MobileMe to iCloud: Lost in Translation

| Ted Landau's User Friendly View

iCloud is Apple’s replacement for MobileMe and will be available sometime this fall. Meanwhile, MobileMe will creak along until June 12, 2012 — when Apple will at last remove MobileMe from life support (Apple has already halted allowing new members to sign up). At that point, iCloud will be the only Apple-supported cloud-based option.

As explained by Steve Jobs in the WWDC Keynote earlier this month, iCloud has nine main features — from revamped versions of MobileMe’s Mail, Calendar and Contacts to Photo Stream to the new iTunes in the Cloud options. What Steve didn’t explain was what would happen to the features, currently in MobileMe, that were not among iCloud’s new nine.

There are a surprising number of features in this potentially “lost in translation” group: web apps for Mail, Contacts and Calendar; web site hosting (with integrated support in iWeb), the Backup utility, Back to My Mac, Gallery (with integrated support in iPhoto), iDisk (with the ability to store and share files, similar to how Dropbox works) and Find my iPhone/Mac. You can also throw in MobileMe’s ability to sync Safari bookmarks and Notes app data.

None of these features were mentioned in the WWDC Keynote. What does this mean about their future?

Based on reports from the developer preview of iCloud, we already have some answers. Find My iPhone/Mac will remain (not a surprise given the value and popularity of this feature). So will syncing of Safari bookmarks and Notes data. As for the rest, we can only speculate at this point.

My speculation is that none of these remaining features will be present in iCloud when it debuts this fall. There has been speculation around the web that Apple simply couldn’t cover everything about iCloud at the Keynote. Nor would Apple want to go into such detail, even if there were time. By this logic, support for (at least some of) these features will be announced when it gets closer to iCloud’s launch. My take is: ”Not so! Not gonna happen.”

Steve Jobs has supposedly already confirmed, via an email to a user, that iCloud will not include web hosting support. I view it as nearly certain that iWeb will be dropped from the next version of iLife.

According to Joshua Topolsky, Apple PR has similarly confirmed that the three web-based apps from MobileMe will not transition to iCloud. Others have taken exception to this view. Jim Dalrymple has gone so far as to state: “Of this, I am sure — Apple will have a Web-based interface for iCloud.” I am much more skeptical (although it’s worth noting that, when Steve mentioned that the three former MobileMe services were being re-written for iCloud, this did not specifically exclude web apps as part of the rewriting). To me, these apps have always been largely redundant. Yes, there are situations where web apps could prove useful — such as if you are in a location where you don’t have your Mac or any iOS device but want to access your iCloud data on some other computer. But I would contend that this only affects a very small percentage of Mac users. For example, given that you can access your calendar data from iCal on a Mac (or Outlook on Windows) as well as from the Calendar apps on iOS devices, I see little mainstream value for Web-based access. Personally, I never used the web apps except to troubleshoot a syncing problem — and that was only rarely. Others I spoke with here at Mac Observer expressed similar sentiments.

Beyond that, you can take it as certain that the Backup utility will be gone. iCloud’s new backup storage will handle iOS device data and related data on your Mac (such as your iTunes Library). For the remainder of the data on your Mac, if you want online storage, you’ll have to turn to third-party options (such as CrashPlan or Backblaze).

As for the remaining trio of missing features (Back to My Mac, Gallery, and iDisk), I believe they have a minimal chance of survival. They won’t be around when iCloud debuts in the fall. However, depending upon the level of complaints from endusers, they may return before MobileMe’s ultimate demise next year.

Why?

Why is Apple giving up on these MobileMe features? In my view, there are multiple answers and the importance of a given answer varies depending upon which feature you are considering. Here is my “in a nutshell” assessment of Apple’s logic:

• Keep it simple. Apple does not have a great history with “cloud-based” services, as Steve Jobs himself admitted in the Keynote. The last thing Apple needs at this point is to bite off more than it can chew. Offering too much too soon with iCloud — resulting in a trouble-prone poor-performing service — is a sure recipe for disaster.

