10/21/2011 Update: This is an article from 2009 about moving from MobileMe to Google for syncing of contacts, calendars, and email. While I did move away from MobileMe at the time, I’ve since transferred nearly everything back to Apple’s iCloud (and loving it). If you’re looking for info on switching from MobileMe to iCloud, try here: MobileMe to iCloud. ~ Bryan
Is there life after MobileMe?
About a month ago I received an email from Apple informing me that my MobileMe subscription was coming up for renewal. I’ve loved the services that MobileMe provides since signing up over a year ago, and had planned on keeping it going. But with the holidays coming up I decided to look into the possibility of dropping MobileMe while retaining the capabilities that it provides.
Turns out that it’s not only possible, but pretty darn easy to replicate most of the services MobileMe provides, for free. I’ll go through each service, in order of importance to me. Note: These steps were all taken with an iPhone and a mac, but similar options exist for PC/Other Phone users.
Cut the MobileMe tether
First things first. Giving up on MobileMe meant turning it off across all devices. It may feel a little strange at first, like you’re hanging free in the wind, but it’s a necessary step. After one final sync to make sure everything was updated, I created a backup of both my calendars and contacts. Then I turned off MobileMe on both computers by opening System Preferences > MobileMe and logging out. I also deleted my @me.com account from Mail.app and on the iPhone.
Note: Anytime you monkey around with your contacts and calendars, it’s a good, no – GREAT idea to create a backup first. Just in case.
Contact & Calendar Syncing: Google Sync
The ability to keep contacts and calendars synced across all devices (Mac Pro, Powerbook, iPhone) was the single biggest reason to sign up for MobileMe in the first place. Google provides excellent documentation on how to use their sync services, for all kinds of phones and OS’s. The article explained nearly everything I needed to get my contacts and calendars synced.
To sync both contacts and calendars, you’ll need a Google account of some sort. I’ve got a Gmail account, which includes a contact list. If you don’t have Gmail, Google has an article on how to manage contacts outside of Gmail.
Once you get a Google Contacts account set up, open Contacts, and in the General section of the Preferences, select “Synchronize with Google,” and enter your account credentials. Do this across all of your machines. If your contact lists on each machine differ, there may be a period of time that you’re asked to review duplicates, or resolve conflicts. Eventually everything will be synced and you’ll no longer be bothered with these notices.
Update: Apparently contact syncing only works if you have an iPhone or iPod Touch and have synced with Google before. Fortunately, Lifehacker has a workaround for non iPhone/iPod Touch users.
Syncing calendars follows a similar path as syncing contacts, using Google Sync. You’ll need a Google Calendar account, and you’ll need to already have your local calendar synced with that account. Here’s an article from Google on how to sync iCal and Mozilla Sunbird with Google Calendar using CalDAV (and here’s how to do it using Outlook). I use BusyCal, a more robust calendar app for the mac that allowed me to sync calendars with G Cal before Google Sync existed. It’s also a great upgrade iCal and I highly recommend it.
Once you get all your calendars synced with Google, consider all your calendars synced. Add an event to any of your calendars, and in a short while you’ll see them across all calendars.
To get contacts and calendars synced on the iPhone, this article from Google explains the steps I took to get the phone set up. Once you get the account set up, you’ll be asked to select the services you’d like to sync. I selected them all, and when prompted, chose to delete the existing information on the phone. If you don’t, you’ll end up with duplicate contacts and calendar events. If you didn’t back up your data in the beginning, this step may prove a bit nerve wracking. Back up your data first, then come back and turn on the syncing services.
That’s all it takes, really. Your contacts and calendars are now synced between all computers and your phone. For free. Sweet.
Since MobileMe had nothing to do with syncing email between my iPhone and my computers, there was nothing to do here. I have numerous accounts set up through Spigot Design, all set up as IMAP accounts. They sync just fine to the phone via wifi and Edge (it’s a first generation phone). I’ve never set them up for ‘Push Notification‘ but emails often come in on the iPhone before my regular mail app. In a year and a half, I received a total of 3 emails on the .me account, all test messages from myself. Nothing to see here, moving on.
Having the iDisk show up in the Finder sidebar is an easy way to keep things backed up and share files that are too big to email. Dropbox does the same thing, for free. Well, sort of free – The free account only includes 2GB of storage, while the iDisk holds up to 20GB. I’d been using Dropbox before MobileMe came along, so there was no switch needed as I didn’t use the iDisk anyway.
The MobileMe gallery was another reason why I initially wanted the service. There’s no denying the design skills of Apple, and the Gallery is a great example. Easy to use and nice to look at. But I found myself not really using it. It doesn’t have the social aspect of Flickr, and it’s hard to get to unless someone knows the address. I wrote an article about how I was rethinking Flickr and MobileMe gallery options that might explain my thinking further. I used the gallery mainly to store pictures of the kids, and found that most of the visitors to their site preferred to stay on the site rather than be taken externally. I opted for a simple jQuery lightbox script that displays a slideshow on each individual post, and it’s been working great.
One small thing that MobileMe introduced to my world was bookmark syncing. I never really knew how important that was to me until it was gone. Fortunately xmarks comes to the rescue. Sign up for an account, download it to each computer, and your bookmarks stay synced. Xmarks for Safari installs itself as a preference pane item, and with a little configuring, I was able to let it do its thing pretty much in the background by disabling Growl notifications and taking the icon out of the menu bar. Xmarks for Firefox installs as a plugin and is set up in a similar fashion. Free free free.
Xmarks actually turns out to be a nice little upgrade over MobileMe, now that I can keep both Safari and Firefox synced.
Bookmark syncing on the iPhone is no longer done through the air, but I’m still able to keep them fairly well updated through the iTunes/iPhone sync. This isn’t an issue however, as my bookmarks are rarely updated and therefore don’t need up to the minute syncing.
Find My Phone
This is the one service I wasn’t able to replicate. There is an app called Undercover for the iPhone that allows for tracking of lost or stolen phones, but it costs $4.99. I’ve heard that this MobileMe services is the one that truly makes the $99/year worthwhile, but not for me…
MobileMe is an easy to use service with all the design and usability bells and whistles that Apple is known for. With a few extra steps, however, it’s entirely possible to have nearly all the services it provides, for free. There may be a day when I go back to MobileMe, but for now I’m getting along just fine without it.
What do you think?
Have you given up on MobileMe too? How has it gone? If you have any thoughts on this article, please let me know by leaving a comment below!