The Quest for PIM 2.0: Apple’s Mobile “Meh”

MobileMeh

Okay, so I’ve spent much of the last 24 hours pouring through the details of Apple’s iPhone 2.0-related announcements at WWDC 2008. Of particular interest is their new MobileMe service — in their own words “(MS) Exchange for the rest of us”.

You can see a detailed video demo of the service right here at Apple’s site. The fact that they don’t allow their videos to be embedded on other web pages speaks to something that I’ll be addressing later in the post. Right now I’ll give you my specific impressions of MobileMe’s web applications feature by feature as they appear in the video, with the mutual understanding that (1) this is technically all in theory, as the service hasn’t actually launched yet, and (2) as a preemptive defence against the zombie Mac fanboy army I do in fact know what I’m talking about, having covered similar services on previous occasions. The current gold standard is Plaxo 3.0, which isn’t saying much…

Okay, let’s get to it!

Look and Feel

Right from the start page, MobileMe looks like your typically slick Web 2.0 Ajax-y site, much better than the .Mac interface that it’s set to replace — that dinosaur still has brushed metal all over it, for chrissakes!

Mail

There’s no evidence here for support of anything beyond a dedicated “@me.com” mail account. Even the Danger hiptop/Sidekick can do better than this. For prospective customers it gets even worse: Current .Mac users will be automatically migrated to MobileMe accounts, and with eight years worth of subscribers getting dibs before anyone else it’s all but guaranteed that any halfway desirable MobileMe member name is already spoken for. Those of you who’ve ponied up for paid .Mac service since 2002 can pause and be smug now.

As for me, I’m not quite ready to put chunkylover@me.com on a business card.

Contacts

The live search is nice but really, there’s nothing here that Plaxo can’t already do for free. And there’s been nary a peep about any kind of social networking functionality. Why should I have to update my friend’s contact info if they can do it themselves and have the changes propagate over to me? That’s what Plaxo does…

Calendar

Plaxo can at the very least make public the blocks of time when you’re unavailable. Google Calendar and Apple’s own desktop calendering app go a step further and give you the ability to share calendars with whomever you choose via the web or by subscription. A similar feature might still make it to MobileMe before its launch, but if that was the case you’d think they would have at least mentioned it by now.

Photo Gallery

“And with Your Permission, they can also download photos and contribute photos of their own”

Sharing stuff? Hey, waitaminnit… That’s social networking! Of course, all the shutterbugs I know have Flickr accounts. Will MobileMe be able to interact with sites like Flickr as well? Given that I can’t even embed the MobileMe video demo on this site, it doesn’t look promising.

On the desktop Apple has repeatedly won me over to their proprietary software because of the superior experience I get using it. But the very foundation of the web is links, and this service would do better to reach out than to try and beat more popular sites at their own game.

And where’s the video gallery? Oh right, the iPhone still doesn’t record video. My bad.

iDisk

20GB is certainly a generous amount of online storage but remember, you’re paying for it — which brings us to…

You want HOW MUCH?!!

If MobileMe is really “Exchange for the rest of us”, then how come it’s going to cost the same exorbitant $10-plus CAD/month as a .Mac account does currently — especially when I can rent an actual hosted Exchange account with ActiveSync for nothing?

I got comparable functionality and unlimited data with my Fido hiptop for only $20/month. Taking into consideration that AT&T data plans for the iPhone are shortly going to cost more (and data rates for the device haven’t even been announced in Canada yet!) MobileMe looks like it’s going to be the same rip-off that .Mac was.

The only real justification I can see for MobileMe’s pricing is the ease of use for someone with exceptionally weak computer skills, like the lost souls who always seem to be hitting me up for free tech support. If this is the case Apple should just call a spade a spade and re-brand MobileMe as something more accurate.

“MeTard” is perhaps a tad harsh… Maybe “FleeceMe”?

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About Andrew

Mobile phones, Linux and copyright reform. Those go together, right?
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20 Responses to The Quest for PIM 2.0: Apple’s Mobile “Meh”

  1. Ed Miller says:

    AC:

    I read over the Mobile Me stuff (I am a .Mac user and got the e-mail yesterday announcing it). Based on the details on the Me page, I don’t think it’ll change how I use the service because none of the changes apply to the gear I use and how I use .Mac.

    I use .Mac primarily to sync contacts/calendars and backup my critical folders and settings on my 2 Macs, and transferring files between computers. As a secondary use, I use it to host my goofy, in-character website and post family photos in iPhoto’s finest feature, the online gallery.

    I like .Mac, don’t get me wrong. I have the 2 Macs and my PDA synced, and I can access it from anywhere there’s a PC. Like you, I won’t miss the brushed metal. I’ve had the occasional sync problem where I’ve had to force a reset, but overall I’m pleased with it. The excellent Backup app included with the .Mac subscription has actually delayed me from upgrading to Leopard.

    No push-mail for me as that’s an add-on with my Bell Canada plan. But since I have my personal e-mail accounts set up with Gmail, I can access it with Bell’s crappy Mobile Browser whenever required.

