Mar 11

Why MobileMe will be free

MobileMe has always been the bad boy of the Apple product portfolio. It’s not like Apple doesn’t give it frequent makeovers. It just never seems to attract a crowd.

So it’s not surprising there is speculation out there about the future of MobileMe.

Who knows what Apple will do in the end, but there are some compelling reasons to believe it will become a free service.

MobileMe is a tough sell. It’s always been a tough sell. And Apple is really good at turning a problem into an advantage.

When I say it’s a tough sell, I’m talking specifically about what goes on in the Apple Stores. When a customer buys any Mac or i-device, the sales person is trained to sell them on two additional purchases: AppleCare and MobileMe.

AppleCare is a no-brainer. That’s because it’s easy to understand and worth the price. Pay a modest fee and get two additional years on your warranty.

MobileMe is another story. It’s got lots of parts, so it’s hard to explain. And the fact is, most people just don’t need all the parts. So they decline the opportunity to plunk down 99 bucks.

Every so often, some anonymous Apple employee dares to go public, as this one did recently. He confirms how difficult it is to sell MobileMe. I usually take these things with a grain of salt, but this is consistent with what I’ve read elsewhere and what I’ve heard from my own sources.

Apple has made some gallant efforts to spice up MobileMe, but the result has always been the same. People are lukewarm on it at best.

But now that so many years have passed, the current version of MobileMe faces more vexing problems than its previous iterations ever did. It has competitors who offer pretty good products — most of which are free.

If you’ve had an email address for years, chances are you won’t get too excited about having a me.com address.

If you use Dropbox to sync files amongst multiple computers, you probably won’t get too excited about iDisk.

If you sync calendars and contacts with Google, you probably won’t care much about iCal and Address Book syncing.

If you want to share your photos online, you can easily do that any number of ways.

So what’s the big advantage of MobileMe these days? Like most Apple solutions, its advantage is simplicity. Even if you only have a Mac and an iPhone, the convenience of MobileMe is hard to beat. Just turn it on and your stuff is automatically synced. Don’t underestimate the power of that.

Though MobileMe is a good thing, it’s not a $99 thing. It’s the kind of advantage you expect from Apple, but don’t expect to pay for.

Unless Apple has a secret plan to turn MobileMe into MagicMe, it’s time to officially make the service what it should be — a basic part of the Apple experience.

This way, MobileMe would simply be one more reason to choose the Apple way. It would stop being a “one more thing” message from the sales person, and become part of the main sell. It would delight new customers and strengthen the loyalty of current ones.

Millions would happily buy into the idea of MobileMe — as long as they’re not asked to buy it.

Tags: , , ,

  • neilw

    Every point here is spot on. Doesn’t qualify as shocking revelation, because free MobileMe has been a rumor for a long time, and right from the get-go the interwebs have been flummoxed about the whole value proposition.

    But, as a non-user, I especially agree that the overall package of MobileMe is hard to define and hard to understand. It basically sounds like an expensive alternative to a bunch of pretty good free services. Last time I bought something there (probably my iPad), they asked if I wanted MobileMe, and I replied “sure, as soon as it’s free”. Maybe now I’ll finally get my chance.

  • I have had MobileMe for a few years. The only reason I use it is to sync contacts and calendars between devices. But I often wonder why I bother as it has been extremely troublesome and unreliable.

    For one thing it inexplicably duplicates certain contacts, and in some cases I have had up to 20 duplicates of a single contact. Very annoying.

    I have cleaned up my address book numerous times, a big task as I have several thousand contacts in there, deleted everything from mobile me then re-synced it … only to have the same problem recur again within days.

    Contacts I add to my phone never seem to transfer to my mac. Instead, when I try to find them again I find they’ve been deleted from my phone and they don’t appear anywhere on my Mac. I’ve even had my own v-card deleted on a few occasions, although I would never delete it.

    The bottom line is that MobileMe as it is at present is just plain unreliable and unpredictable and I’ve grown to hate it.

    Whatever they’ve come up with to replace it, free or not, had better be better and more reliable at syncing than MobileMe is now.

