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Apple's MobileMe: The Medium is the Mess

Apple often does its best work when it buys every ingredient in the kitchen -- the computer, the software it runs, even the store you buy both products in. So maybe I should have expected MobileMe, the $99/year online service that replaces its .Mac offering, to have debuted in such a messy state.

MobileMe's core calendar and contacts synchronization functions require Apple's own software to play nice with applications from other developers -- some far older and less capable than the Address Book and iCal programs built into Mac OS X. And as I wrote in today's column, MobileMe frequently stumbles at this task.

Setting aside its rocky launch (see one user's sarcastic video commentary), MobileMe is one of the least reliable products to come out of Cupertino in a while. It can do its basic job of keeping the same address book and schedule among multiple applications, but the more non-Apple software you introduce into this system, the more time you'll need to spend cleaning up after MobileMe.

What's both sad and, perhaps, ultimately encouraging is that Apple and its users have been through this before.

At the start of 2003, Apple shipped a program called iSync that was supposed to synchronize the data in Mac Os X's then-new Address Book and iCal applications to handheld organizers and smartphones. I say "supposed to," because this hapless application could initially connect only to a handful of phones and discarded huge chunks of your data when syncing to a Palm handheld. (I wrote a scathing review with the headline "iSync, Therefore I Am Waiting For a Bug-Fix Update.")

Apple slowly broadened iSync's compatibility with a series of minor updates, then with the release of Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger in 2005, let other programmers tap into this capability with the new Sync Services programming framework. The limits of OS X's sync software were longer defined by Apple's staffing and budget: Third parties could contribute, providing features (for example, Mark/Space's line of phone-sync utilities) that Apple might have not found sufficiently interesting or profitable.

MobileMe -- which to judge from the conflict-resolver dialogs it pops up on a Windows machine may be built on a Windows port of Sync Services -- would grow far more useful were Apple to open it up to other programmers in the same way. Imagine if you could push your Address Book and iCal records not just to Microsoft's Outlook (it's remarkable how MobileMe's limited Windows application compatibility pushes Mac users into Microsoft's arms) but to, say, Mozilla Thunderbird and Google Calendar.

Better yet, what if the right third-party plug-ins allowed MobileMe to sync that same data live, over the air, to a BlackBerry, Windows Mobile, Palm, or Google Android smartphone, just as it can with an iPhone today? That last bit provided the one "wow, this is really cool--let me show this off!" moment in my MobileMe testing. (It's also the single biggest difference between MobileMe and such earlier sync systems as Comcast's Plaxo, though that service also lacks MobileMe's online storage.)

Tell me about your MobileMe experience, or your MobileMe wish list, in the comments below. Or we can ask me about all this in my Web chat at 2 p.m. today.

By Rob Pegoraro  |  July 24, 2008; 10:28 AM ET
Categories:  Mac  
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I love apple

Posted by: Jerry | July 24, 2008 12:53 PM | Report abuse

Apple is it's own worse enemy. The "closed" system model they have adopted for their iPhone will kill one of the best devices they've made.

Take a look at the Lisa, Mac (classic), etc. which were well ahead of their time. Apple seems bent on self-destruction... bummer.

The best takeaway from the 3g iPhone and the poor Mobile ME, is that it will drive the other phone companies to up their game, and in the end the 90% of people who DON'T buy into the iPhone / apple monopoly will benefit from cheaper and better touch phones, and a MUCH needed price reduction of the wireless data plans.

Posted by: Ken | July 24, 2008 1:01 PM | Report abuse

When Apple switched to MobileMe, it took away the ability to have bookmarks available on the web, took away iCards, and made the ability to access Homepage harder. I feel like I have been robbed of services I paid for.

Posted by: Robert Wallace | July 24, 2008 1:03 PM | Report abuse

I agree mobileMe is awful and certainly NOT worth the £50 per year subscription. Whilst the concept is a good one, there are many better clouds out there. The calander on the mobileme site rarely works correctly and errors appear stating to contact technical support. Email is certainly hit and miss, mainly missing my inbox. The apple store where i purchased my 3g iphone were pushing this at a reduced price, I am sort of regreting the purchase and glad I didn't pay full wack. Currently Google provides web accessable email, Calenders, documents, and spreadsheets whilst i will be sticking with.

Posted by: Paul | July 24, 2008 1:03 PM | Report abuse

After one week without email service, why can't Apple at least give the 1% of us a time frame as to when this will be resolved? Is it that severe? I use this 99$ service for personal/work and have been crippled...

