When MobileMe was launched, it sounded so good.
For a tenner less than .Mac used to cost, you got a richer service that pushed email to all your devices as soon as it arrived, a full suite of Web 2.0-style apps that gave you access to all your mail, contacts, calendars, galleries and iDisk-stored files, twice the storage – now at a total of 20GB to be split between email and iDisk – instant over-the-air syncing with your iPhone, and support for syncing with Windows applications such as Outlook and Internet Explorer.
It was a fiasco: a mess of unresponsive web apps, syncing issues, access to email being denied, confusion about when a MobileMe update was coming out and just what it would do anyway.
While Apple has apologised for the 'rocky' start and given all members an automatic 30-day extension, our concerns about the service are more about its ongoing problems than this initial glitch.
Living up to the hype?
Apple's initial claim that everything was 'push' – with changes made online or on any device registered with the service being propagated to all the others with only a few seconds' delay – has since proved to be inaccurate. Make a change on your iPhone or in the web apps and it is indeed effectively pushed between them instantly.
But Macs and PCs, it seems, send and receive changes only every quarter of an hour or so. Apple has since toned down its language and is, it tells us, working hard to eradicate this delay. And in fairness it's a delay that many won't notice; at least now iPhone users don't have to perform a tethered sync to ensure data is up to date.
Integration with Windows
The information syncing can be a little hit and miss as well, though we only noticed problems when we introduced a PC into the mix. Attempting to sync our info with Outlook 2007 on Windows Vista resulted in nasty duplication of calendars and some sync conflicts when we came back to the Mac.
Even resetting the data from the MobileMe servers to the PC didn't clean up our problems – all of which may have been Outlook's fault – and bookmarks synced with Explorer appear in alphabetical rather than your set order.
Integration with Windows seems slipshod, throwing up errors when we tried to mount our iDisk. It plays nice with 10.4 at least, and happily synced an Exchange-powered calendar managed by Entourage and synced through Tiger's Sync Services engine.
Great web apps
Push email is a welcome addition, with emails pinging into our inbox on our Mac and iPhone simultaneously.
Frustratingly, only incoming new messages are pushed out; an email's status – whether or not it's read – or what folder it's in doesn't get synced in the same way, so if you've read a message on your Mac, your iPhone's home screen will show that the message is still unread until you tap on the app and let it sync. Again, this is probably the iPhone's fault, but it's still disappointing.
The web apps are slick and strong, with the mail and calendar modules feeling particularly rich after using free alternatives; there's no way to mail meeting invitations from the web app, however.
To do items appear online, and little touches such as the quick reply links for emails are great. Smart Groups in Address Book don't show up online.
Back to My Mac
We've lost iCards, but the tightened-up service does feel more coherent. And yet it's a mixed bag.
Back to My Mac is great, and you're getting so much bang for your buck compared to when .Mac first launched that to criticise it is almost churlish, particularly since much of the flak MobileMe has received has been not so much about the service as Apple's marketing spin overselling it.
Apple needs to under-promise and over- deliver a bit more; had it done so, and had the initial launch not been such a shambles, we would have been less harsh.