Bear in mind that iCloud is free (as opposed to MobileMe’s $99/year). For that reason alone, it is likely to be far more popular than MobileMe. Even with Apple’s dramatic new super-large server facility in North Carolina, Apple doesn’t want to risk a barrage of users gumming up the works by pounding on bandwidth-intensive features. Keep it simple instead — and make sure that what you do offer really works well.

• Too little users, too little money. At least from Apple’s perspective, several of the lost MobileMe features are not worth supporting. Never mind that only a small fraction of Mac users ever signed up for MobileMe. What’s perhaps worse is that only a small fraction of MobileMe subscribers apparently ever used these lesser features.

I am guessing this is true of Backup, Back to My Mac, and web hosting. Why devote time, money and resources to support features that Apple customers have already shown they have little interest in using? Better to dump them. Sure, some users will be unhappy. But Apple has long shown a willingness to weather such minor storms.

In the case of Gallery, I suspect it was a closer call. Apple probably would have liked Gallery to become a strong competitor to Flickr and other photo services. But it didn’t. And it isn’t likely to happen now — even with iCloud being free. Apple already has Flickr and Facebook support built-in to iPhoto. It appears that Apple is ready to cede this feature to these third-parties.

The fate of iDisk is similar to Gallery. It was a great idea. Unfortunately, Dropbox and its competitors offer similar options that are cheaper than and superior to iDisk. Again, Apple appears to have decided not to compete here. It may be that, if Apple eventually sees a Dropbox-like capability as critical, they will purchase Dropbox or implement a new competing feature on its own. In either case, I doubt that we will be seeing this within the next year.

• Control. This is the final nail in the coffin that explains MobileMe’s missing features. If you look closely at iCloud, you will see that it provides much less user-control over what gets backed up than did MobileMe. Users have virtually no access to the iCloud data itself. This is how Apple likes it.

With MobileMe’s Backup utility, you could decide what files you want to backup or omit. You could choose almost any file on your Mac. This is gone from iCloud. In the same way, Apple is abandoning the control you had with iDisk. You could place almost any files you desired onto your iDisk. You could even use iDisk’s Public folder to leave files for someone else to access. This is gone from iCloud.

As Dan Moren pointed out in an excellent Macworld article, iCloud is also part of Apple’s larger strategy to transition OS X from a traditional “file-based” system to one where you instead have access to your “stuff” (photos, music, Pages documents, whatever). From this perspective, the concept of files becomes almost irrelevant. In such a world, a file-based storage like iDisk doesn’t really fit.

All of this allows Apple to maintain tight control (Apple might say “security”) over what you can and cannot do with iCloud. You don’t get to decide what gets copied or synced to iCloud. Apple sets the rules. If you don’t like it, well there’s Android phones and Google and Amazon. This obsession with control is in Apple’s DNA. You see it in Apple’s restrictions regarding App Store submissions as well as its attempts to block any unsupported method for installing apps on an iOS device. You similarly see it in Apple’s recent hardware, which keeps getting harder and harder to open up in any way — such as to make end-user repairs or upgrades. And so it goes. The same philosophy is at work in iCloud.

Bottom line

Whatever iCloud ultimately includes or excludes, one thing is already clear: there is a great deal to admire about iCloud. While some on the web have derided iCloud as “nothing new,” I would beg to differ. For one thing, the seamless way in which iCloud works is different and better than any comparable option I have seen. Using the beta version of iTunes in the Cloud, I purchase an app from iTunes on my Mac and the app appears on my iPhone and iPad nearly simultaneously — without me having to lift a finger. As Apple reps stated at the Keynote: “It just works.” Yes. Yes it does. Beautifully!

If all of iCloud ultimately works as smoothly as iTunes in the Cloud, Apple has finally got it right this time. At some point, Apple may be confident enough in iCloud’s success to fold back in some of the missing MobileMe features. But don’t count on it. For the most part, if you are a MobileMe subscriber that depends any of these “lost in translation” features, you have until June 2012 to figure out an alternative. I’d start working on it now.