Posted by: David | July 24, 2008 1:09 PM | Report abuse

We've been generally enthusiastic about the potential of MobileMe. While we can argue that Apple bit off a little too much when it decided to roll out MM at about the same time as the iPhone 2, it's been a generally good experience (4 hr wait in line to purchase said iPhone not withstanding). What's missing? I'd say my biggest wish is a better To Do list (why is this tied to mail in 10.5? - why not allow iCal and Mail to access and modify the same To Do data?) and true real-time push of information between desktop and handheld units and back again. We know it's a work in progress, but I guess we expected a little more from SteveJ and Company ....

Posted by: NMG in Seattle | July 24, 2008 1:40 PM | Report abuse

Not everyone has a Mac, they're expensive, and having an iPhone (Read: cheaper Mac) sync with your budget PC is a great prospect that MobileMe seems not to be designed to do.
Google calendars, contacts, and mail, or Thunderbird compatibilities would be actually good for apple, unless they're planning to keep their apple-only ecosystem functional, in which case mobile me is not helping.

Posted by: Guishermo | July 24, 2008 1:41 PM | Report abuse

Sorry to see the launch has been so rough for many, but my experience has been very good. No major troubles, and I started using MobileMe on day one.

Posted by: Rick | July 24, 2008 1:43 PM | Report abuse

MobileMe's launch also cut off access to our iWeb sites that resided on the old .Mac system. It took about a week for Apple to sort that one out.

Also, users who hadn't upgraded to Leopard had no clear transition to MobileMe. No update package was offered and no login to the .Mac service was possible for me, at least, until a wise user on an Apple forum suggested deleting a number of .plist preference files and starting all over again.

There's more, but you get the idea.

Posted by: JJersey | July 24, 2008 1:59 PM | Report abuse

Im not having problem with .me hmmmm, wierd! for me its working fine, sync and pushing everything!

Posted by: Arnaldo | July 24, 2008 2:30 PM | Report abuse

MobileMe is working fine for me. I using the push email and semi-push calendar syncing with no problem.

Posted by: Bob | July 24, 2008 2:50 PM | Report abuse

Going on 1 week without email access. And no response from Apple about what exactly is going on, when (or if) it will be resolved. I've been (past tense) a loyal Mac user for years, but no more. I am done with them.

Posted by: Jennifer | July 24, 2008 2:51 PM | Report abuse

It has been a horrible week with no email access and, of course, no customer support.

Posted by: Doug Rankin | July 24, 2008 4:04 PM | Report abuse

I owned a e-mail address for 3 years, eventually running all business and personal e-mail through it. SEVEN days ago, I was unable, through any means, to have access to or send e-mail. Still no communications, and no help from Apple.

The consequences have been grim, and Apple stays cavalier about it.

I am forty years old this December, and I have never seen a company care less about decimating its customers. I like my ipod, but that is a self-contained toy.

Anyone who trusts Apple with important business or personal communications is making a tragic mistake.

As a former prosecutor, I wouldn't mind seeing some Apple execs dragged before Congress or a grand jury, just to find out whether this was simply hubris of launching all sorts of new products at once (recklessness), or criminal indifference to the damage it caused once they were aware of how badly they had messed up.

Benjamin Plaut
Hollywood, CA

Posted by: Benjamin Plaut | July 24, 2008 5:16 PM | Report abuse

I use Apple products. They all work really well. I am not a MobileMe customer though and this whole disaster has made me laugh.

It is indeed "Exchange for the rest of us".

Truly they jinxed themselves by tying a Microsoft name to their service.

Perhaps this should be a warning to us, if Apple again uses a MS term to describe a service or product. Well we know what to expect.

An MS experience.

Now all you haters out there, don't get me wrong. I know Exchange is the cornerstone of corporate email and such must be doing a big job well.

Except if you upgrade it or the clients and in that transition phase there is pain and suffering. To figure out the pain tends to be a drawn out process.

Such is the experience for Apple moving from .Mac to "Exchange for the rest of us"


Posted by: Cy Starkman | July 24, 2008 9:27 PM | Report abuse

I know 5 people who own MobileMe email accounts (formerly email accounts), and they DEPEND ON THESE EMAIL ACCOUNTS FOR THEIR BUSINESS EMAIL! A week ago, 2 of these people (40%) COMPLETELY LOST ALL ACCESS TO THEIR EMAIL... AND IT'S STILL NOT BACK UP & RUNNING A WEEK LATER!! Apple does NOT CARE AT ALL ABOUT FIXING THIS PROBLEM, and provides absolutely NO CUSTOMER ASSISTANCE for this problem! I have NEVER, in my ENTIRE LIFE, heard of a company whose email services have gone down for an ENTIRE WEEK. Apple is singlehandedly destroying these people's businesses.





