MobileMe: what went wrong?

Not everything works smoothly with Apple products

Mac and iPhone users have been fuming over the botched launch over Apple's MobileMe push email and synchronisation service. Here's why.

It's not often we get to see Apple fall flat on its face, but that's exactly what the company's done in the last few weeks, with the launch of MobileMe – 'Exchange for the rest of us.'

Apart from the PR own goal of comparing your launch product to a well-established rival, Apple has gone on to make matters far worse.

First there was the failure of the company's own servers to cope with the sheer number of people wanting to sign up or sign in at launch on July 11.

The problem with 'push'

Then came the admission that MobileMe's much-vaunted 'push' features didn't quite work as advertised – with Mac or PC syncing only happening every 15 minutes.

Within days, MobileMe users were complaining of a litany of problems resulting from failed synchronisation attempts between contact, calendar and email apps on user's computers, iPods and iPhones.

Then one of Apple's mail servers went tits-up and took some users' 'cloud' based emails with it. Seemingly forever. Even Apple CEO Steve Jobs admitted it wasn't the company's finest hour.

The whole hog

The biggest problem seems to have been one of corporate overambition. Instead of being content to just roll out a 3G iPhone and new iPhone software, Apple decided to push a whole new generation of 'cloud'-based applications too.

Jobs said this in a leaked memo to Apple employees:

"Rather than launch MobileMe as a monolithic service, we could have launched over-the-air syncing with iPhone to begin with, followed by web applications one by one – Mail first, followed 30 days later (if things went well with Mail) by Calendar, then 30 days later by Contacts."

He also admitted:"The MobileMe launch clearly demonstrates that we have more to learn about internet services. And learn we will."

Apple even took the unprecedented step of launching a blog offering MobileMe status updates.

MobileMe vs .mac

To .mac users none of this is very surprising – it was a forerunner of MobileMe that continued to be unreliable, despite repeated attempts by Apple to woo new converts with additional features, and to get the thing to work properly.

Frankly, a lot of of .mac users questioned what they were paying Apple £59 or more a year for.

As a user of .mac since its launch in 2002 (when it succeeded an earlier version called iTools), this writer has had plenty of experience of things not working in quite the way Apple intended, or simply just not working at all. MobileMe promised to put a lid on all that.

Has MobileMe failed?

Far from it. Given the level of Apple's ambition, and its history with .mac – the launch of MobileMe was never going to be a painless affair.

What's surprising is actually how well it works most of the time. Apple's problems with losing user's data are certainly not unique to the company. You only have to ask the Google Mail or Hotmail users facing empty mailboxes or completely deleted accounts.

The real damage has also been limited: Apple says only one per cent of all MobileMe users – around 20,000 people – have been seriously affected. That's too bad if you're one of the affected people of course, but it could have been much, much worse.

What MobileMe's botched launch has done is damage Apple's seemingly unassailable reputation, just as the sudden first-gen iPhone price cut did last year.

Would-be MobileMe users will certainly be a lot more wary about signing up in future, especially when there are readily available – and free – alternatives in the shape of Google Mail, Google Calendar, etc.

What the MobileMe farrago has proved is that Apple employees are just as prone to messing up as we all are. The biggest surprise is how open and apologetic Apple has been as a consequence.

What's been your experience of MobileMe so far? Write in and let us know – add your comment below!