After our original post on MobileMe we came in for some criticism for our rather pro-Apple attitude. Our initial thoughts were that Apple had shown a compelling set of products, that showed some nice design touches and boasted strong integration with their hardware, in particular the iPhone.
Well today the MobileMe service is finally stable enough for us to have a play with, so we took another look at Apple’s offerings. The problems that Apple have had over the last few days with the launch of MobileMe has shown that its not easy building a software + services offering, no matter how big a company you are. In that sense it makes what Microsoft is attempting to achieve with Live Mesh even more impressive, with not just the consumer offering but the entire platform scenario as well.
The first thing you’ll notice when visiting me.com using Internet Explorer is the Anti-IE7 popup. In fact you can’t help but notice it as it takes over the entire screen, and to continue you must confess to your stupidity in using a Microsoft product. I wonder what they do to Zune users…
MobileMe is not a free product, it comes in at $99 or just under £50 . While there is an initial trial period of 60 days, you’ll still need to provide a credit card on signup in order to give it a try, though there is no billing until after the trial. Overall registration is pretty painless, except for Apple insisting that you give them a phone number.
Upon logging into MobileMe for the first time, users are greeted with a first run video. Unsurprisingly it uses Quicktime, which as I don’t have installed, I therefore can’t comment on the content delivered.
Mail & Contacts
The mail service itself is fairly standard, images in incoming HTML emails are blocked until allowed and there are vacation reply, email forwarding and POP3 checking options built in. There’s no rich text editor for emails, nor is spell checking performed as you type in IE7, therefore remember to hit the spell check button before sending.
Email attachments are limited to 20MB, however Apple have decided to grey out the screen during this upload and prevent the user from doing anything else. This is the only place in MobileMe where Apple adopts this particular approach, but be warned that on a slow upload you could be stuck doing nothing for a while.
The inbox has a few nice touches. You can preview the first few words of the email and there is a Quick Reply button to save loading up the full email editor. Alas this feature wasn’t working 100% when I tried it.
I don’t really have much to say for contacts, except that compared to Windows Live, the ability to add a photo to a contact was nice. Note to Apple, please set the default date system to match with the billing currency, there’s nothing worse than entering a birthday and then missing it due to Americanisation. Also if you don’t enter a year, it defaults to 2008. Minor points, but irritating nevertheless.
The key strength here is the synchronisation between MobileMe and the iPhone/iPod Touch, giving non-Exchange users a way of backing up to the cloud. The web calendar including a to-do list down the side of the screen, however there’s no iCal subscription support. Users can enable a special Birthdays calendar for their contacts, which for those who aren’t using a social networking site is a nice addition.
Functionality is basic but the front-end for public viewing is gorgeous due to the small touches, for example the reflection applied below each of the photos. Check out my demo album to see for yourself.
Options include allowing the public uploading of photos, the downloading of the entire album in a zip file and the adding of photos via email or iPhone. These choices can be made on a per album basis, meaning that privacy can be maintained where appropriate.
While the front-end UI is nice, its difficult to see the current web generation migrating from Facebook/My Space due to the loss of automatic public notifications. Facebook Application anybody?
Offering 20GB of online storage, iDisk is Apple’s equivalent of Windows Live Skydrive and Foldershare. Users can upload files through the browser, or alternatively install iTunes and map the drive onto the PC or Mac. With iTunes now being Apple’s main route onto the PC, its no surprise to see the MobileMe aspects being bundled in with the media player, but that brings its own set of problems.
Files can be shared publicly if desired, or kept private as a backup of your device(s). For those who want to backup large files and who aren’t using Live Mesh, the maximum file size is 1GB, compared to Skydrive’s existing 50MB limit. Again Apple try to excel with the small touches, and have built a compress option into the website.
Overall, MobileMe looks nice though lacks functionality in some areas. My impressions were that it was more along the lines of a v1 product, which given Apple has been running .Mac for years seems somewhat surprising. The strong integration with iPhone and iPod Touch will definitely help convert some users, however I can’t see people switching email providers from Hotmail, Yahoo or Gmail. The same is true for converting from Facebook or Flickr for image hosting. The cross-Apple scenarios will probably fare well, in particular contacts and calendar. As for iDisk, unless you need the backup functionality for your Mac, you’re probably better off sticking with Windows Live Skydrive and then moving to Live Mesh if you haven’t done so already.
Overall the page rendering had a slight lag, which given the low usage (<5 contacts, <5 email in the inbox etc) is worrying for the heavy users. Performance with Firefox was considerably better than Internet Explorer, This may just be down to Apple getting the service going after its shaky start, only time will tell.
Given the free alternatives available its not worth considering at $99 if you aren’t an iPhone/iPod Touch user. If you are though, definitely give it a try.