Posted by: MobileMe Anger | July 24, 2008 10:09 PM | Report abuse

On the subject of file backup, sharing and storage ...

Online backup is becoming common these days. It is estimated that 70-75% of all PC's will be connected to online backup services with in the next decade.

Thousands of online backup companies exist, from one guy operating in his apartment to fortune 500 companies.

Choosing the best online backup company will be very confusing and difficult. One website I find very helpful in making a decision to pick an online backup company is:

This site lists more than 400 online backup companies in its directory and ranks the top 25 on a monthly basis.

Posted by: Jennifer | July 25, 2008 12:26 AM | Report abuse

MobileMe has worked great for me since launch day. I'm impressed.

Posted by: Neil Anderson | July 25, 2008 12:52 AM | Report abuse

MobileMe is a flop. The email program is clunky, and since it launched I have had problems accessing email - both when using a browser and when using the Mail program on my MacBook.

Posted by: Ben | July 25, 2008 2:20 AM | Report abuse

I love the amount of Hype that is generated by an issue affecting 1 server and a bank of hundreds. 1% of users of a service... People making bold statements - more so because they have their caps locks stuck.

Did they reduce a lot of the functionality of .Mac when they converted to MobileMe, perhaps, but at the same time they added functions as well. I for one love that I can sync my Windows Calendar at work to my Windows calendar at home, and my iCal on my MacBook and my new iPhone. And woh!!! I have been getting emails on my .me account with out fail.

Do I feel bad for the people who are affected - yes I do, because I would be lost without my email, for the roughly 45 min it would take to change my email address with the 7 companies I do financial business with & send out a mass message to my address book saying - sorry my email is having a problem, plese email me at for a few days...


Nope, not really, I ran my own business for 6 years, and I have the sense to take ownership of my choices... and to use a service that is made for the purpose I am paying for. The .mac and the .me service terms state pretty clearly 'The Service is designed for personal use and not intended to be used for commercial business purposes'

If you want to use email for business - get a business email account with backups, redundancy and an up time guarantee, they can be had for about 2-3 times what your .mac or .me account costs, and you usually can have them say rather then using a commercial services name in your business email. If my legal, financial, real-estate, or any other adviser uses @mac, @hotmail, @yahoo, @aol, or even @comcast or @qwest email then they better be working for one of those companies, or I question their professional image.

And as an intelligent human being, if I saw Apple execs dragged before Congress or a grand jury it better damn well be long past seeing the Execs for any of the following...

Our Mortgage and Banking Industry
The Medical Insurance Industry
The Fuel Oil Industry
The Food and Drug Administration
The Current Presidential Administration
A Former Presidential Adviser currently in defiance of a Congressional subpoena

And... really any one of hundreds of companies, elected officials and supposed public services that fail far more then 1% of their constituency, often more then 50% of the people who in one way or another pay more then 100$ a year to be abused far worse then someone who cant check email for a week...

Posted by: MacJedi | July 25, 2008 2:52 AM | Report abuse

I am in the middle of a small-business start-up. I chose Mac (now MobileMe) despite its expense because I thought it would be reliable. After three months of 60+ hour weeks, I was literally minutes from starting my big marketing push when my email service stopped working. (There's not even an error message to the sender when emails don't get through.) Sure, I can think of half a dozen mediocre work-arounds, but I work in a professional-services field with stiff competition, and whatever contact info I put on my marketing materials now I will have to live with for a long time.

Its bad enough that their ineptitude is hurting us -- but the customer service around this is appalling. The situation update on the website hasn't been updated for three days. The chat option is perpetually down "due to the overwhelming amount of interest in MobileMe" -- yeah! the overwhelming desperation of MobileMe's paying customers!

15 years of Mac addiction was cured on July 12.

Posted by: Amanda | July 25, 2008 6:23 AM | Report abuse

My MobileMe works fine on the Apple products I have. But what really is awful is I can't access my email worldwide anymore when I travel without my laptop. Most internet cafes, businesses or other places use Windows or Internet Exporer and I can't access my email using that. I'll probably start an email with google, yahoo or something now to cover until this gets straightened out.