Comments

geoduck

While some on the web have derided iCloud as ?nothing new,? I would beg to differ.

Count me in the “nothing new” camp. What it does I’m sure it will do well. However what I saw at the WWDC Keynote was not anything I want. I do NOT want my music on the Cloud. I do NOT want my documents on the Cloud. I DO want my web site on the Cloud but apparently it won’t be Apple’s Cloud.

I signed up to iTools for the .mac address which has gotten harder to use, and the Web Hosting, that is being dropped. As it stands right now if the Cloud wasn’t free I’d be dropping the service completely.

mactoid

Of all the features whose demise Ted is predicting, I will miss iDisk the most, and will likely need to find an alternative for. Being able to stash a file in the cloud for access when you’re away from your computer (or your computer/iPad dies or is lost before an important presentation) is invaluable to me.  I’m really hoping Ted is wrong on this one.

Lee Dronick

I have used Back TWo My Mac several times, but I not so much that Apple would notice.

I use iDisk quite a bit for offsite storage because it was easy to use, but I suppose that I could put files in a secure directory on my website.

ilikeimac

@Ted, I suspect you’re right: Find My iPhone/iPad/Mac, bookmark syncing and notes syncing will survive (indeed bookmark/note syncing is just the sort of service iCloud was designed to provide). The web interfaces, which I do use occasionally, probably won’t.

One problem with keeping the web interfaces is that Apple would essentially be giving away ad-free email for free to anyone, whether or not they had an iOS device. The point of a free service is to enhance the appeal and value of Apple’s not-free hardware; if there’s a web service then you’ve disconnected the carrot from the stick.

Granted, Apple could make new account sign-up possible only on an iOS device but then it may be possible to borrow an iOS device, sign up, and freeload via the web ever after.

Mike Weasner

iTools, Dot Mac, and MobileMe were all about sharing data with me and you.  With iCloud, Apple seems to have forgotten the “you” part.  MobileMe lets me share my data (files, photos, videos, calendar) with you via iDisk, Galleries, and web hosting.  iCloud lets me share my data with myself. 

I will be surprised if Apple determines that iCloud can’t handle sharing my data with you.  Seems like maybe they didn’t learn from MobileMe and how its customers used it.

Of course, Apple already knows what they plan for the rest of us who do use the MobileMe services.  Why keep us in suspense until the fall of 2011?  If they do plan to throw us off their servers, they should tell us now with all the specifics and let us have the extra time to arrange for exporting, rewriting web pages, and rehosting our data.  For some users, this will not be a trivial operation.

geoduck

MobileMe lets me share my data with you via iDisk, Galleries, and web hosting.? iCloud lets me share my data with myself.?

Probably the most succinct summation of the iCloud that I’ve ever seen.

barryotoole

iDisk is what I’ll miss the most, especially since iWork for the iPad doesn’t save to DropBox.

Dean Lewis

I use iDisk occasionally to drop a file for someone to grab or for me to get when I am away from my computer. But, honestly, I can use services like DropBox and YouSendit for that. What I will miss is Gallery. I’ve used it a lot, and I prefer its interface and look to Flickr. There are some newer services which look interesting, but they seem to be iPad/Phone-centric (for example, Instagram). I’m sure I can locate an alternative.

You all think the web interface for .me/.mac Mail will go away? That also would be disappointing. Nearly all email accounts are accessible via web interfaces now, and I use it all the time when I am at work.

Lastly, iCloud is really a syncing service, correct? Except for the purposes of backup, it isn’t keeping all of your documents? I know it isn’t keeping copies of all music files, and it only retains the last 1000 photos in your “photo stream”. Physical files are definitely being pushed to your devices, I think? If so, fears I am reading around the web about not being able to access the cloud when you need it are unfounded. Fears of security of sensitive documents would be more important.

ilikeimac

Except for the purposes of backup, it isn?t keeping all of your documents? … Physical files are definitely being pushed to your devices, I think?

iCloud surely will keep a copy of your documents; Steve said “the truth is in the cloud,” which implies a full, authoritative copy is always in iCloud.

