Over the past few weeks, I have realized that I love MobileMe when I’m using my iPhone or my laptop, but I absolutely hate it when I am using these services via my web browser.
You see, the MobileMe service basically offers a handful of things that you can get on the web for free, but they have done a good job of packaging them into a Mac/iPhone centric way that just ‘makes sense’. If you change a contact on your iPhone, it is nearly instantly reflected on any other computer you have. Add or remove a calendar entry? It’s reflected on any number of machines that you use. Change a bookmark on your laptop? It’ll be changed on your work computer, iPhone, and any other computer you use next time you use it. This is a really amazing thing that has, over the past six or so months, become something I have taken for granted.
It goes without saying that it’s also a push-based IMAP mail service. On top of that, you are able to sync things like saved passwords, mail settings, ftp logins/passwords (thanks to the Panicguys!), and more. All of these features, along with a 20gb web storage space that I generally store lots of things on (generally documents I might need while out and about but aren’t what I’d call ’secure’ either), and $99 for a year isn’t that bad of a deal.
Failure to deliver
While I am at work, I depend on the me.com website to allow me to check my email, update contact information, access files from anywhere, and I expect to be able to do this reliably and quickly. That’s where the problem lies. The web-based software is just a mess. Things take dozens of seconds to load at times. The UI is not intuitive – there is no feedback when you click on some buttons, but others do have feedback. There is no rich text editor for composing emails. Sometimes, when you read an email then return to the mail index, adjacent emails are now marked as read. Simple things like “keep me logged in for two weeks” does not work reliably so I am forced to log in repeatedly over the course of the day. These may be first world problems, but when you are paying money for something, you expect it to work at least as well as the free competition does.
Honestly, I’ve always been struggling with iTools, .Mac, MobileMe (whatever you want to call it). It always sounds so much better than it actually could be, but it’s generally just good enough to make you stick around. MobileMe succeeds everywhere but the web-based space. Using MobileMe mail, contacts, etc is a pain. They have tried too hard to shoehorn desktop metaphors into a web based world and it simply doesn’t work well. I think that Apple has invested way too much into selling the platform and using it to push OS X to turn away from this approach and come up with a fast loading, easy to use solution.
Switching to free services
With all of that complaining out of the way, I have considered switching from the MobileMe service to free services like Gmail (using google apps to check my firstname.lastname@example.org mail), Google Calendar, Dropbox for file sync between platforms, and saving myself $99 a year. Then of course I start thinking about issues with Gmail’s IMAP (which they have kind of addressed with more advanced IMAP controls), the fact that I would no longer be able to sync keychains, Transmit favorites, desktop widgets, or use OmniFocus the way I currently do (I currently use the iDisk to sync OmniFocus between my laptop, my iMac, my iPhone and my work computer).
What is the solution?
Again, first world problems to be sure, but I am torn. Is saving $99 and getting a better web experience a fair trade in exchange for a slightly worse experience on the desktop and iPhone? If I abandon the push services of MobileMe, I would only be able to sync my bookmarks, calendars and contacts when I manually sync my iPhone to my laptop (which I do not do very regularly). I spend 8+ hours a day at work using web-based solutions to communicate with people, and the MobileMe web solution just isn’t cutting it. But I also spend a lot of time on my computers at home and using my iPhone out and about. I’ll probably wait and see what Apple has to offer at Macworld tomorrow and make a decision shortly thereafter. I could see further integration with iLife 09 (assuming something like that is announced), further integration with the iPhone 2.3 or iPhone 3.0 software, or simply promised improvements when Snow Leopard comes out this year.
So after all this ranting, no solution just yet. Stay tuned to the saga.