Apple Makes Changes to MobileMe: We’re Finally Where We Should Have Been From the Start

Apple’s documentation for changes in the recent 10.5.6 system update includes a line of interest to MobileMe users on the Mac:

Contacts, calendars, and bookmarks on a Mac automatically sync within a minute of the change being made on the computer, another device, or the web at me.com.

So we now have “push” for those items on the desktop, as we’ve always had on the Web and the iPhone. That’s good news.

However, the MobileMe changes go deeper than that. Apple didn’t just change Contacts, Calendars and Bookmarks to “push” distribution (for Macs only), they changed the sync times for all items in the MobileMe control panel, and also made changes to the MobileMe service itself. Let’s take a look…

Changes to the Mac

I outlined how MobileMe synced in an earlier article. What it boiled down to was that for Leopard users all items in the MobileMe control panel would sync up to every 15 minutes when using the “Automatically” setting. This is described in Apple support doc 307135 (below quote is from a cached copy):

When Automatically is selected in the MobileMe (.Mac) System Preference or Control Panel, the expected behavior is as follows, depending on where the change of your data is occurring.

Changes made on your computer

  • Mac OS X 10.5.4: Changes made on your computer will sync to MobileMe every 15 minutes
  • Pretty simple stuff. Every 15 minutes it syncs your changes.

    But with 10.5.6 it’s all different, and the support doc has been updated. The differences are interesting, to say the least:

    When “Automatically” is selected in the MobileMe pane (Mac) or Control Panel (Windows), the expected behavior (see note 1) is as follows:

    • Mac OS X 10.5.6:
      • Contacts, calendars, and bookmarks sync automatically (generally within a minute of the change being made on the computer, another device, or on the web at me.com). (See note 2.)
      • Mail Notes and third-party application data (such as Entourage Notes, Transmit Favorites, and so forth)sync up to MobileMe every hour, and automatically sync down to another Mac with Mac OS X 10.5.6 (usually within a minute).
      • Dashboard Widgets, Dock Items, Keychains, Mail Accounts, Mail Rules, and Preferences sync up to MobileMe every eight hours, and automatically sync down to another Mac with Mac OS X 10.5.6 (usually within a minute).

    That’s quite a change! I can’t help but wonder if the change to Widgets, the Dock, etc. are a trade-off for pushing Contacts and others. In other words, the greater load on MobileMe servers for pushing the most common elements is in part tempered by no longer checking for the other stuff every 15 minutes.

    Why eight hours? Your guess is as good as mine. Seems to me that’s a bit of a jump from 15 minutes. However, I don’t change those items very often — and I suspect most users don’t either — so Apple probably feels they only need to check them three times a day. I think in the future, when I do change them I’ll just force a sync myself.

    If the less frequent check for those items are a trade-off for push contacts, calendars, and bookmarks, then I approve. Keep in mind only the sync up to MobileMe has changed. The sync down to other Macs remains as “generally within a minute.”

    Changes to MobileMe

    There’s another interesting revelation in the support doc. It has a new footnote:

    The intervals for automatic and hourly syncing in Mac OS X 10.5.6 or later are determined by a setting on MobileMe servers. If this interval setting is adjusted in the future, this article will be updated to reflect those changes.

    This may have always been the case, but when everything was 15 minutes it didn’t seem to matter much. With the new rules, I suspect Apple can modify and tweak syncing times to help balance the load and maintain good performance.

    Apple also updated the MobileMe Service Updates document. Aside from mentioning the push changes above, there are other interesting changes. My favorite one is this:

    Resolved an issue that could cause some contacts to temporarily disappear on iPhone or iPod touch when syncing with MobileMe over an intermittent network connection; iPhone Software 2.2 is required to take full advantage of this

    I’ve had this happen to me twice, and I must say it’s a bit disconcerting to have your contacts “disappear.” They are not really gone, they just appear to be. To get around it I turned off syncing, and then back on. I’m glad this one is fixed, because it’s probably caused panic in more than one user.

    There were other changes to the MobileMe service as well, mostly revolving around improved syncing and reliability.

    To Sum Up

    Clearly, today was a good day for MobileMe users. When the MobileMe rollout turned out to be a disaster, and Apple did the right thing by doling out months of free usage, Steve Jobs claimed they were going to work to make it a service Apple would be proud of by the end of the year. With today’s updates perhaps they’ve made that goal.

    Great work Apple, I appreciate it. Pat yourself on the back and take a break. OK, break’s over. Now that MobileMe is where it should have been at service launch, you can begin improving it for next year.

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