BTW, “physical” files are documents printed on paper. grin

Curmudgeon

As long as I can run server-side email rules, I’d be fine with the web apps going away. I’ll be sad to lose Galleries though.

Curmudgeon

I’d be pleased if Lion Server could accomplish some of these “share my data with you” abilities simply. iDisk. Galleries. Webhosting.

Or even cleverer, say some iteration of a Time Capsule “Plus”; after all, these devices are on all the time and connected to the Internet. An iOS-based, A5-running Time Capsule could conceivably take these tasks up. If only . . .

Gunhedd

I don’t believe this is the final iteration of iCloud.

If successful Apple will add features and may eventually be near identical to .me. But stable and (hopefully) better. I hope that within 2 years that .me is but a distant, not-so-fond-memory.

We’ll see, I suppose.

Lee Dronick

I?d be pleased if Lion Server could accomplish some of these ?share my data with you? abilities simply.

One downside, well two, that I can think of is that we would be on the hook for managing security on our server. I don’t know how difficult that is, I suppose that I could learn enough on how to do it.

The other thing is that I have a dynamic IP with my DSL service. I understand that there are ways of dealing with that, but it would probably be easier to deal with a static IP. I can get a static IP, but for the cost I would probably be better off sticking with my website hosting service.

rjackb

With respect to security, I imagine that Apple will use SSL between your device and iCloud. And I also strongly suspect that they will encrypt all data that is in iCloud. So I wouldn’t be too paranoid about that (and I usually am grin.

I think iCloud has at least three goals: 1) It extends the notion that began with IOS that files directly managed by people is a bad idea. I, for one, have no interest whatsoever in actively managing files because it is both tedious and unnecessary. Files should be managed by your applications. 2) Keep all your devices, both IOS and Lion, in synch with each other. Third party developers can join in the fun as well. 3) Break the wired link between IOS devices and a Mac or PC. IOS devices will be incrementally backed up once a day plus all participating devices will be constantly synchronized.

kevinlane

I love using iWeb.  It is a lovely little program that enabled me, a person with zero coding or design skills, to build websites that, I think, look pretty good and do what I need them to do.  But what I love most about it is how it integrates with GarageBand, iPhoto, and other parts of the iLife suite.  Publishing podcasts is ridiculously easy, and I have used it for that purpose quite a bit over the last several years.  It is this integration, especially with podcasting, that I would lose if I moved on to some of the other applications that are being suggested.

If, also as some have suggested, that I continue to use iWeb and publish to another site via FTP, I would lose some of the functionality if iWeb (such as enabling comments.)  However, my biggest feat is that connection between my podcasts and they being available on iTunes would be broken.  Despite this concern, I will probably continue to use iWeb in that manner if forced to.

MobileMe may not have worked for some people, but for me it worked to perfection, especially with iWeb, Gallery, and syncing (most of the time with syncing.)  I truly wish Apple regarded the iWeb/MobileMe partnership as highly as I do.

jwdsail

I’m quite underwhelmed by iCloud. In fact, I suspect that the light from whelmed won’t reach me until Apple replaces iCloud with the next thing…

Yes, it’s free, great.. But, many have been very happy w/ MobileMe and will be upset that the features they actually DO use seem to be getting the axe.

1. iDisk
2. iWeb site hosting
3. Gallery/photo sharing
4. Syncing of iCal events, AddressBook contacts, bookmarks etc on non-iOS 5 and non-Lion devices (that MobileMe syncing works just great on)

Then, there are users of apps, like QuickBooks for Mac that allows the uploading of an encrypted disk image backup of the QuickBooks data file, every time QuickBooks is quit. Set it and forget it, it just works backup of a users most important data.. These users won’t be pleased either.

I’m honestly taken aback by the MobileMe hate. I’m sure I wasn’t the only MobileMe user that found that it worked and was worth the $... There was, well is… for now, allot of value there..

