There are certain fantasies that I try to forget: cheap solar batteries in every device; a wireless, Model M clone keyboard with a Macintosh key layout but real buckling springs; that one with the octopus and I think my hair is in a bun?
And that one that Apple just triggered again with MobileMe: all my data, email, contacts, scheduling, and media accessed and synced through a single sign-on.
I signed up for the MobileMe trial on the day it was opened to the public, if only to grab my preferred username. Still, perhaps I could make the magic happen. I’d always been intrigued by .Mac, but had never been compelled to pay $100 for a service that Apple put out to pasture.
Bear in mind that I am not a heavy calendar user, although I always feel like I should be integrating more tools into my organizational system. (I recall telling a friend a few weeks ago that I read 43 Folders primarily because I liked reading about tools, not because I had any hope that I’d implement them with any discipline.)
So my needs are modest: email, which doesn’t even have to be push-to-the-minute; a few appointments here and there, very infrequently added from my phone instead of at my computers; a unified list of contacts; a virtual drive for backing up important files; a place to store and share my photos.
I’ve found that as a heavy Google user, Mobile me is not a terribly good fit, despite owning both a Mac and an iPhone.Email
This isn’t to say that there’s anything inherently flawed about MobileMe. In fact, were I willing to sacrifice just one thing — my @gmail.com email address and the accompanying archive-for-life storage — I could probably switch over to MobileMe without much of an issue.
Unfortunately, MobileMe is still built around the notion that you’ll be using your @me.com (or the still-functional @mac.com) address as your primary online identity. As a long-term Gmail user — I’ve been in since the Beta! — I’m not about to ditch it for a MobileMe address.
What I thought might have been possible would be to use the @me.com address and the accompanying MobileMe email interfaces (iPhone, Mail.app, and the Me.com webapps) as a sort of shadow account to my Gmail. I’d simply forward my Gmail to my Me.com account, then set the Reply To field to reflect my Gmail account. That wouldn’t send my outbound mail through Gmail’s mail servers, but it would route any replies back through before they were forwarded to my Me.com account. As long as people copied my replies in their replies, there would still be a copy of many of my outbound messages in Gmail for permanent archiving.
Sadly even this imperfect solution was not to be. While Mail.app allows you to change the Reply To field in all your outbound messages, the Me.com web app and the iPhone email client do not. Unwilling to commit to splitting responses between two accounts or to switch over entirely to the Me.com address, I stopped my Gmail forwarding bit after just a couple of hours.
The Calendaring synchronization works fine, although it’s still limited to a one-way connection from Gcal. You get Gcal data from an iCal feed, but iCal.app, the Me.com Calendar web app, and the iPhone Calendar can push appointments back up to Gcal.
This was actually one of my major hopes for MobileMe: It would be nice to start relying on my phone as the input device for all my life’s scheduling instead of making notes and adding appointments later on my laptop or accessing the mobile interface to Gcal on my iPhone EDGE’s Safari web browser. Again, this is less of a limitation with MobileMe and more of a limitation of my expectations. If I were willing to give my calendaring over to MobileMe completely I’m sure it’d work just fine.
One quirk remains in iCal.app + Gcal whether you use it with MobileMe or as a standalone application: While you can subscribe to multiple iCal feeds in Gcal, when you subscribe to Gcal’s iCal feed in iCal.app (try to keep up!) only your primary appointment feed is pushed down, not an aggregate of all the subscribed feeds. This isn’t an iCal.app failing, but one from Gcal. I don’t know why Google doesn’t let you push down an aggregate feed instead of having to subscribe to every iCal feed twice, once in Gcal and once in iCal.app.
I keep all my contacts in OS X’s Address Book.app. Works great — and works essentially the same in MobileMe. Making a change on the iPhone’s contact list automatically syncs the changes back to my local Address Book.app database via MobileMe. But this already works with a tethered iPhone each time you sync, so unless you really needed it to update contacts instantly — and I don’t — it’s not a killer feature for MobileMe.
iTunes actually lets you sync Google Contacts to the iPhone without MobileMe at all, but I keep a separate address book locally and on my iPhone than I do from my email. I’ve thousands of contacts in my Gmail account; I don’t want them all on my phone.
I use Flickr.
My only need for iDisk, the online storage component of MobileMe, would be to backup text files and other important documents automatically. I don’t want to use the iDisk simply as a remote drive since I don’t need to access those files from multiple other places.
My highly subjective preference would be for iDisk to work as a modestly sized web-based Time Machine drive.
What I’m doing now
I can’t stress enough that MobileMe is failing me because I’m not willing to do what it’s asked, which is to leave behind my other web-based services from Google and Flickr. I doubt I’m the only Gmail who would have liked to have incorporated push and over-the-air syncing to their life which is why I’m writing about it now, but complaining that MobileMe doesn’t address my needs perfectly would be much like my father at the Peruvian restaurant the other night, complaining that “everyone thinks they’re Bobby Flay” and should simply learn to “make a freakin’ burrito.”
The good news is I can get pretty close to the services offered by MobileMe, minus the nearly instant over-the-air syncing, with a collection of third-party tools. Gmail works fine in both Mail.app and the iPhone mail application, although on both my laptop and my iPhone I prefer to simply use the web-based version of Gmail instead of IMAP.
My Gcal pulls through iCal.app onto my iPhone just fine. But the addition of Spanning Sync ($25 a year; $65 lifetime) will sync up all my calendars in both directions. I held off buying it forever, but it’s time to pull the trigger.
My contacts, as I said above, work just fine with iPhone and Address Book.app. I don’t sync them back to Google in the first place.
As for photos, before the iPhone 2.0 firmware was released I was using an jailbroken application called “iFlickr” to automatically push photos up to Flickr from the iPhone. It didn’t always work and would sometimes duplicate uploads so I wasn’t sad to see it go. Now I’m syncing back to Flickr from the iPhone manually by importing the pictures through iTunes to iPhoto, then manually uploading the ones I want to share. That’s really awkward.
I’m surprised there aren’t any applications from the iTunes App Store that duplicate the functionality of iFlickr. Fraser Spier’s excellent Exposure application for iPhone 2.0 is a fantastic interface into Flickr but inexplicably doesn’t allow you to upload to Flickr from the device. Surely this will be remedied soon, if not in Exposure then in some other dedicated “iPhone to Flickr” application.
Because of the way I use Flickr these days — primarily for sharing, not for archiving — I’m not overly concerned with keeping every last photo in my library in sync between my computer, phone, and the web. Mostly I just want to be able to instantly upload a picture from my phone to Flickr for sharing.
Twitteriffic for the iPhone will let you upload a bit to Twitpic.com, however, but I’d still prefer to use Flickr to keep the picture in my collection.
In short, I’d be perfectly happy to pay $100 a year for over-the-air syncing if MobileMe allowed me to use other services than those from Me.com. But that’s not what they’re selling, so I’ll just have to go without.