Apple's MobileMe joins Sharpcast SugarSync and Microsoft Live Mesh, among others, in the battle to provide seamless data synchronization and data sharing for mobile computing. But Apple MobileMe has come out with some cost and service issues that need resolving. J. Gerry Purdy, mobile and wireless analyst at Frost & Sullivan, explains.
It's been several rough weeks since the July 11
launch of Apple's MobileMe, Apple's sequel to .Mac, concurrent with the availability of the Apple iPhone 3G. Apple's MobileMe concept is really great: to provide automatic synchronization between a user's e-mail, contacts, calendar, photos (Gallery) and other files (via iDisk) on a Mac, Windows PC, the Web, Microsoft Outlook and Apple iPhone. Apple's MobileMe also promises to provide the ability to share designated photos (via Gallery) and other files (via iDisk Public) with family and friends.
The problem Apple and its competitors are trying to solve is easy to describe-namely, to sync data everywhere-but it's very technically challenging to pull off. That's why even sophisticated companies like Apple are having a rough time getting it to work. Sharpcast SugarSync, Microsoft Live Mesh and FusionOne are other services that provide online sync and sharing. It's been rough for those companies as well, but they are finally making progress.
But, since the launch of MobileMe, Apple's service has experienced a number of problems. Once you get Apple MobileMe operating as it was intended, there are several other things Apple still needs to do to fully realize the vision. Here are four of my suggestions:
First, Apple needs to quickly regain the trust of the millions of iPhone users who want to sync and share their information across devices and the Web. I recommend that Apple make the basic MobileMe service free to all users. This would instantly regain the trust of the iPhone users who want to benefit from MobileMe's services.
I understand that Apple can't afford to give away unlimited online storage to everyone, as some will simply take advantage of using MobileMe and try to store terabytes of information online. But Apple should make the basic MobileMe service free to all users and include a reasonable amount of storage-say, 20GB-and then charge a reasonable fee such as $5 per year per additional 20GB. Storage will always be getting cheaper, so the cost of providing this support will come down over time.
Second, Apple needs to make MobileMe a better service. MobileMe isn't really a generic online backup service. Instead, it is provides seamless data sync and sharing for people who use an iPhone, and allows them to see their contacts, calendar, digital photos and Outlook e-mail on the Web, on their Mac or PC and on their iPhone. MobileMe allows users to share their digital photos and designated files with others. The online user interface is okay, but it's not great. And Gallery is a great idea, but you can't print photos (although you can within iPhoto). So my suggestion is, strike up a relationship with Kodak to allow users to make prints so that they don't have to upload photos to another site.
Here's a third, really major recommendation: Enable MobileMe to sync iPhones with iTunes wirelessly over the air. This would allow songs, podcasts, movies, TV shows and more to be synced without having to dock the iPhone. Users could get updated podcasts delivered to their phones, as well as download a great tune they just heard on the radio. Naturally, the user should have the option to designate that downloading and syncing with iTunes be done via Wi-Fi first and then, optionally, have it override to the 3G.
Fourth, I recommend that Apple also open up a user feedback and blogging area on MobileMe. This would be so users could make recommendations for improvements, as well as interact with each other about their experiences using the service.
I also want to point out that iPhone users don't really need MobileMe if they use Microsoft Outlook on a Windows PC, have an iPhone, and want to do basic sync of contacts and calendar. Why? Because automatic sync with Outlook is built into the iPhone. Users simply go to the iTunes Info tab when the iPhone is docked, then select Outlook under Contact and Calendar sync. The only advantage MobileMe has over this solution is over-the-air sync versus cradle sync for your contacts and calendar. All the changes you make to your contacts and calendar while away from your PC are synchronized back to Outlook when you redock your iPhone.
We all admire Apple for its insanely great hardware and software. We're rooting for Apple to get Apple MobileMe fixed so it can truly delight millions of customers and fans. When MobileMe works as intended, it's going to be truly magical.
J. Gerry Purdy, Ph.D., is vice president and chief analyst with the Frost & Sullivan North American Information & Communication Technologies Practice. As a nationally recognized industry authority, he focuses on monitoring and analyzing emerging trends, technologies and market behavior in the mobile computing and wireless data communications industry in North America.
Since joining Frost & Sullivan in 2006, Dr. Purdy has been specializing in mobile and wireless devices, wireless data communications and connection to the infrastructure that powers the data in the wireless handheld. He is author of Inside Mobile & Wireless, which provides industry insights and reaches over 100,000 readers per month.
For more than 16 years, Dr. Purdy has been consulting, speaking, researching, networking, writing and developing state-of-the-art concepts that challenge people's mind-sets, and developing new ways of thinking and forecasting in the mobile computing and wireless data arenas. Often quoted, his ideas and opinions are followed closely by thought leaders in the mobile & wireless industry. He has a Ph.D. in Computer Science from Stanford University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Disclosure Statement: From time to time, I may have a direct or indirect equity position in a company that is mentioned in this column. If that situation happens, then I'll disclose it at that time.