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Trial complete: A look at Apple’s MobileMe service

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Not too long ago I decided that I was fed up with having to dock my iPhone every single day (sometimes several times a day) in order to make sure my Outlook calendar / contacts were synchronised with one another.  I was going to start using my iPhone exclusively for this information but didn’t like the fact that some Outlook features were missing from the iPhone.  For example, the ability to categorise calendar entries and set them to tentative / free / busy.  I was also had concerns if I were to ever lose the phone or it’s database become corrupted that’d be the end of my data.  I spoke with a work colleague about my irritations and he suggested I make use of Apple’s MobileMe service to wirelessly synchronise my iPhone and home PC.  He’d been using it for quite a while and given Apple offer a 60 day free trial, I decided I’d sign up.  The 60 day trial is now over, so I thought I’d share my experiences.

When I first set up the service I was on a lunch break at work.  I’ve always believed that Apple make it’s products so that they are idiot proof and I’m not a fan of reading manuals.  The end result meant I ended up wiping all my contacts and calendar entries from my iPhone and didn’t managed to get them back until I was home and in a position to set-up my PC with MobileMe.  I blogged about this at the time in my How not to set-up up Apple’s MobileMe service post.  Of course, I didn’t lose any data.  The iPhone being cleared of the contacts and calendar entries was temporary.  Once my PC was set-up, Outlook synchronised with the Apple servers and I’d reconfigured my iPhone to use MobileMe again, everything came back.  Since adding the service I haven’t seen any issues.  Every time I add a contact or calendar entry, a corresponding entry appears on my home PC.  I’ve heard reports of people temporarily missing all their contacts from their device, and at one point seeing someone else’s contacts, but thankfully, my experiences has been nothing but positive.

MobileMe is not limited to just this functionality.  Sure, it’s the key purpose for which I use it, but there are other features too.  This are accessed through the MobileMe web interface

Webmail
With your MobileMe account you get another email address.  “Yay – just what I need, another one to add to the 30 I already have!“  Anyway, you can access through a simple and easy to manage interface.  Given that your contacts are all stored on Apple’s server, composing and handling email is a doddle.

Contacts
You are able to quickly look up contacts and access their business card information in the same manner you would should you have your preferred client open.  Handy if you want to cut n paste information when not using your iPhone and browsing MobileMe on the web.  You can manage your contacts from here and any changes will replicate to all MobileMe devices.

Calendar
Very much like the contacts and webmail screens, you can access and manage your entire calendar from the web browser.

Photo Album
You can create numerous albums and store photos within them.  I believe this is more geared up to Mac users since the interface has options set for automatic syncing with Aperture and iPhoto.  This said, you can share photos with others, allow others to download your photos and manage the albums through email publishing or web upload.  Personally, I’m not using this service because I neither have a Mac, nor a need for a further web photo album.

iDisk
This is a data store for pretty much whatever you want.  You can upload data to the area for safe keeping, you can share resources with others (giving them a password to limit download access) and since there’s an accompanying iPhone application, you can manage your data with ease too.

Remote Wipe
So, you’ve lost your iPhone or worse still it’s been stolen.  Even with a lock code you’re going to want to make sure every shred of data on your precious device is wiped to stop someone from trying to get their grubby little paws on it.  From the MobileMe dashboard you can initiate a remote wipe of your handset.

Find my iPhone
Not sure where your iPhone is or got the family subscription and need to check on someone’s location?  You can triangulate your iPhone using this service.  Handy for a spot of snooping if that’s what floats your boat, but also useful for working out whether you left your iPhone in your car, or at home when in the Office and it’s not on your person.

Other Considerations
When you set-up MobileMe on your iPhone you need to remember the impact it’ll have on your iPhone’s performance.  It’s another push service being enabled (unless you set it otherwise) and therefore having it install will have an effect on your battery life.  I noticed about an hour a day less battery power when MobileMe is installed.  It could be because I make a lot of changes and use my iPhone all the time and therefore it was often having to make synchronisation changes but there are also notable occasions when I’m in the contacts or mail application and my iPhone pauses for a few seconds, the spinning wheel being present where my data service icon sits on the notification bar.  Obviously the handset doing some kind of MobileMe interaction since it didn’t do this previously.

I decided not to cancel my subscription and have paid the £59 for a year.  This price is probably a bit much for what I actually use the service for; however its convenience alone is worth the price for me.  I am even toying with the idea of making my account a family one.  This would cost an additional £30 per year, but would allow me to add several other users to the platform, all with their own configuration.  My wife also has an iPhone so she could have the same convenience as me.  In time, if I make up my mind and get a MacBook Pro, then the service will get a lot more use with some of the other features detailed above coming into their own.

Would I recommend this service to others?  Absolutely if you use your iPhone as a Personal Information Manager it’s fantastic; if not, you might want to really think about what you’d get out of the product and it’s value to you.

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