    I’d say if I were an iPhone user, Mobile Me adds to the value of the phone just as .Mac added value to the iLife bundle. But for those without an iPhone, I’d say (based on the somewhat terse Mobile Me site) there’s not much new with Mobile Me.

    Ed

  2. AC says:

    Ed, for syncing multiple Macs you may want to check out the much cheaper and highly-regarded Spanning Sync or the absolutely free utility ToMacs.

    For backup, Mozy.com will give you 2GB free, or unlimited backups for $4.95 USD/month.

    It’s hard not to be wooed by .Mac when it’s built so deep into the OS, but there are certainly cheaper alternatives out there…

  3. hmurchison says:

    Mail-

    Mobile Me (MM) isn’t attempting to be your mail aggregator. It’s a way to standardize on a mailbox that will finally follow you whereve you go from Mac to Mobile device to PC. I never lose access to my email and it’s cleaner than a IMAP/GMAIL setup IMO.

    Contacts-

    Plaxo is certainly not free. I didn’t exactly engender good will from all of my friends as they began to spam my friends to join. Plus the very tool you highlight I hate. I neatly crafted my Address Book to make sense to me. Plaxo wiped out a lot of my changes because of that ability to let the user dictate their data. Which meant my “John Doe” became some silly pseudonym like “RacerBoi69” . No thanks. I like having control of “my” computer.

    Calendar-

    Anyone with shared access to your calendar can view your schedule. I think I can finally move away from my half hearted attempts to utilize Google Calendar for something that is going to integrate better with iCal/OS X and Outlook/Windows

    Photo Gallery-

    Fickr is nice but perhaps a bit overkill for family folks that just want to view some pictures and perhaps add a few. iPhoto and Aperture already have flickr export options. I don’t see why MM really needs to integrate with Flicr directly. Just because Flickr is used by enthusiasts doesn’t mean Apple has to go that route.

    iDisk-

    New sharing features allow easy transfer of data from Mac and PC alike. If the speed has improved I’m sure it’ll be very popular for people who don’t want to bump the ceiling on email attachment limits.

    Cost-

    I don’t see where you’ve actually made a decent comparison other than to offer up some service that’s $240. Tell you what. You find me something that’s cheaper and uses no more than 2 vendors that delivers.

    1 Push email/contacts/calendar/Bookmarks data to Mac/PC/Phone
    2. Has Web front ends
    3. Has Web publishing
    4. Allows for computer control (Back to My Mac)
    5. Gives easy to access (i.e Cross Platform) file access with GB of storage
    6. For less than $10 per month.

    Hint: You’ll be a daisy if you do. You’ve compared HALF of Mobile Me to more expensive services and then claimed Apple is fleecing people?

  4. AC says:

    hmurchison, welcome. Nice website, btw — way to think for yourself! 😉

    Mobile Me isn’t attempting to be your mail aggregator.

    At $100 USD/year, don’t you think it should be?

    Plaxo is certainly not free.

    Then I guess that big button on their homepage that says “Sign Up Now – It’s free!” is a typo?

    Boy, someone really dropped the ball on that one…

    I don’t see where you’ve actually made a decent comparison other than to offer up some service that’s $240.

    Come again?

    I’ve compared it to a hosted exchange account, which is free, and to Flickr, which is also free.

    You’ve compared HALF of Mobile Me to more expensive services and then claimed Apple is fleecing people?

    But they’re not more expensive, that’s my point…

    Oh, I get it now — we’re playing the opposite game! So when you say that I haven’t done an exhaustive feature by feature comparison of MobileMe to other online services, you’re really saying that I have.

    Thanks for that!

  5. matte says:

    Frankly, if distributing your PIM/Push/mail/hosting among 5 different “free” services is your thing, go for it. I’ll take Apple’s seamless integration of services for $8.33 a month over some crap handset and hodge podge of a-la-carte crap websites any day.

  6. AC says:

    Hiya matte. So to be clear, your iPhone can compose, edit and save Office documents, capture video and use MMS like my Nokia can? Didn’t know iPhones could do that, even the new ones…

    And that “hodge podge of a-la-carte crap websites” you speak of is actually called the internet. Apple doesn’t own all of it yet but I’m sure they’re working on it, and will even let you use it for a reasonable yearly subscription fee!

  7. Ed Miller says:

    AC:

    I got an e-mail from Apple today informing me that MobileMe will only sync with Tiger or Leopard. Support for Panther, which I have on my ol’ iBook G4, ends on June 30. So I guess I’ll have to buy a new OS for it or my G5 (which has Tiger) or my subscription, which I paid for up to the end of July, only works on half my fleet.

    Anyone have experience with Leopard on a 1GHz iBook G4? Or should I just upgrade the G5 and move Tiger over to the iBook?

    TIA
    Ed

  8. AC says:

    Ed, no worries about Tiger… Have you looked into those free alternatives I posted?

  9. Jeff Barbose says:

    You got off to a really bad start, for someone who supposed pays attention to detail: if you’re going make a complaint, make sure that what you’re bitching about is, in fact, a fact.

