MobileMe steals Live Mesh thunder

Yesterday I viewed Apple’s presentation for MobileMe. Here’s my quick take. Live Mesh is a true platform, whose scope extends well beyond MobileMe. Yet Apple’s marketing message is so close to Microsoft’s that most users will not see that difference. Here’s Apple:

Wherever you are, your iPhone, iPod touch, Mac, and PC are always current and always in sync. And with a suite of elegant new web applications, you can access your data from anywhere.

and here’s Microsoft:

No more e-mailing attachments to yourself. Instead, synchronize the information you need across all your devices. The most up-to-date versions will be at hand when you need them—at home, at the office, and on the go.

Apple calls MobileMe “Exchange for the rest of us”. This is spot on. I got onto the Internet in the early nineties. I opened a CIX account in 1991. I remember copying CIX scratchpads – all the downloaded messages – from one PC to another in an effort to keep them in synch. I moved on to POP3 email and still had problems. POP3 usually means deleting messages from the server when you download them; there is an option to leave messages on the server but it tends to be inefficient – I remember having clients that would simply create more and more duplicate messages if you did this. I tried Microsoft Outlook when it came out as part of Office 97, and copied the .PST file from PC to laptop to keep up to date. It was all horrible. Then I realised that Outlook only works properly as an Exchange client. I installed Exchange and loved it; it solved all my email synch problems.

Exchange is fine for corporates and the occasional geek, but Microsoft has done little to help individuals with their mail and contact synch problems. It acquired Hotmail in 1997, and came up with a series of half-baked connectors that synchronize Hotmail with Outlook or Outlook Express. After years of trying, these still do not work well; and I guess that IzyMail does good business enabling standard mail clients to work properly with Live.com accounts.

With MobileMe Apple is promising seamless Outlook integration, push email on the iPhone, synch across all devices, and an alternative web interface like Gmail combined with Google Calendar combined with online file storage up to 20GB. If it works well, it will be attractive even to PC users – though unlike Google’s services, you will have to pay a subscription. It will be $99.00 per annum for an individual, or $149.00 for a family pack.

Now, Live Mesh is great for file synch, but how do I synch email with it? Where is the Live Mesh calendar? Ah no, for that you need Live Mail. So does this work with Windows Mobile? A thread like this is all too familiar:

Using my T-Mobile Shadow with Windows Mobile 6.0, I tried to log on to my Windows Live Calendar. I receive the following message:
JavaScript required to sign in. Windows Live ID requires JavaScript to sign in. This web browser either does not support JavaScript or scripts are being blocked.

Maybe you are meant to use ActiveSync; but that won’t deliver push synchronization. And and how about integrating your Windows Live Calendar with Outlook? There’s a connector but it’s for paid subscribers only. In fairness, Apple’s service costs as well. But Microsoft’s solutions to these problems are fragmented, inconsistent and frustrating. An it-just-works solution to PIM synchronization across all devices and on the web will be a winner. Exchange is nearly there already for corporate users (though if it were fully there, there would be no market for Blackberry); but for individuals, MobileMe may come as a huge relief.

I still like Live Mesh, especially its promise as an application platform in conjunction with Silverlight. MobileMe is a lesser thing in concept, but if it works as promised, it will deliver more value sooner for individuals. The main thing against it is that it will work best with the expensive, locked-in iPhone; plus you have to suffer the embarrassment of a me.com email address, or continue to advertise Apple with .mac. Now, how about MobileMe for domains?

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5 comments to MobileMe steals Live Mesh thunder

  • I’m looking forward to giving MobileMe a try.

  • Jennings

    MobileMe does work with domains: “…If you have a personal domain setup for your iWeb site, it will continue to work without changing any settings at your registrar.” See this FAQ.

  • Hari Seldon

    The iPhone is not really that expensive and as for being locked in – I really don’t understand this attitude. Anyone who watched the WWDC keynote will know that some very slick applications are coming to the iPhone. What else do you need?

  • The iPhone expensive? My Symbian-based Sony Ericsson P900 smartphone cost me around $1000 outright when it first came out and my HTC-made Windows Mobile PDA phone (O2 XDA IIs) was almost as expensive and far more expensive than the iPhone.

    Of course neither of those devices holds a candle to the potential and GUI that the iPhone boasts. Your comment about locked-in doesn’t hold much water either. I bought hundreds of dollars of software for my Windows Mobile, but I see all of that software and more being ported over to the iPhone environment and becoming far better as a result. A bit of restriction to keep out malware (Symbian already has viruses) and keep the quality up is welcome in my books having suffered trying to use some absolutely awful WM software in the past.

    I agree with your comment re the embarrassment of having to have a .me address with MobileMe – ick! That’s why I’ve signed up for .mac to at least be able to keep that less obnoxious domain.

    -Mart

  • Chad

    No, Live Mesh’s mobile feature’s aren’t yet baked in, but I think you overlooked the supreme awesomeness of the remote desktop built into the Live Mesh clients. Just like PC Anywhere or Citrix, I can log into PC’s from anywhere. I don’t need to sync anything, just fire up Live Mesh, and I have everything I need. File transfer’s not too painful, and it makes it super easy to log in to friends machines and fix whatever’s broken this week. MS may be clueless or just doesn’t care about soloving simple everyday problems, but sooner or later (probably when Windows Mobile 7 drops), I get the feeling things will be a little better.