MobileMeApple’s MobileMe is such a shoddy, poorly implemented product that I’m long past hoping that any complaining about it will help the situation. It is what it is, and I make my own bed every year when I renew my subscription to it.

At the same time, I also feel that there is a nontrivial subset of the Macintosh population who, like me, are beholden to MobileMe, who rely on it and continue to renew annually in spite of Apple’s flagrant neglect. Some might say that we should vote with our wallets and leave the service altogether. But for whatever personal or professional reasons, MobileMe is the best solution we have. For those folks, I kind of think we owe it to one another to fill in the gaps that Apple leaves.

MobileMe Users of the World, Unite

In particular, I’ve gotten a tremendous amount of help in troubleshooting the periodic malfunctions that I run into when using MobileMe thanks to all of the many tips posted in support forums. Apple’s own support message boards have been very helpful, if chaotic and not always conclusive. If you hunt through them enough, there’s a good chance you’ll come across a solution that matches your particular MobileMe problem, whatever it might be right now.

I tried to summarize some of the best advice I’ve come across in these instances in this blog post I wrote last year: “Woe Is MobileMe.” It occurs to me that blogging for the record is the least I or any MobileMe user can do, as there is literally no one else to help us. So as I continue to encounter further flakiness, instability and frustration — it’s not a matter of if, but of when — I’ll post what I learn here, and hope that the magic of search engine optimization will help those in need to find whatever I can offer.

I Can’t iCal

For instance. My iCal database had been synchronizing unreliably for about a month until I sat down and tried to find the root cause this past weekend. Among my three or four computers that routinely sync via MobileMe, my desktop machine at home had stopped updating altogether; changes made on the others Macs, which would easily synchronize with one another, never showed up on my iMac.

I tried all the usual remedies: signing out of MobileMe and signing back in, overwriting the data on my computer with the data on the MobileMe server, even running some Terminal commands to truly reset the service on my computer — all in various sequences and with various combinations of logging out, logging in and rebooting.

Nothing worked until I came across a support forum message buried in a long discussion thread that advised manually deleting the calendar data itself. It turns out that somewhat hidden inside of each user’s library folder is a directory called Calendars, apparently containing the files that iCal loads at startup to display your schedule. These are the actual files that are getting rewritten with each synchronization, and in my case, they had become corrupted somehow.

I quit iCal, navigated to this folder in the Finder, and moved the entirety of its contents to the trash. The next time iCal launched, I had a ‘fresh,’ default database of events, with none of my own data present. At this point, I went to the MobileMe system preferences pane, clicked on the Sync tab, clicked on the Advanced button and then clicked on the Reset Sync Data button from the resulting dialog sheet. That allowed me to replace all of my Calendars data on my computer with the calendars data stored on MobileMe (from another computer, I had made sure the data on the cloud was up-to-date). Thankfully, it worked, and now iCal is synching beautifully with the rest of MobileMe, across all of my devices. When it works, it works great.

World without Apple

In retrospect it seems likely and/or obvious that the crux of this problem was that the ownership permissions for my calendar data files had probably been screwed up somehow over the past several weeks or months. I’m not sure, exactly, why MobileMe doesn’t include a routine to check for such maladies, or why none of Apple’s documentation points out how such a thing might be the cause of the kind of MobileMe headaches that I endured, but I’m just grateful someone else out there had figured it out, and that I can now pass it on.

It certainly suggests though that a community wiki of some sort is in order, some kind of centralized resource that can help us all cope with the very real — and very frustrating — disruptions that, for many of us, are part and parcel of dealing with MobileMe. Of course, the mere existence of such a thing would be a damning indictment of Apple’s efforts with this product, and perhaps it might spur the company to pay some real attention to these problems after all. But I’m less interested in that than I am in a support net for users like myself; like I said, at this point it’s folly to hope for any meaningful help from our friends in Cupertino. With MobileMe, Apple is the absentee landlord, so to speak, and we tenants only have each other.

