Review: Apple Blows Its Chance With MobileMe

When Apple CEO Steve Jobs pre-announced MobileMe at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference earlier this year, with the company billing it as "Exchange for the rest of us" and painting a picture of some kind of a cloud-based, personal data center, it made sense. By providing a link between the personal calendar, contact list, email and data files and everybody's iPhone or iPod Touch, Apple would provide the killer cloud app.

It wasn't to be, based on what Apple has delivered to market with MobileMe.

The list of what MobileMe doesn't do is more telling than a list of what it does.

-- It doesn't "push" email, calendar or contacts from the desktop to the iPhone over the cloud. (It "syncs" them manually or on pre-set intervals and does a poor job at that.)

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-- It doesn't provide access to data files - - like music, text or presentations -- to the iPhone or iPod Touch from the desktop.

-- It doesn't provide 20 GB of storage anyway you'd like. It splits storage allotment by providing 10 GB for email and 10 GB for everything else.

-- It doesn't let you share data files with other people without a torturous sent of maneuvers.

-- It doesn't work with Internet Explorer 7.0.

Syncing calendars between MobileMe and Outlook is balky and Apple has provided no troubleshooting advice or workarounds in documentation beyond this: "When syncing subscription calendars between a Mac and a Microsoft Windows-based PC: Subscription calendars do not appear in Microsoft Outlook 2003 or 2007."

(Google, however, provides its own application that allows for syncing between Outlook 2007 and Google Calendars. That works just fine.)

In short, MobileMe is not what you'd expect from Steve Jobs' Apple. The company simply overpromised and underdelivered.

The fact that Apple charges $99 -- the equivalent cost of a tank of gas for an SUV -- for a one-year subscription to MobileMe isn't bad. The fact that it had a chance to absolutely destroy Microsoft and Google in this space, and missed its target by a country mile, is.

Apple is telling customers that it will add an extra month to their annual subscription because of the difficulties everybody encountered with the MobileMe rollout. And the company has stopped using the word "push" to describe what it does with your data. These are positive steps if for no other reason than it is the first step is admitting there is a problem.

MobileMe isn't all bad. Its Web interface is clean, easy to navigate and, as of this week, has shown itself to be fast. Apple has integrated a fantastic photo gallery application into the offering; the MobileMe calendar application (despite its inability to push or sync in a meaningful way) is easy and, to be honest, beautiful. Having a "" email address is very, very nifty. The iDisk part of MobileMe, which offers 10 GB of online storage, is organized nicely into folders for photos, music, video, documents and other data. If MobileMe is your first-ever experience with email, calendaring or organizing a contact list, it's a stellar application and nice to build on. For everyone over the age of 13, though, it probably falls short.

It's not a lost cause for Apple, though. If the company can provide the "push" functionality it originally promised; if it can do a better job of making MobileMe files available for download to iPhone and iPod Touch devices; if it can play nicer with Google and Outlook, it will win over many in the market and it should.

But if it doesn't, Apple will just show that its cloud was more like the real kind: made up of so much vapor.