In my quest to find an alternative to Hotmail, I have been using the free trial of Apple’s MobileMe. MobileMe got a lot of flack when it was released almost a year ago. The launch was accompanied by some significant issues, including two weeks during which people weren’t able to receive e-mail. Recently, however, it seems that many of the bugs have been worked out, so I decided to give it a try.
So far, I’m happy with it. MobileMe offers several services. The first, which was my main concern, is the e-mail service. MobileMe offers the IMAP protocol, so I can use it with any IMAP capable client, including Apple Mail, Entourage, Microsoft Outlook, Outlook Express, Mobile Outlook, and of course Mail on the iPhone/iPod Touch. That achieves my main objective, which allows the creation of folders and the synchronization of mail across multiple platforms. MobileMe has the added benefit of allowing push e-mail on the iPhone, with e-mail “pushed” to the phone as soon as it arrives. So far, the only options for true push e-mail on the iPhone are MobileMe, Microsoft Exchange, and Yahoo (though with push notifications enabled in iPhone 3.0, hopefully some others will be following in the near future). MobileMe also has a web-based interface, although that has some issues (more about that later).
MobileMe has a calendar and address book feature that allow push calendar/contacts to your iPhone and desktop programs, as well as the web interface. This is great – if you make a change on, say, your calendar on the web, that change will immediately be reflected on iCal and the calendar program on your iPhone. It is also supposed to work with Microsoft Outlook. While the integration with the Mac programs was seamless for me, I had some issues with Outlook. I believe the problem came down to the different ways Outlook and iCal were handling groups (for contacts), and different calendars (e.g., home, work, etc.). The programs seemed to understand those things differently, resulting in some quirky behavior. I really was just trying it out on Outlook, so it wasn’t worth it to me to keep struggling with it. My take on it is that calendar/contact synchronization works well with iCal/Address Book or Outlook, but is a little quirky when trying to use both at the same time.
MobileMe has a photo/video gallery as well. I use Kodak Gallery for my photo needs, and plan to continue to do so, since I can order prints with them as well as share my photos with others. But I did try the MobileMe gallery for video. I have been pleased with it. I can take a video on my iPhone 3GS, upload it to MobileMe, and send an e-mail to family and friends letting them know I am sharing it, all without using my desktop computer. Your friends can then click the e-mail link to your gallery and view your photo or videos on their desktop (or on their iPhone/iPod Touch). I set my gallery up with password protection for privacy, so I let my friends know what the user name and password are when I send them the e-mail. You can also upload photos/videos on your desktop, or through iPhoto on a Mac. The web interface for the gallery is attractive and it works well with PC or Mac. I tested it out with my mom, who isn’t that tech inclined, and she had no trouble with it.
Some other features of MobileMe include iDisk, which allows you to upload large files to the server (or “cloud”) and download them on other computers. An iDisk app for the iPhone is rumored, but not out yet. The amount of storage offered with the basic package (20 GB for mail/gallery/iDisk combined) isn’t really enough to back up all my files, but it is a nice way to share files with different computers.
With the recent update to iPhone 3.0, MobileMe has been advertising a “Find my iPhone” feature. From the web interface, you can have MobileMe locate your iPhone by GPS. You can send a message to the lost phone, asking to be contacted. If hope of getting it back seems to be lost, you can also remotely erase the data on your phone, so at least your personal information won’t fall into someone else’s hands.
The web interface has some quirks. It does not support all browsers. It is supported for Safari 4 and Firefox. It will work with Internet Explorer 7 and 8, though you get a warning message that it may not work quite right. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work with Internet Explorer 6. Now, you may ask, why would you want to use it with a browser that hasn’t been the current version of IE in three years? Well, for some of us, we may not have much choice. My workplace only has IE6, and they are not real keen on having other browsers running on their system. That means I have no option to use the MobileMe web interface at work. I’m not that concerned about the other features, but I really want to be able to get my e-mail.
Luckily, I found a couple of workarounds. I am able to use Firefox on the computer in my office (though not with other computers I use). There is also a version of Firefox, Mobile Firefox, that can be run from a USB flash drive, DVD, or, in my case, from a virtual drive I have access to on my server at work. Mobile Firefox is about 20 MB. It’s an older version of Firefox, but it is compatible with MobileMe. There is also a service called Mail2Web that allows you to check any web mail service that offers a POP or IMAP protocol through their website. The interface isn’t particularly attractive, but it does work as a way to get your MobileMe mail on IE6.
I am only a few days into the trial, but I like the features of MobileMe. MobileMe offers many of the functions of Exchange as well as several additional features. It has the advantage of not requiring me to put my personal calendar, contacts, and e-mail on my Exchange account at work. They offer a 60 day free trial. After that, it is $99/year for an individual plan. Amazon.com, however, offers MobileMe licenses for about $65. That comes to about $4.60/month for 14 months (2 months free + 12 month license). For the features offered, I think that’s pretty reasonable.