  1. When I got my iPhone a little under a month ago, I signed up for the free 60 day trial of MobileMe, and I likely won’t renew when the free trial ends. I suppose the service is geared towards power users with tons of devices to sync, whereas I simply have my iPhone and MacBook Pro, easily synced with a USB cable. With just two devices, it doesn’t make sense for me to spend $100 a year to wirelessly sync when I can do that for free with a cable.

  2. The permissions thing is a big one for any app that writes its own files to the Applicatipn Support or other Library folder — it’s not limited to MobileMe. A simple permissions check done by the application at launch would go a long way in helping to avoid these headaches.

  3. It is amazing how we pay year after year and it makes us sigh and grit our teeth each time. The wife and I were talking about our mutual hatred for Mobile Me (.Mac, iTools), and yet we keep it.

    The find your iPhone thing is worth 99$’s on it’s own, so that at least makes me feel better.

    My suggestions for apple:

    * Fix the imap / smtp to be more reliable
    * Replace iDisk with DropBox
    * CalDav (for collaboration on calendars)
    * Show when the web apps are freaking loading and don’t just sit there with a frozen UI while loading new data!

  4. I don’t see how anyone can fathom using MobileMe when you have Google Apps available. Sure, there’s not as much aesthetic polish to Google’s apps, but they’re extremely efficient, and offer a great user experience (particularly Gmail and Google Calendar).

    The old .Mac service was not known for it’s greatness, not sure why folks thought MobileMe would be any different.

  5. Agree agree agree, Khoi. I’m obviously a hardcore Apple partisan and fanboy, but the MobileMe situation is really pushing it. Not that I’ll unsubscribe. I really love the over-the-air push syncing with calendar info (though I just had to Reset My Sync Data today, too).

    I’m hopeful about the iDisk improvements of late, and the iPhone app. Seems like there might be a pathway to usefulness there, as the basis for documents on the phone.

  6. 10.5.8 reportedly “fixes” issue with iCal syncing along with general sync services improvements but overall it had the opposite effect for me. iCal syncing just started reporting errors though it turns out it was actually working.

    I managed to resolve the errors using Spanning Tools which seems to work quite well for cleaning up the sync services database thereby helping resolve issues. Might be of interest to you or others as well.

    I completely agree that Apple needs to really do something to make MobileMe more compelling and actually “worth” the yearly investment.

  7. For contacts and addresses, I had heard about I haven’t checked it out yet, but I’m hoping it will be a replacement for MobileMe for that feature at least.

  8. I have never tried MobileMe, but aren’t there alternative solutions (that work a lot better most of the time)?

    I sync iCal and Address Book over to Google with SpanningSync, and from there to all my devices (iPhone, MacBook, and Desktop). This will work even better in the future as the formatting fields of Google approach those of Apple (which I think they will, because Apple has the best solution ready).

    I use Xmarks for Safari to sync my bookmarks across all my devices.

    All my (important) e-mail accounts have been IMAP for years, so they are in sync anyway.

    And for one week now and for all time, I’m a DropBox-user.

    All this works in both directions and is available offline as well. Am I missing some revolutionary features that MobileMe offers that my software doesn’t? I’m not speaking about price here, as Spanning Sync itself is rather pricey. It’s just that MobileMe seems to be adding to the trouble instead of solving it. Of course, an all-in-one solution would be fine, but I think it isn’t necessary.

  9. What about Google Sync? I’ve been using it for months and love it. It keeps your iCal and Contacts synchronized with your Google calendar and contacts by emulating an Exchange server.

    Also, when Snow Leopard comes out, it’ll have built-in Exchange support. You could then point your desktop iCal and Address book to Google and have your iPhone, Google apps, and desktop all synced up (for free!).

  10. At some point someone will come along with something better (i.e. Google) and that will mark the decline of MobileMe. I just started using it to sync our desktop with our new netbook (Dell Mini9 running OSX 10.5.6 🙂 ) and it seems to be working O.K. For email I use Google Apps, which lets you set up an IMAP email account using your own domain name and email addresses – free! Works well so far. At some point I will look into Google Apps a little more to try out calendar and contact syncing.


