is a blog about design, technology and culture written by Khoi Vinh, and has been more or less continuously published since December 2000 in New York City. Khoi is currently Vice President of User Experience at Wildcard and co-founder of Kidpost. Previously, Khoi was co-founder and CEO of Mixel (acquired by Etsy, Inc.), Design Director of The New York Times Online, and co-founder of the design studio Behavior, LLC. He is the author of “Ordering Disorder: Grid Principles for Web Design,” and was named one of Fast Company’s “fifty most influential designers in America.” Khoi lives in Crown Heights, Brooklyn with his wife and three children. You can reach him through one of the services below.+
Over the course of several days last week, I spent a pretty sizable chunk of time trying to work out the kinks in Apple’s disappointingly buggy MobileMe service, the new incarnation of their equally error-prone .Mac. By the end of this first prolonged exposure to the service, I’ve decided that I feel exactly the same way about MobileMe as I did about its predecessor: ideally I’d like it to do much more, but at the very least I wish the stuff it does would work a lot better than it does. And when it doesn’t work, which is far more often than I’d like, it is in my view one of the most frustrating experiences that Apple has ever produced.
Like me, lots of folks are dependent on the features that MobileMe provides, so simply voting with our wallets, i.e., canceling our accounts in protest, isn’t as straightforward an option as some would argue. For me, over-the-air synchronization for my iPhone is something I’ve needed since the first day I bought it. Right now, MobileMe is the only viable option.
One for All and All for One
Luckily, we’re all in this together, right? With some dedication, I’ve been able to fix most (though not all) of my MobileMe problems thanks to the plethora of similar frustrations and findings from other users that can be easily found scattered all over the Internet. All it required was time, persistence and more time. In particular, Apple’s discussion boards were a big help, though ferreting out the solution one needs using Apple’s not particularly helpful user interface is a challenge.
As a way of making a reciprocal contribution, here are some of my notes on healing MobileMe pains.
Good Data, Bad Data
First, I can’t recommend enough that, before doing anything, you should have a single set of ‘good’ MobileMe data consolidated on one computer. That means having your calendars, contacts, keychains etc. in good shape and, crucially, backed up (and backed up again, to be safe; I stashed copies of all my data on a remote server just in case I somehow completely screwed up my local copies). This one ‘good’ computer is the computer from which to start troubleshooting; once it was working well, I moved on to the next computer and continued troubleshooting from there.
For most problems, I found that completely resetting the MobileMe account is a fairly easy approach. This means essentially removing all of your computers and data from Apple’s servers, and returning them to a state where they’re essentially isolated machines with no synchronization relationships.
To do that, you have to basically unregister all Macs from the MobileMe account. Just after removing the last Mac, you’ll be presented with a dialog box that will allow you to remove all of the synched MobileMe data from Apple’s servers (i.e., you’ll see a list of each data type that you can pick and choose from, though I just deleted them all). Delete all of them. This article at Ars Technica goes into more detail.
Ball and Keychain
For a Mac with particularly troubled synching problems, completely resetting (you might say “nuking”) that computer’s local MobileMe synchronization data is one option worth pursuing. Synchronization settings are rather intricate, and some monkeying around with the Terminal is unavoidable, I found. This blog post explains how to run three simple UNIX commands to surgically remove that data. (It cleans up directions available from this Apple discussion.)
For a persistent and incredibly annoying problem that I had in which I was constantly asked for the password for an old computer that used to sync with .Mac, I was happy to find that this Terminal command does the trick. (This problem is described in this Apple support forum discussion.) I had been plagued by this problem for months and months, and earlier attempts at fixing it had actually caused all synching to malfunction on one of my Macs, so I was incredibly relieved to come across that solution.
If those fixes don’t help, this Apple support article is a basic starting point for troubleshooting MobileMe sync problems. The most helpful insight it provides is the advice to create a new user account on your Mac in order to test if your sync problems are specific to the computer you’re working on or to your MobileMe account on Apple’s servers.
Of course, you can also submit a support request to MobileMe via email or even engage one of MobileMe’s tech support agents via Apple’s browser-embedded live chat tool. That is, if you can get them on the line. I tried several times to use the live chat tool, but I was kept waiting for hours and hours with dialog boxes like the one shown here. Actually, one time I did manage to get through… but I had walked away from my desk, and the agent tried to talk to me but signed off because he didn’t hear a response from me. Wonderful, right?+