More Evidence That MobileMe Could Soon Be Free

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Amidst the launch of new MacBook Pros, the developer preview release of OS X Lion, and the introduction of FaceTime to the Mac App Store, it’s easy to overlook what’s missing at Apple’s website today. That would be MobileMe, or at least the option to purchase Apple’s suite of online services. Apple has not only notified resellers that the company is discontinuing sales of the retail box, but it has also stopped offering MobileMe for sale digitally at the Apple Store online. Current users can still renew their services, and sign up for a free trial (with an option to pay for an upgrade) outside of the store, but indications suggest that MobileMe will soon be free.

Two weeks ago, the Wall Street Journal reported Apple was preparing a major redesign of MobileMe set to launch in the summer alongside a new iPhone. According to “people familiar with the matter,” Apple was “considering” making the service free, offering a “locker” for files, photos, music, and videos. Social features would also be a big part of the new MobileMe.

Cult of Mac followed up on that report with a list of new features coming to Apple’s cloud services suite, including personal video streaming and location services similar to Foursquare and Facebook Places, as well as the ability to find other MobileMe users nearby. All this information would appear on a brand new homepage, and be constantly updated from iOS devices. According to Cult of Mac’s source, “the concept is that you would have you own website that’s dynamic, all based on what you are doing at that moment. Apple thinks of it as having a webserver in your pocket… everything will be dynamically updated to MobileMe.”

If those rumors sound overly ambitious for MobileMe, the service is set to benefit from significant additional resources very soon. At the Apple shareholder’s meeting on Wednesday, COO Tim Cook announced that the billion-dollar data center in Maiden, NC would be opening in the immediate future, and it would be supporting both iTunes and MobileMe services. The opening of that data center may be advancing the timetable for the new MobileMe. Conveniently, Apple is widely expected to introduce a new iPad at an event next Wednesday. A high-profile event like that would also provide an excellent opportunity to reintroduce MobileMe to the public.

That means that current MobileMe users should think seriously about not renewing their memberships at this time. Keep in mind a MobileMe subscription can be reactivated up to 45 days after expiration. If, like me, you’ve recently renewed, don’t expect a refund. However, it’s almost a sure thing that Apple will offer a value-added rank of additional paid services that current MobileMe subscribers will be automatically switched to if it does end up making the basic service free. Let’s hope that whatever the new MobileMe “Premium” offers, it costs less than the current $99, as the days of picking up cheap activation codes on eBay have probably ended with the discontinuation of the physical box sales.

Nonetheless, as a long-time MobileMe user I’m excited about the prospect of a rejuvenated service with new features—domain hosting would be awesome—for me and a free version that will help grow the MobileMe platform and user base. What features are you hoping for in the new MobileMe, and would you switch from using comparable services from Google and others if it does become free?

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