Yes, there are alternatives. Squarespace, dropbox, flicker, carbonite… But do any of these “just work” together in a way MobileMe users will expect? I guess we can all hope that these third parties will all step up and fill the void Apple’s leaving and take advantage of iCloud APIs and offer easy migration… Any of you holding your breath?

Now, allot can happen between now and June 2012. If enough MobileMe users make noise, perhaps we’ll see the endangered MobileMe features added to iTunes Match as iCloud+ ?

Bennyboy

Well, I guess we will have to wait and see what gets lost.  The only thing that nobody has mentioned is that now, there will be wireless syncing to the cloud.  That means EVERYTHING will get backed up and synced, not just music and apps.  So where do you think your contacts, calendar, documents, emails and pictures on your iPad will go? Anyone?? Bueller??

Don’t forget iOS 5 will address a lot of these issues.  So we don’t know how both will mesh together along with your Mac and Lion.

Lancashire-Witch

It’s very obvious from the WWDC keynote and the Apple website - iCloud is all about keeping your multiple devices in sync. Nowhere is ‘sharing with you’ mentioned - as Mike Weasner so perceptively describes it.

Pity - because it’s a problem I don’t have (save for MobileMe syncing quirks).

I think iWeb and Gallery is a superb way of sharing your stuff with friends and relatives around the globe; I’ll not be pleased to go back to emailing photos again - or mailing movies and stuff on optical disks.

If I did own multiple devices this could be one step forward and two steps back.

rwahrens

Count me as another disappointed MM user, if these do go away.

iDisk lets me keep all my stuff in my My Documents folder in the cloud already.  I NEVER save to my local disk in my Home folder.  That way, all those docs are available via iDisk on both my iPhone and iPad as well as the MacBook.  Anywhere, anytime.

The only things Time Machine backs up are configurations, music and photos, which are too voluminous for my iDisk. 

Gallery is wonderful, and half of the space I’ve used from those 20gigs is taken up by photos in Galleries.  It is my prime display/sharing location.  Flickr makes you PAY for over 200 photos!  While, yes, MM was $99, I rarely paid that much, and was paying for it anyway for syncing and iDisk as well as email, so the galleries were just a bonus.  I never would have paid extra for photo hosting.

PLEASE, Apple, don’t kill iDisk and Photo Galleries!!  Between those and syncing, I’d STILL be willing to pay for these services…

FlipFriddle

Isn’t AirDrop going to be a replacement for iDisk, or did I misunderstand what that was? I’m sure it won’t have as much storage though. The comment above about sharing with yourself and sharing with others is spot on. I use MobileMe mainly for sharing with others, though the document side of things has migrated to DropBox lately. But it is the place where I host my galleries and my web page. I’m not sure what will happen with that, but I will reserve final judgement until the cloud appears.
As for iWeb, I don’t get why Apple is abandoning the “web design for the rest of us” link in iLife. The fact that we are still being asked to even have to look at code view is a joke; it’s like asking graphic designers to learn PostScript code to get their pages to print properly. That problem ceased to exist (Pagemaker) before the first web browser came out. Conspiracy to keep web programmers employed? Grrr.

wab95

Ted:

Insightful article. Permit a couple of quick, drive-by observations and thoughts.

I concur with your list of likely EOL services. Those, plus MIke Weasner’s comment about sharing with ‘you’ beg the question, why would Apple drop a feature/service that it has kept since iTools, DotMac and MobileMe? Remember that Apple is a company that has shifted the tech user experience squarely over the consumer (not enterprise) and has made optimising that user experience a core business strength. That it is dropping such user-centric services, if in fact it is, can be due to only one thing - insufficient use.

Bear in mind that the people who blog and post here and on other sites are an infinitesimally small minority of Apple customers. An intelligent, informed minority, but a minority nonetheless. Apple, ever since the return of Steve Jobs, has been about nothing if not efficiency. For Apple to create and sustain a service that only a fraction of its user base is going to use is not merely inefficient, but cost ineffective. That said, if a service or feature is truly popular, and not merely desired by a minority however vocal, it may be resurrected. Lion is rife with features from third parties that a substantial fraction of Apple customers actually use. Future OS X versions could see more, including some ‘oldies’ if they are ‘goodies’.

