Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Breaking Free from MobileMe

Formerly known as .Mac, MobileMe is Apple's collection of cloud services and includes online applications for email, contacts, calendars, picture organization, and cloud storage.  It even has a tool to locate your lost iPhone and disable it if need be.  As you would expect from Apple, all of these online applications adhere to the same usability and design standards as Apple's standalone applications.  Something that the Googles and Microsofts of the world would do well to learn from. 

While all this attention to design detail is compelling, the functional features offered in MobileMe are not particularly unique.  To tell you the truth, a year into my $100/year MobileMe subscription, I don't think I've ever seriously used any of the online services directly.  Rather I use MobileMe, along with a couple other services, to link together my data across the various computers and connected devices in my life.  Recently,  I wondered if I could get the same synchronization experience using free services that I do with MobileMe.  This article describes my setup both before and after.

My connected life consists of sharing data across a home iMac, a home Macbook Pro, a work Macbook Pro, an iPhone, and an iPad.  The iPhone and iPad do double duty as both work tools and home toys.  In addition, wife-Annette and I use an online calendar to stay in sync (although this is more of an adaptation for her as she is quite efficient using only the paper calendar on the inside of our pantry door).  Prior to my investigation I had the following setup:
  1. Microsoft Exchange Server (work): synchronize my Work Calendar/Contacts between my work Mac, iPhone and iPad
  2. MobileMe: synchronize the Family Calendar and my Contacts between my home Macs, work Mac, iPhone and iPad
  3. MobileMe (iDisk): synchronize documents and files between my home Macs, work Mac and provide access to these files on my iPhone and iPad.  Synchronize my OmniFocus library across all computers and devices (very necessary to keep me organized)
  4. Google and Calgoo Connect: synchronize the Family Calendar between wife-Annette and I
A bit of a Rube Goldberg set up (particularly the Calgoo bit) but it has worked for a year now.  At first the synchronization between OmniFocus and iDisk was painfully slow but fixes between Apple and Omni Group improved things immensely.

Before designing a free service solution I leveraged some research and experimentation that I had done for work.  This included looking into services from Google, Microsoft, Dropbox, Box.net.  So it didn't tame me very long to design something that would work just as seamlessly as the MobileMe integration.  Here's what I'm testing today.
  1. Microsoft Exchange Server (work): synchronize my Work Calendar/Contacts between my work Mac, iPhone and iPad (no change)
  2. Google: synchronize the Family Calendar and my Contacts between my home Macs, work Mac, and iPhone
  3. Google: synchronize the Family Calendar between Annette and I using shared calendars
  4. Dropbox: synchronize documents and files between my home Macs, work Mac and provide access to these files on my iPhone and iPad.  Limited to 2G (MobileMe was 10G).  If I overrun my 2G I can either pay $10/mo for more or use Box.net or similar services to cover additional data.
  5. MyDrive: like Dropbox and Box.net, MyDrive.ch is a cloud service hosted in Switzerland.  What makes it different is that it provides the WebDav interface that OmniFocus needs for synchronization. This also makes it mountable in Finder so that I can access an additional 2G of storage.
The astute reader will see that while I am now free from MobileMe I seem to have lost my ability to synchronize my personal calendar and contacts with the iPad.  This is due to a limitation in iOS 3.x which only supports a single Exchange account (in this case, my work account).  Google synchronization of calendars and contacts uses the Exchange protocol (which makes for dead simple setup and seamless synchronization).  The forthcoming iOS 4.2 will remove this limitation and I will once again be fully synchronized.

2 comments:

Roland Young said...

I have been struggling with trying to decide whether or not to change from Google to MobileMe. I use Google for everything that MobileMe offers except two things: Google Voice and Google Docs. I use both for my photography business and MM just doesn’t offer anything like it. I guess I could use iWork online for document storage (editing?), bit I really feel uncomfortable pitting my cell phone number on the Internet for all to see, at least Google Voice gives me the option to block callers if necessary.

With that being said, I absolutely love Apple products. I have an iMac and an iPhone 4 (I hope to get an iPad here real soon). I have been using the 60 day trial and it works pretty well than when I had it before. One of the things that I can’t figure out though is how to set up my iPhone to receive my business POP mail without having the Mail indicator show double the messages on the count (if I forward all of my POP email to MM on the web. I don’t think this can be done currently with IOS4….??

Since I am on the brink of switching I just need a little push, any suggestions or comments you may have on my above situation would be greatly appreciated since I have been seriously considering this for a very long time.

I appreciate all the comments, thank you in advance!

Roland

Peter Scheyen said...

I think MobileMe is a fine service. As fine as Google in terms of the features that they both have. However, you can't beat Google's price (free). There just isn't enough value in MobileMe for me to justify the $99 cost.