Posted by: Tony in San Diego | July 25, 2008 7:13 AM | Report abuse

My wife has been without email access for a week. I'm amazed that Apple is still selling MobileMe. The company should announce that it is suspending sales until it fixes the problems. Instead, it keeps saying that 1% of its MobileMe customers can't access their emails, as if the service is a success with the most minor of glitches. It is an insult, even if it's true. But I don't think it is. It's a lie, and I've come to the sad realization that it's typical of Apple. Why specifiy 1 percent, if you're not committed to damage control over customer service?

Posted by: Tom | July 25, 2008 7:37 AM | Report abuse

Also, files on my MobileMe public folder cannot be accessed by Windows machines. This would be a very good way to send large files. Are they working on fixing this?

Posted by: Jim Hershberger | July 25, 2008 8:05 AM | Report abuse

i'm very happy with my i-mac, iphone, ipod, and the new mobil me. As a exclusive apple user now, having changed from windows products 1 year ago, i'm sooooo haaappppyyyy to be in apple land, instead of fighting with Vista as are all my friends.

yes, i had a little trouble at first with mobil me, but VERY little.

one of my best experiences to date was when i updated my mac machine from 1 year ago to a new one with more power. using a prompt at the start up menu, i was able to have my new machine be an exact working duplicate of my old machine without getting out a single old package of software to "reload".

the process of changing machines used to take me 2 days with windows products.... it was accomplished in 1-1/2 hours with the Mac....and it was totally automatic!!!!

go steve jobs!

Posted by: vanmiller | July 25, 2008 8:36 AM | Report abuse

As to "conflicts" with those using mobil me with other operating systems...... shouldn't one really consider all the blockages that Microsoft puts between its system and others as the real culprit?

Ever try moving your e-mail to another machine using Windows? talk about a headache!

Posted by: vanmiller | July 25, 2008 8:38 AM | Report abuse

Never asked for it, didn't want it, but it MobileMe was foisted on me because I was a .mac user. (Silly me- I wanted an email address with "mac" in the domain name)


And no one from Apple will talk to me.

Posted by: Radiogumbo | July 25, 2008 8:55 AM | Report abuse

Push email for the masses - hah hah.

Posted by: Aaron | July 25, 2008 9:59 AM | Report abuse

It's like .Mac. MobileMe is a good idea that Apple can't be bothered to spend resources on to get it done right. iDisk access is usually OK, but probably 20% of the time something goes wrong. Having 20 gigs of storage is a joke; any decent sized backup to my iDisk always fails. (MozyHome by comparison just works for me, quite well.) Syncing data with Me works maybe 60% of the time. Email more or less works, but with unpredictable delays.
I will probably not renew.

Posted by: John | July 25, 2008 10:31 AM | Report abuse

I have been a loyal Apple customer for 5 years and couldn't me more disappointed than I am today with MobileMe. This application has crippled the Apple user community and is far less useful than expected. It is not fully integrated and not a replacement for any Blackberry. Calendars are not integrated with email, and you cannot send invites out via the Calendar application. It's just terrible. And two weeks into the launch and our email is still not consistently available. 1% may not be able to access email, but how many experienced smaller bugs, slow speeds, sync failure, emails missing, calendars disappearing and contacts unavailable through email for two weeks?

Posted by: MobileMess | July 25, 2008 12:20 PM | Report abuse

I have been using MobileMe since it's introduction after the upgrade of .mac of which I am a customer.

There was a glitch a few weeks back, for which Apple have compensated customers with a 60 day extension of their annual subscription which is fair enough.

It seems to me that when Apple launch something new there is always a "witch hunt" to slate them, whether it be the iPhone, Leopard or in this instance MobileMe.

I have had no problems with any of the Apple applications and nor have many other people ranging from single users such as myself to a friend who runs a Law Firm which employs over 180 people and their demand on ICT is well above and beyond the "norm" and wouldn't now even begin to entertain looking at anything except Apple.

God Bless Steve!!!! You are the Man!

Posted by: Dan | July 25, 2008 12:44 PM | Report abuse

All the people spamming about how mobileme is terrible. Well, it works for me and alot of other people. Instead of trolling complaints how bad it is, complain to Apple that it doesn't work for you! Most of us are satisified.

Posted by: Gee | July 25, 2008 1:51 PM | Report abuse

STFU about how loyal you are and how many Apple products you own. This problem is about you, it's about server problems and glitches.

Posted by: Troy | July 25, 2008 1:53 PM | Report abuse

STFU about how loyal you are and how many Apple products you own. This problem isn't about you, it's about server problems and glitches.