Further, many of the ‘sharing’ features that may be dropped from MobileMe had been around in one iteration or another since iTools, certainly DotMac, so it isn’t as if Apple did give these more than one try. Many of these just never took off, or lost out to third parties that did them better (think Dropbox vs iDisk). Why should user response be any different with yet another offering of the same? As geoduck cites Einstein in another discussion thread, ‘Insanity (paraphrasing) is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results’. Apple prides itself on doing the ‘insanely great’, not the ‘insane’.

Last thought: I suspect that Apple will continue to focus on those features and services, over time, that enhance the end user experience, including popular services that a critical mass of users take up through third parties - so long as these make good business sense. As for services/features it drops, Apple will likely assume that the bright and creative minds that post here and other sites, namely the Apple user community, will continue to find, share and assist each other to locate and exploit the better ones. After all, this is what the Apple community has been doing since day one.

Lancashire-Witch

I notice (in iOS 4.3.3) the Photos and Camera apps that the options for Sharing no longer include MobileMe Gallery (if they ever did, someone please correct me if I’m wrong).
Sharing is restricted to just YouTube and Email.

This indicates that the Gallery will not survive.  That’s a great pity.

Ted Landau

I notice (in iOS 4.3.3) the Photos and Camera apps that the options for Sharing no longer include MobileMe Gallery (if they ever did, someone please correct me if I?m wrong).

I believe it’s still there. But only if you select a single photo. When selecting multiple photos in batch, it vanishes.

vpndev

Maybe Apple will consider donating iWeb to an open-source community group. If they won’t continue to support it and they’re not building a competitor to it, then why not?

NDCS

Ted, I totally disagree with your assessment of “files” no longer being useful.  I am trying to wrap my head around the world in which you dwell.  I will tell you this for sure, it is an alternate universe from mine and most of the professional travelers that I know.  If I am away from home, iDisk is being used. Period. 

I can understand that Apple may not be making any money with it and I am sure there are plenty of other options, but none with the convenience of everything in one place like mobile me. 

Have you ever had to access documents remotely from a place whose network will not allow access by thumb drive, and there is no connection for your laptop, wireless or otherwise?  How about every US military base in the world.  However, I can pop on to the internet and access all my important “files” and use or share as needed, meanwhile composing emails and checking my calendar.

I would love to find this utopia where “files” are no longer useful.  Wow.

Ted Landau

Ted, I totally disagree with your assessment of ?files? no longer being useful.

Whoa! I never said that files are no longer useful.

What I said was that Apple is moving away from having us of think of our data as organized into files and folders ? whether you or I like it or not. Photos are photos that we view in iPhoto ? not photo files that are in some folder hierarchy that we access from the Finder. This idea is at the heart of the iOS, where there is no visible file structure. And it is the direction things are moving in Lion.

Do I like it? Not entirely. I’m too old school and see too much value to having ready access to the Finder hierarchy. That’s one reason I jailbreak my iPhone. However, I am willing to consider the benefits of Apple’s direction (I enjoy my iPad despite the lack of a Finder) and I am preparing myself for what may well be inevitable.

Lee Dronick

iDisk is being used. Period.?

I can understand that Apple may not be making any money with it and I am sure there are plenty of other options, but none with the convenience of everything in one place like mobile me.?

Chuck and I have been email privately about our options if iDisk should go away. In particular we discussed setting up a password protected folder on our websites. Of course we could use an FTP program to move files to and from the directory, but the nice thing about iDisk is that it can be done in the Finder. As it stands now with OSX we can take files from an online server, but not put anything in it; Maybe in a future version of OSX a more comprehensive FTP service will be built in.

Lancashire-Witch

iCloud must be all about keeping my multiple devices in sync.

If it had any sharing functionality Steve would have called it “weCloud” grin

Lee Dronick

If it had any sharing functionality Steve would have called it ?weCloud?

This is too big a thing in the sky to be a weeCloud smile

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