What Happened to MobileMe Last Week?
Last week’s Apple event announced the upcoming iPad 2, which was no surprise to anyone. Apple refreshes their devices once a year, and enough leaks and rumors were aired to indicate the next iPad was inevitable sometime in March or April. When the press invite came for the March 2 event, an iPad was clearly displayed (and the number 2 was especially prevalent). But the iPad wasn’t the only item rumored to get a refresh or update.
There was one notable item of Apple business that never made it to the event last Wednesday, which beforehand looked to be a totally sure thing. All the clues were there, but it never panned out. There was no “one more thing” at this week’s presentation, which left many of us scratching our heads.
Specifically, I am referring to the future of Apple’s MobileMe, a cloud-based service that the company provides its devices for a yearly subscription charge.
When MobileMe was first launched in June 2008, it was a service that allowed you to do several useful things: use your phone’s GPS to locate it if lost or stolen, store up to 20 GB of music and other media in the cloud (and access it via an iOS app), back up and sync all of your contacts and calendar events wirelessly, upload your photos to a web browser so it’s accessible to anyone, and even have your own dedicated email address.
On February 24, MobileMe sales were discontinued online and in retail stores. Not even third-party resellers are receiving new stock. Knowing that a new iPad event was drawing nigh, the tech community put 2 and 2 together to speculate that MobileMe would become a free or discounted service and be announced during the same event.
Speculation and rumors that Apple is putting extra focus on “cloud features” have been circulating out of Cupertino for years. These rumors are based around two things: the company’s purchase of Lala — an online music service — and a new multi-billion-dollar data center Apple is building in North Carolina that will contain enough servers and storage strength to support a massive amount of cloud space. This means iTunes syncing and a heavy dose of MobileMe-style services can easily be accomodated.
Finally, on February 23 (just one day before MobileMe was discontinued, coincidentally enough), Apple mentioned at a shareholders conference that the data center will open this spring and the center is indeed geared for iTunes and MobileMe. All of these facts made it a safe bet that changes for these services would be announced Wednesday.
Cue the “one more thing” after the iPad 2’s announcement, right? Wrong. Curtains down, end scene.
Besides the shareholders conference, Apple has remained completely silent on its plans for MobileMe. Nothing was said at the iPad 2 event and nobody seems to know what happened.
As for iTunes, we did see the iTunes Home Sharing feature added to the iOS 4.3 update which does allow for wireless streaming of your iTunes, but it’s only useful when both your iTunes and iOS device are connected to the same WiFi network. But there was no wireless syncing or 3G streaming of iTunes announced.
Could it be that an announcement was planned but got pulled at the last minute? Will a new MobileMe program accompany the iPhone 5 announcement at WWDC? If the answer to the latter question is yes, it’s hard for me to believe because it seems like an awfully long time for Apple to go without selling one of its premier features.
Whatever Apple has in store for MobileMe, an announcement had better come sooner rather than later. This wish may come true in April, if yesterday’s rumors are accurate that speculate Apple will hold a press event in April to discuss iOS 5 and announce the new version of MobileMe. If true, this strikes me as more than a coincidence that both iOS 5 and MobileMe will be presented together at the same event. I have a feeling there will be a strong correlation between the two.
There are still too many questions, and many MobileMe subscribers have service that has either already expired or getting very close to it. I think if a new and improved MobileMe really is on the agenda for this rumored press event, I recommend Apple at least extend out the subscription for these poor subscribers that are stranded without MobileMe in the meantime.
Then there’s the question of free vs paid MobileMe service. If a subscription charge is still required, the updates in features will need to be significant. After all, most of MobileMe’s services can be copied or improved upon by free iOS apps or services currently available. For instance, I back up all my contacts and events through Google as my Exchange Server, have my own email addresses, plenty of cloud storage space through several free services, and any iPhone 4 user can activate the iOS app “Find my iPhone” which is now free and very similar to the MobileMe-based version. These are just a few examples of things I can do perfectly fine on an iPhone without needing to pay an arm and a leg for it. If the $99 price tag persists, it needs to be jam-packed with cool features that make it worth my yearly Benjamin.
What I’d like to see in April is Apple coming out with a free version of MobileMe for everyone, and offer additional features for a subscription. That way everyone benefits from the service, and those who need the extra features will certainly be willing to pay a premium for that privilege.
For now, without knowing the accuracy of these rumors, we are still in the dark about the future of MobileMe. Even if it’s just a month or two between discontinuation of MobileMe and the announcement of a “new, improved version”, that’s still a full month or two of no service for some extremely confused MobileMe subscribers at the end of their terms of service. Apple, be sure to compensate them for the inconvenience!
What does the future hold for MobileMe?