    That’s NOT “brushed metal”. It’s the Unified Window look introduced in Leopard.

    Should I even bother with the rest of the article if you’re so eager to hate on it that you fabricate a strawman so you have something easy and cheap to knock down?

  10. AC says:

    Welcome Jeff…

    That’s NOT “brushed metal”. It’s the Unified Window look introduced in Leopard.

    Really? So this is Leopard’s “unified window look”, then?

    http://tinyurl.com/3uv4e2

    Good thing I decided to stick with Tiger!

    Should I even bother with the rest of the article if you’re so eager to hate on it that you fabricate a strawman so you have something easy and cheap to knock down?

    Nobody’s making you, but you certainly have my permission if that’s what you’re asking. And I’m actually not making strawmen, I’m reviewing Apple’s “.Mac” replacement. Maybe this is what you’re looking for?

    http://tinyurl.com/3lnxzj

  11. Jeff Barbose says:

    The only real justification I can see for MobileMe’s pricing is the ease of use for someone with exceptionally weak computer skills, like the lost souls who always seem to be hitting me up for free tech support.

    I’ve been a Mac developer for 20+ years. It’s worth $99 a year to keep all my machines synchronized at all times.

    I’m not an idiot, and you have a Windows mentality. You expect everything to be free and settle for “good enough” in the UI department.

    Mac users appreciate that “good enough” isn’t ever good enough, and that you get what you pay for.

    Funny that you’d expect a personal service to supply you with an email address you’d put on a business card.

  12. AC says:

    Hey Jeff, welcome back…

    I’m not an idiot, and you have a Windows mentality.

    More of a “Windows/Linux/Web 2.0/everything else that’s out there fairly balanced with Apple because I don’t necessarily wet my pants in anticipation every time Steve Jobs takes to the stage” mentality, really…

    Funny that you’d expect a personal service to supply you with an email address you’d put on a business card.

    And a funny thing about Mac products, and tech in general… You’re allowed to draw outside the lines. For example, I’ve actually used my MacBook, a consumer product, for business!

    Likewise, I’ve been in contact with lots of folks who’ve successfully replaced their used their (business) BlackBerry with a (consumer) T-Mobile Sidekick. But with only one allowed push email address, we certainly won’t have that problem with MobileMe. Yay, Apple…

  13. carl says:

    ok: i bought .mac about two months ago and, almost immediately, i’ve had nagging doubts about its utility (for me, at least). for storage, there are better and much less expensive options out there (and options, i should add, that work very well with osx). also, if you want to set up a web site, iweb is easy but when you go something equally easy (like rapidweaver) you’ll soon see that iweb has limitations that you might not want to get locked into (and i say this as someone who is in no way a web designer). and, for me, i can’t rationalize the ability to sync b/n different macs as making .mac worth 99 us dollars per year. my subscription is up in the first part of next year; so i’ll keep trying to see if i’m missing something. so far, i agree with those who see mobileme as .mac with a bit more makeup.

  14. AC says:

    Now now carl, rational commentary clearly has no place here — this is the place where the rabid swarms of zombie Mac fanboys attack me on all sides for daring to point out the occasional misstep of their queen bee!

    Of course I’m kidding — about your rational comments not being welcome, anyway…

    P.S. Any iPhoners out there looking for a more fully-featured BlackBerry/ActiveSync replacement might be interested in this: http://tinyurl.com/6lb7hm

  15. Gerrit says:

    Hi, i’d just like to raise one more question:

    Has anyone any information on how mobileme or activesync will affect the battery? I could imagine that with having pushed emails to your phone in the second they arrive it would be necessary to stay connected to the mobileme/activesync-server. This would mean a permantent 3G or 2G connection. And this would lead to only 6 hours of battery life.

    No good.

  16. AC says:

    Hey Gerrit,

    I do remember that battery life was one of the reasons that Apple chose not to include 3G in iPhone 1.0 — I can’t comment on MobileMe, but with ActiveSync that actual amount of data coming down from “the cloud” is pretty small, unless you’re constantly getting emails with large attachments…

  17. gerrit says:

    Thanks for your answer, AC.

    I hope I am getting it right: The connection itself between activesync server and iphone does not effect battery life at all (or only insignificantly) unless there is data transferred? This would mean, the iphone is permanently logged on to the internet? Am I right?

  18. AC says:

    Yup — my understanding of it is as follows:

    Polling is when your local client is set up to connect with a server at pre-determined intervals, like a desktop email client. On a mobile device this can definitely mess with battery life, depending on how often it connects.

    Push is when a new event triggers the server to update all other clients on the network. Only the new information is sent down the pipe. ActiveSync works like this, as does a BlackBerry Enterprise Server or BES.

  19. rdolishny says:

    Nice commentary.

    I have nothing to add.

    But this thread made my miserable day less miserable! (working on a Sunday!)

    Good work AC and thanks for the tweet. Hell ya some mac-zombie-tard commentary is in order.

  20. AC says:

    Hey Rick, glad you “digg” it (hint hint)…

Comments are closed.