MobileMe: What it Syncs, When it Syncs, and Why I’m Staying With It

36 Comments

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 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.

36 Comments

Morrowbie

I have a MacBook Pro and an Air. I use MobileMe to sync my mail, and frankly’s its irritating. EVERY TIME I switch computers, I get notified that Google Mail’s setting are being changed. “Stores Notes on Server” switches from yes, to no, and back. Every once in a while another account will get its SMTP port switched, usually to blank from 587 (or back).

Does Apple even test this software before releasing it on the world?

Mike O'Connor

You can get around the 15 minute delay by turning on the preference to show sync status in the menu bar. Then, you can use the “Sync Now” item there to push out your changes immediately.

Charles

The one issue that I have is that you cannot change the email address on the push email account… I am stuck using IMAP without push just because I use the iPhone for business.

Until Apple stops requiring your personal email address to go out to the world.. they will always lag Blackberries in business.

It it really annoying to me.

I’ve heard of a few hacked ways of using things like gmail as your outgoing server but it still shows your .mac email address.

Has anyone figured out a solid way to get the push and have an alternative email address?

Thanks,
Charles

Impaler

I love MobileMe too! Right now, though, Outlook 2007 on Windows XP SP3 seems to really mess everything up. I recently also discovered I can use Exchange at work to push updates to contacts, calendars and mail over the air, so I’ve gone to Exchange for contacts/calendar/email, and MobileMe for email and bookmarks. Works like a champ, and I can leave my Exchange account connected directly to Outlook without having to deal with risky .pst files.

Tom Reestman

Alex,

I agree with you that MMe is even more than what I mentioned. I didn’t bring up the photo gallery (which I love) or, for that matter, Web publishing (which I use for a family blog), because I concentrated on syncing the various options for Mail and MMe’s control panel.

However, the photo gallery _IS_ synced, and I should have mentioned that. If I modify an existing one it’s sent up or down (as the case may be) between MMe and the desktop. You’re right, I missed that one. Thanks for the catch, so here it is:

Photo sync is via timer, and controlled via a MobileMe preference in the Aperture or iPhoto app. You can select Manual, or various times as often as hourly.

If I add a photo to a desktop gallery (I use Aperture, but this applies to iPhoto as well) it’s pushed to the web gallery when the time hits. Same is true if I add a photo to a web gallery (say, via iPhone email). Personally, I don’t want my photo software hitting the web every hour looking for gallery changes that don’t occur very frequently (for me, at least). I have my setting on Manual and just do it whenever I make a change.

Sven Rafferty

The Automatic setting in MMe on the Desktop unfortunately isn’t on a true 15 minute timer. I’ve done many tests, updating contacts, iCal, and such, and watched the Sync screen. In most cases, it syncs *within* an hour usually between 45 and 60 minutes. I don’t know if there is an idle-watch command and due to my aggressive work day it takes longer or what, but I have yet to see it sync consistently every 15 minutes.

Because I am in out of the office at times and I make adjustments to my schedule on the Desktop which contain address and name information, I can’t hope and wait an hour for the stuff to get to my phone. Because of that, I continue to let iTunes and iPhone AutoSync (no longer available) truly push my updates to the phone.

Jimmy

I love the syncing but I’ve lost contacts twice so far. Fortunately, being a former Newton user, I took the precaution of having a primitive back up (I had my contacts stored in an email to myself).

The problem with the syncing is that if the data gets corrupted on one device (say the Mac), that problem gets propagated to the MMe and then the iPhone.

I now try to remember to manually backup my contacts in the address book on the Mac. Contacts seem to be the most vulnerable to going AWOL.

Alex

“Many think MMe is just email, contacts, and calendars, but that underrates the service. ”

So why the hell didn’t you talk about the other features of the service??!!

People need to realize that their money gets them more than what you are mentioning. Especially if your goal of this post is to dispel misinformation about the service.

Online photo gallery ring a bell? And how great that is at updating and sharing your photos online?

Your article is about 80 percent done. You should revise it.