  11. it has it’s shortcomings, admittedly, but on the whole I really like the service. I had never considered buying it but after I started my complimentary account as an Apple employee, I got hooked. I’ve since left Apple but have kept renewing my subscription.

    I just don’t see the ‘alternatives’ as being as good. Having separate applications/services to do everything that MobileMe does is a very messy way way to accomplish it and probably an even worse experience. Even the overlooked Back to my Mac has been great (and reliable). I keep almost no files on my laptop and just use the home machine as a file server when I’m away. I use either the screen sharing or file access regularly instead of keeping things locally on the laptop.

    My biggest complaint (for which someone here might have a remedy) that I haven’t found a fix for is the delay on mail accounts. Or maybe there isn’t a fix and that’s just how it is. If I read/delete an email on one of the computers, it still gives me the new message count on my phone until I check the account again. Call me dense but I was under the impression that PUSH would make it the most updated account on my phone, but in reality it’s always behind my simple IMAP accounts. As a compulsive email-clearer I find this very irritating.

    Call me an Apple apologist, but I think sometimes we just expect a little too much from them. Just because their products are brilliant doesn’t mean it’s reasonable to expect them to be flawless. I’m not saying we should settle for mediocrity, but more that I would wager a piecemeal assembly of the free ‘alternatives’ would be much worse.

  12. in your Application/Utilities you have

    it’s in fact there all hardcore stuff of mobileme sync are.

    there are nothing else with the same ease of use and efficiente to sync applications and computers with internet.

    trust me.

    no it’s not google apps the solution
    no it’s not simply to copy files on a common folder

    if I edit calendars of my iphone, my work mac knows it, my home mac knows it , my macbook air knows it.

    you can use the web apps of mobile me, yes, it’s like a tiny nice google apps, but it’s not the point.

    The point of mobileme is syncing, and ho god, there are NOTHING else like that with this integration and price.

    no, it’s not dropbox, dropbox can not do what mobileme do. it’s not about the “idisk” stuff.

    it’s about syncing.

    and yes, Apple can continue to keep your money, because of the syncing.

    for me it works great, but when I subscribed to it, I use to force a total reset of all my computers. I started totally BLANK. and I know Library can be messy. (for example, if you copy it from an other computer from an other user)

    when I got an iphone, I put in it the mobileme account and BOUM! it Synced !

  13. “Among my three or four computers that routinely sync via MobileMe…”

    That’s the issue. It’s worked flawlessly between my MacBook Pro and iPhone for the past two years.

  14. Kiran: Are you saying that you don’t believe that MobileMe is intended to sync flawlessly between more than two devices, or that pragmatically I should accept that MobileMe just doesn’t work between more than two devices?

    My understanding, based on Apple’s marketing, is that MobileMe should work flawlessly regardless of how many devices I sync with it.

  15. The latter. I agree with you that that’s what they intended and their marketing sure alludes to that. I’m just sharing my experience that with only two devices and only the web as a sync point, I can honestly say I haven’t had a single issue. But I’ve heard plenty of experiences like yours. I’d be curious to know what alternative solution you go with if you decide to switch. Man, your syncing lately has been for the pits, here’s to hoping Snow Leopard helps!

  16. I’ve recently moved from an iPhone to an Android Phone (HTC Hero), I wouldn’t claim that change is for everyone but it works for me. Anyway, I’m now obviously using Google Sync rather than mobile me and it seems far more reliable.

    Since iPhone OS 3.0 has exchange support for calendars and contacts and Snow Leopard will also add this to iCal, I wouldn’t stay with Mobile Me even if I still had my iPhone.

  17. I switched from MobileMe to Google apps about 9 months ago – and never been happier (and enjoying the extra $$$). my biggest gripe was that when I was in Asia and on delicate wi-fi connections MobileMe wouldn’t connect at all. it looks pretty but isn’t as effective or as efficient.

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