Posted by: Troy | July 25, 2008 1:54 PM | Report abuse

Oddly enough this isn't that much worse than the former .Mac service was. I'd lose access to my webmail several times daily. Several times a month couldn't connect. I grew so frustrated with iDisk I quit using for about nine months because I could not upload or download from it - a real issue with a service that's supposed to keep files in sync. And iSync? Well, that was just as bad then as Mobile Me is today.

The biggest reasons I stuck with .Mac was to preserve my iTunes Store account (LoginID for that is your .Mac email address if you have that) and there would be so many folks and services to update if I changed email addresses.

But with MobileMe Apple has probably seen the last of my subscription dollar. With Google doing this free and better the pull factor for OS X and their online tools is melting when I could use Linux and Google.

Posted by: Joel | July 25, 2008 8:53 PM | Report abuse

I guess I'm lucky.....aside from some delays in updating my original iPhone to the iPhone 2.0 software, I've had no problems with either my new 3G iPhone or MobileMe service. I especially like how I can enter an item into my calendar on the iPhone and when I later check my iCal on my computers at home -- voila! The date's there. I have long used .mac to synchronize several Macs and the iPhone, so am relieved that I haven't had any issues with it. One thing, though, that I DON'T sync is my email accounts. I also don't use my .mac (or .me) account as my primary email. Instead, I use it mainly for iTunes transactions and when I buy something new at the Apple store (receipts emailed to me). I keep my email accounts totally separate from MobileMe and that works out best for me.

Posted by: Happy with new 3G iPhone and MobileMe | July 28, 2008 12:24 PM | Report abuse

Funny how did I miss this?

One problem, at least for long-time users, we have become immune to reading all the mail that Apple sends. When they really have important info to send, they do it in the most *ss backward way. Yeah, I read the apology, but when will my service stop saying .Mac? When will the big switch take place so every thing reads MobileMe? I have .Mac for the past three years, and I need to renew in a week, but what will I renew to? And will it work?

I understand every one will get an extension, but that seems too far and away.

With the current iPhone 3G rollout, I hope Apple gets down to business and clears up some of the sync, operating, usage bugs.

I gather MobileMe has more to do with iPhones than anything else. However, they don't seem to be ready, so they should have waited!

Posted by: umm.huh | July 28, 2008 1:04 PM | Report abuse

What you all (meaning "loyal, long-term Apple customers" failed to realize, especially those who are happy to live WITHOUT A CELLPHONE OF ANY SORT, and those who were dot-mac subscribers...well, you all seemed to forget 1.800.275.2273, and after you had yourself transferred back to someone in the States (I always opt to NOT speak to someone off-shore; keep jobs in America, and exercise this option EVERY TIME YOU CAN) I wound up with Apple's CUSTOMER RELATIONS or CUSTOMER SATISFACTION department. And when I explained to them exactly what I was PREVENTED FROM DOING for some 48 hours, and EXACTLY what this "cost" me, I found myself shopping at The Apple Store, on their "nickel" shall we say. Let them know how long you've been a customer, why you are a customer, point out ALL of the Apple products you own, and then bluntly ask them "how they are going to compensate you for the loss of your (fill in the blank, but TIME is a good start) and within a few days, you'll find your own personal (fill in the blank with an Apple product) in the mail.

A class action lawsuit would be great, but remember the initial iPod battery debacle? I never received those $50 rebate checks, or the $25 CASH checks. And class action suits take so long, and require SO MUCH PAPERWORK.

Just dial 1.800.275.2273, name an Apple product YOU OWN WHICH IS UNDER WARRANTY, ask to be transferred to an APPLE CUSTOMER RELATIONS rep, and enjoy the rest of your day.

Like aloe to a bee-sting...

Unfortunately, I can't say what I received, but let's just say it replaces a Kodak moment...

Posted by: Brutus Maximus | July 29, 2008 11:43 AM | Report abuse

Here is the ultimate "Catch 22." Tried to cancel Mobileme because I haven't been able to login to my account since the changeover. Called Apple. Was told I have to cancel it online. Went online. I HAVE TO LOGIN TO CANCEL MOBILEME. IF I COULD LOGIN, I WOULDN'T WANT TO CANCEL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I have been a loyal Apple customer since 1986. When they had a 3 percent market share and Apple-compatible software was virtually non-existent, I stuck with them. However, the lack of information and service support Mobileme is ridiculous.

I just filed a complaint with my state attorney general's office.

Posted by: LInda | July 31, 2008 8:04 PM | Report abuse

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