Chris

I tried Mobile Me and was so impressed I switched to the paid version only a few weeks into the trial. I’ve not had any problems and can understand the frustrations of those who have, but I think what Mobile Me offers is excellent value, especially push email and iDisk.

Now, if only I could send email from my existing address instead of me.com…

Phil Bowell

Does MMe not work with Mail.app’s IDLE feature? I use that with my GApps GMail account and it effectively gives me push email. Couple this with BusySync for my iCal and I’ve got a good push sync setup going. The only thing I’m waiting for is for BusySync to add the GMail contacts sync they are working on and I’m good. iPod touch sync is dealt with by NeuvaSync which works well, although they need to add the ability to differentiate calendars for perfection.

Patrick Santana

MobileMe is a very good tool; and it will improve with the time.
I just expected a shared calendar between Family Package.

The rest, for me, it just works very well.

Faris Hassani

I have been using all sort of sync service to sync 2 MBP, 2 iMac, 1PC… and I think, MMe is the only one that gives me the peace of mind that I’m looking for..

Tom Reestman

Ecchi,

No, what TAB has are multiple writers. Opinions here, like everywhere else, vary.

None of what I wrote invalidates the 3rd party suggestions for those who choose to go that route. I’m simply stating that it’s not MY choice.

Further, nothing I wrote conflicts with those changes desired as a “business solution”.

All I did was take a step back and look at MMe as it exists right now. I tried to clear up some misconceptions about its push capabilities, and explained that, for me, it’s an easy decision to stay with it. I’m extremely pleased with the service it’s providing and would hate to be without it.

Besides, if everyone at TAB all felt and wrote the same thing wouldn’t this place get a little boring? :-)

ecchi

Its starting to look like TAB has schizophrenia. First it suggests various 3rd party services that do similar, then it complains about it as a Business Solution. Now its praising it.

josc77

MobileMe is a great service, but worth about half what it costs. It’s just easy to use and nice to get calendar items and contacts synced between my iPhone and Mac without me having to do anything extra.

halogen – the lite version is a great idea for me, it’s mainly what I use it for anyway.

cmfnyc

I’m happy with MobileMe, it’s not perfect. (Not having that cool send large files feature is a real bummer.) But it manages to keep two desktops (one with two users), one laptop and one touch in sync (bookmarks, calendar, contacts, mail and logins via 1Password). I also use the iDisk to circumvent needing Thumbdrives and web gallery that my folks really enjoy. I’m hoping iWork ’09 includes some MobileMe connectivity. It would certainly help Pages circumvent the email as zip/Word export conundrum that bothers me if I could just send a client to a web address.

Given that I’m generally happy, I am eager to see what the negative press spurs Apple to add/enhance in MobileMe.

halogan

Tom,

Sure, there are differences. Let’s not get into that. Each service has something the other don’t.

One major problem of MobileMe is following – if you decide not to pay for the service, you lose your e-mail address. That’s why I think there should be some lite version (i.e. just mail, cal and contacts) without dock, keychain sync, without iDisk etc. Just pure PIM, accessible to anyone. And a paid version with all the goodies and advantages over Live.com and other for let’s say $49 a year.

Now that’s something I’d be glad to use.

Tom Reestman

Halogan,

When I say Mac to Mac I mean items not typically associated with “regular” computer syncing. For example, application preferences are synced, Dock items are synced, Widgets are synced, etc. Microsoft’s offerings do not do that, even Windows to Windows.

Apple did not charge for the service for four months (everyone got it free). They acted swiftly and addressed the bulk of the issues and, yes, they’re charging for it now.

I wrote about MobileMe’s bad rollout, and still have complaints about some aspects of it, but if you think I (or you) wouldn’t have complaints about other services, I disagree.

As for “free”, say that all you want but I don’t like ads.

halogan

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.

Scuba Steve

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…

Tom Reestman

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).

Ed Wood

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

Buzz Smith

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!!!!!

Michael

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).

halogan

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.

ColinT

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.

Scuba Steve

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!

Scuba Steve

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!!!

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