  • Amen, Ken!!

    You said it!!

    Not only do Apple’s competitors offer excellent competing products FOR FREE, but:

    1. Apple’s MobileMe has NEVER been reliable! iDisk was slow and buggy and rarely worked, calendars would stop syncing every 2 weeks, Address Book contacts would double up and then stop syncing, bookmarks stopped syncing after every 20th sync, etc.

    2. Apple abandoned core components of MobileMe and left their customers in the dark. Apple Backup? Abandoned by Apple, and never updated for recent OS versions. Bookmark syncing on the MobileMe website? Canceled by Apple. Photo/video sharing? Never updated since version 1.0. The list goes on and on.

    3. Apple never supported MobileMe. Oh sure, it SEEMS like Apple offers an online support chat for MobileMe, but have you ever tried to use it? I get better technical support from my cat.

    MobileMe is a great example of what happens when Apple turns its back on a product, which they actually do fairly regularly. iCal hasn’t been solidly updated in almost a decade (have you ever tried BusyCal? It puts iCal to shame). Address Book is sparse and has bugs with smart groups and hasn’t gained any major new features in 5 years. Apple Mail is riddled with so many bugs and missing features that most users have to quit & relaunch it several times per day just to keep their IMAP mail in sync. The Finder and Dock have tons of bugs. But Apple makes its money selling hardware, so it figures it can afford to turn its back on its “less flashy” software.


    I’m a MobileMe member and I like it a lot. Yes, I have had problems with iDisk syncing in the past, but I’m still happily paying my annual fee. Would I like it to be a little bit cheaper? Yes. Would I like it to be free? I don’t think so. Free services always have a caveat. If a service has value, expect to pay for it. For me, MobileMe has a lot of value.

  • Synth

    I’d be happy if they just lowered the regular price from $99 to $49 per year, $99 for families. Also, they should allow multiple e-mail addresses for each account.

    At the very least, Apple should give away a free year of mobile me every mac and iDevice.

  • Temujin Kuechle

    I have to agree with Synth, and would like to add that better support be added. I believe that if I pay for a service, then the service should offer support. I don’t expect support from a free service.

  • David

    @Robert Clay: Sounds like you have syncing enabled by MobileMe *and* by iTunes. This is a no-no, and Apple warns you about it. It results in duplicated entries and lost entries, exactly as you are seeing.

  • Adam Chew

    I wouldn’t mind to changing my email to @me.com better still if it is @mac.com.

  • yes.

  • Ian

    MobileMe saved my ass today. After updating to 10.6.7 today my keychain got hosed. Althought I had made a clone of my system before updating I did not have it with me as I was visiting a client. Keychain first aid was no help at all. So I created a new keychain and reset my data with the copy stored on MobileMe.

    I have posted the following elsewhere:

    The following is pure speculation. I’ve always view MobileMe (as well as its earlier forms of existence) as beta testing for OS X Server. A great webmail interface as well as improving Groupware features such as CalDav, contact management, iChat/Facetime and Web and Wiki hosting. I think it’s all leading up to the Mac Mini OS X Lion Server 10.7. One machine which is always online, used to sync your families Macs as well as its iOS devices. All that’s missing is an iTunes Server component to administer multi iOS devices. Remember not everyone needs a personal computer.

    I’m not a proponent of the “CLOUD”. I want my data under my control and I believe that Apple based upon its past, also thinks that way. For Apple the “digital hub” has always been a user’s machine unlike Google’s as well as MS Exchange’s focus being the net server (cloud). I know not everyone has a need for such a family server or even the necessary bandwidth at present.

    Last but not least the new data center will offer it’s services as a Time Machine depot for the Mac Mini OS X Lion Server as well as continuing to host the normal MobileMe offerings such as its great family pack plan. 5 exchange like capable accounts as well as other features for $150 a year is a steal. Here in Leipzig, I’m about 6 to 9 months away from having a 50 to 100mb V-DSL line. Although I have a Mac which is collocated at a hosting company I would rather have 24/7 physical access to my server at my home or work space.

    As I had mentioned pure speculation.