Counting Down to iPhone 3G: .Mac Transforms to Mobile Me

This is it. We're in the home stretch. Games in overtime, the shot clock is almost done, and Steve Jobs is soaring from mid-court looking for the slam dunk. In 3 days we find out if Apple brings down the net, the two-peat for smartphone (even gadget) championship, or if they bounce it off the rim (pun sorta intended) with their mostly evolutionary, not so much revolutionary, next generation handset.

Saturday we mentioned one big change: the fast 3G data chip. Sunday it was GPS. Monday we tackled the 2.0 Firmware update. Today we're looking at the rebirth of .Mac: MobileMe.

Note: .Mac users have been able to send to username@me.com for a few days already, and as of yesterday, July 7, could both send and receive using me.com. (Just tried it out and it works!)

Now word comes that, to accommodate New Zealand, which due to their time zone gets the iPhone 3G way before anyone else, Apple has announced that it's really not 3 days to MobileMe -- just one! That's right, MobileMe goes live on Wednesday, July 9 between 6pm and 12am PST. Mark your calendars, then get ready to "push" sync them!

Why should you want to? Read on after the break!

iTools made its debut at Macworld 2000, way before the iPhone, and before OS X as well. Originally free, it became the subscription based .Mac in 2002. The first version of .Mac included IMAP email, web hosting, iDisk, Backup, and... er... iCards. Small tweaks were made over the years, including increases to iDisk storage (currently starting at 10GB), syncing Mac applications like Mail, Address Book, iCal, Safari bookmarks, Keychain passwords, Dock, Dashboard Widgets, etc. between multiple Macs, an AJAX web 2.0 interface for .Mac Mail, Galleries with iPhoto/Aperture photo and iMovie video integration, and Back to My Mac for easy remote file and screen sharing between laptops and desktops, work, home, and travel.

While the $99 price tag (discounted if you bought it with a new Mac, or from online retailers like Amazon) was stiff for some, there were arguable benefits for people with multiple Mac, but not much for iPhone users aside from an email account they could get for free form Yahoo!, Google, and many others. Indeed, the industry in general felt .Mac had fallen badly behind the times. Even Steve Jobs conceded the service had been neglected, and promised to do better.

And do better they have! (Well, except for the name...) At WWDC 2008, Apple VP of Marketing, Phil Schiller announced the all new, all better, .Mac replacement: MobileMe, and dubbed it "Exchange for the Rest of Us."

Exchange, of course, is Microsoft's business solution, which the iPhone also supports via ActiveSync. Exchange, through proprietary technology's requiring an Exchange Sever, "pushes" updates to email, contact lists, and calendar events to desktop clients like Outlook on Windows and Entourage on the Mac, and to scads of mobile devices, including Windows Mobile, Blackberry, Palm Treo, etc.

Unlike traditional services, which "pull" data at user-definable intervals (i.e., manual, every 5 min. every 10 min., every hour, etc.) and are only updated during those server checks, "push" immediately sends anything arriving on the server. So, if you "pull" email at 12:00, an email arrives at 12:03, and you only "pull" that email again at 12:10, you only receive that email at 12:10 (7 minutes after it arrives). With "push", you wouldn't check the server at all, the email would arrive at 12:03 and instantly alert you it was there. (Whether you need precise, per second email, and whether you want to be alerted constantly, on demand, without pause or respite, is up to you).

MobileMe provides this very same service to any subscriber. Push email. Push contacts. Push calendar. Someone sends you an email, it pops right up on your iPhone. Change a contact on your iPhone, the MobileMe website will instantly update it as well. Delete an appointment on your PC, it will immediately be removed from your iPhone. All your data, synced instantly, all the time.

Add to that some SproutCore powered eye candy in the form of lush, desktop-class but web-based online applications (similar to how Google Gmail, gCal, etc. work), integrated with the same Gallery photo and video features of .Mac, and topped off with a web-accessible iDisk, all available not only to Windows users but Mac users as well (even Linux/Unix/etc. users via Web standard browsers), with the same special multiple-Mac sync and Back to My Mac bonuses for Apple faithful, and you have one tremendously powerful offering fully on par with the best of Google, Yahoo!, and Microsoft. (Albeit at the same $99 price!)

Still curious about how it looks and how it drives? Check out Apple's online Guided Tour.

I'm a .Mac user, so I'll be getting MobileMe for sure. What about you?