MobileMe: Is it worth it?

If you believe the marketing hype, you aren’t really a true Mac user unless you have MobileMe. MobileMe is pushed heavily in the Mac and iPhone UI as well as the Apple (s aapl) retail environment. Fancy terms like “beyond the box sales” are a clever way of saying “high profit” for Apple.

Let’s break down the features of MobileMe see if it’s worth it. The retail price of MobileMe is $99, though discounts abound, but for this article, let’s stick with the $99 price. My calculator app says this comes to $8.25 a month, or a little more than a quarter a day. Pretty cheap, but can you cut it out and save some money? What if Apple sold the features a la carte, like we wish our cable companies would do with channels? With a bit of research, here are what I think are the market rates for each of these features (or at least what I would pay for them).

Ring my iPhone/Display a message (Free)

The ability to force your phone to ring, even when it’s in vibrate mode is nice. However, we all got along OK before that feature was implemented. It’s nice, but I wouldn’t pay for it.

Remote Lock and Remote Wipe ($4.99 per month)

We all know Liz Lemon’s ordeal with her iPhone. While I don’t have adult photos on my iPhone, I do have information I’d rather not fall into the wrong hands. Being able to remotely lock and then possibly wipe my iPhone is really of great value to me. It’s peace of mind insurance and I’ll price it like AT&T’s (s att) insurance for other phones. Those who are not as concerned with having their phone fall into others’ hands may not value this as much as I do.

Find my Phone on the Map ($5.00 or combine with Remote Lock/Wipe for $7.50)

AT&T has a GPS service for other phones called “AT&T Family Map” and charges $9.99 to track up to two people. Since this is for just one phone, I divided the cost in half. Being able to find your phone when you lose it is awesome. I value this feature the same as the Remote Lock and Wipe: peace of mind if the phone gets lost. One without the other would be helpful and have pretty much the same value. Combine the two and I expect a bit of a discount.

iDisk (Free for 2 GB, .25 for each additional GB)

Yawn. 20 GB of storage in the cloud. Who doesn’t store data in the cloud these days? Standard pricing seems to be to give two GB away for free and charge about 25 cents for each additional GB (See DropBox or SugarSync). Given the fact that the iDisk tends to be rather slow, I’m not sure I’d want to pay much at all. The “seamless” desktop synchronization of the iDisk can’t match the true automatic synchronization of DropBox and SugarSync

Back To My Mac (Free)

Being able to remotely get files off your Mac? There’s an app for that and it was first developed in late 1980s and was named Timbuktu. In addition to Timbuktu (which still exists), these days there are free products such as LogMeIn Free and VNC (See my review of iPhone remote apps). Additionally, Back To My Mac isn’t 100% reliable, and if you can better rely on other free products, then how much is it really worth?

MobileMe Gallery (Free)

Online photo gallery? Who doesn’t have one these days? Flickr and Facebook fit the bill nicely and if you don’t like those social networking sites pretty much anyone who develops film today will give you a free online gallery, with occasional minor restrictions. Email (Free)

Would anyone actually pay for web-based email? Really? With offerings from Google (s goog), Yahoo (s yhoo), and Microsoft (s msft), someone has to be really out of the loop to be paying for web based email. Granted, makes it pretty and easy, but it’s more a matter of personal preference than any true value. Sending large files and sharing them are easy, but countless services exist to help with just that. The average user rarely needs to send a large file that one of these services doesn’t support.

iWeb Publishing (Free)

For those of us who use iWeb, MobileMe makes publishing delightfully simple. You can publish to other sites with a bit of a workaround, and those workarounds are easy to find on the web, so paying for this feature is for people who don’t know how to Google.

Over the Air Syncing ($2.00)

The value of this is based on Verizon’s Backup Assistant program that will back up your contacts for almost any Verizon phone. When we look at the T-Mobile Sidekick it’s included with the service. For syncing files between computers, see Dropbox and SugarSync. Contacts and calendars can be synced using Google as a conduit (See BusySync). Having your keychains and widgets synced is nice, but workarounds with other syncing software allow you to do that as well.

Personally, this is the killer feature of MobileMe for me. I work with a large number of clients and all my contacts and appointments are on my iPhone. Before I can get to a desktop to sync, I’ll often have made a few appointments and might accidentally double book myself if I didn’t have this feature. Sure, I could use Google to do it exclusively but that’s a few extra steps and time is often of the essence for me.

All of it working together as one package (Free or Priceless)

Seamless integration is nice, don’t get me wrong. Would I be willing to pay for it? Not really. I’d rather save money buying the features I need and make them work together myself, manually. For some people, the very reason they bought an iPhone instead of another mobile device is due to the ease of use factor, so for these folks, the more everything works together without thinking about it, the better.

So what’s my personal decision? When I add the Remote wipe/lock/find/ring feature ($7.50) with the Over the Air Syncing ($2.00), MobileMe justifies itself. Other features really aren’t worth paying for. So again, how much would you pay and what features are most valuable for you? Operators are standing by.