well. Mail works well, but is very slow at loading messages. Of note is that it will even block imaged from loading, just like the desktop version. Address Book also works well, but again, it is very sluggish. Dragging contacts into groups resulted in the spinning beachball in Safari. I got a chance to test the push capabilities with the Mail web app, and it works as advertised. I haven’t yet tested push in Address Book and Calendar, though.
In general, I found the web apps to be seriously lacking in the performance area — a nice way to say that they’re sluggish. As for why, I can think of a few reasons right away: my connection speed isn’t fast enough (slow-ish DSL), Apple is still fine-tuning the back-end stuff, the applications really are that slow. Also, MobileMe has had a rather flaky first 24 hours. In my experience, Mail seems to be the worst in this regard. I’m sure this is just a rocky start, but I do hope that it isn’t a sign of things to come. And can calendars posted on MobileMe be be viewed by others online like they could with .mac? Or did that feature go the way of the dodo bird too?
And be warned: if you want to sign up for the 60-day trial, you will need to enter credit card information.
MobileMe is great by and large; it’s the update that .mac has needed for at least the last two or three years, even if it means sacrificing some old friends (Bookmarks, iCards, etc…). I’ve run into some glitches so far (sluggishness, server errors, etc…), and as I write this, MobileMe appears to be down again, but I can only assume (hope?) that these growing pains will be sorted out soon. If you have an iPhone or iPod Touch, or a second computer, MobileMe will make handling your email, calendars, contacts, and other pieces of data that much easier. If you are not a subscriber and you have a credit card, be sure to sign up for the 60-day trial and take MobileMe for a spin.