∞ About this new MobileMe service

There has been a lot of speculation about what Apple will do with its MobileMe service and while the majority of the rumors claim it will be based on cloud storage, I don’t think anyone has quite nailed it yet.

[ad#Google Adsense 300×250 in story]For instance, reports claim that the new device would give users access to their iTunes libraries and sync services. However, to date, nobody has been able to detail exactly how this would happen.

Is Apple going to give us all 100GB of cloud storage to host our music, backups and sync data? That seems a bit much to me. Here’s what I think will happen with Apple’s new MobileMe service.

Instead of trying to provide everyone with cloud storage, I believe Apple will use MobileMe as the brain of the cloud service. The actual storage will be on our individual machines. In effect, in the cloud.

Look at it like this. I have three computers, an iPhone and an iPad. With the new MobileMe, all of my files on every device I have registered with MobileMe will be accessible to each other.

The Home folder on your Mac Pro may be 300GB and your iPhone only has 32GB, but it doesn’t matter because you are only browsing the files.

If I’m away from my house and I want to listen to a song from my home iTunes account, I can do that. Every song in my library will be listed on my iPhone.

Here’s the thing — those songs won’t actually be on my iPhone until I tap to play them. As soon as I tap to play, it will download to my phone. You can scroll through your music library and choose something else and it will download and play.

In effect, what Apple’s doing is setting up a streaming service that you host. By using advanced caching and MobileMe as the brain behind the operation, you will always have access to your media.

I also believe that MobileMe will be more than about media. You will also be able to share and sync files and documents in much the same way. If there is a document on your home system that you need, it will always be available to you. Tap on it, and it downloads to your iPhone or iPad.

Documents that you download will be automatically synced with all of your other machines, so you don’t need to worry about emailing yourself revisions. Smart syncing will only change the exact bits that changed — it won’t resync the entire document. This could also mean that documents could be changed from multiple locations because it wouldn’t overwrite existing changes.

This could be the end of iDisk as we know it because we have our own iDisk and are using own Macs to build it.

I believe MobileMe as I’ve described it here will be compatible with Macs, iPhone, iPad, iPod touch and Windows. Basically, personal computers and iOS devices.

Of course, this type of service would also sync all of your contacts, calendars and other data that we’ve become accustomed to syncing on our devices.

There is talk about MobileMe being free when this new service launches. I’m not so sure about that. We may see parts of MobileMe be free, but there still could be a charge for the main parts of the service.

  • Briang5000

    Trouble with streaming to iOS devices will push people possibly beyond 2GB data caps.

    • True – here in the UK the data caps for iPhone are between 500MB and 1GB for personal accounts.

      Toy Story 3 purchased on iTunes is 1.03GB. So one trip with the boy watching TS on the phone and you’ve blown your cap for the month. Not attractive.

      • Anonymous

        Uh, yeah, but if you bought it, wouldn’t you put it on the device (directly or over Wifi) instead of streaming it over 3G?

        • Probably. Unless your 16GB iPhone is already full and you suddenly have the urge to watch something that’s on your computer at home.

          We’re describing a world where you have access to your whole library anywhere you are. I’m simply saying this is not practical.

    • Chris

      Who has 2GB data caps? Not AT&T. Not Verizon. There is a popular misperception that these carriers cap your data. They don’t. What they do is charge you for what you use. Pay as you go is not the same as a data cap.

      • AT&T does actually cap data on smartphones. It’s called their DataPro plan, and the cap is 2GB.

        • Chris

          Nope. DataPro costs $25 for 2GB and $10 for every GB beyond that. No cap. http://www.att.com/shop/wireless/plans/data-plans.jsp

        • Chris

          Nope. The DataPro plan is $25 for the first 2 GB and $10 for each GB thereafter. There is no cap.

          • Anonymous

            yes. infinite cash means no cap. problem is.. i don’t have infinite cash.

  • If “new” MobileMe is a bunch of index files to a virtual mega-disk, then I think the technology has a ways to go. I can’t even get Time Machine to restore month-old MAIL files that were corrupted (several times over the past year) when I created archived INBOXes on IMAP Server.

  • Anonymous

    I would hope that MobileMe is more than this. There are numerous apps out there that there that already can stream your music library or any other content for that matter. Apple wouldn’t really need a huge server farm for this.

    What I hope MobileMe will be: -free basic services (push email, contacts, calendar sync) -free 25GB like MS’s Skydrive service (paid option for more storage) -the ability to restore your device and purchases from the cloud -stream your purchased content from iTunes

    Along with the ability to update the OS without having to sync to a desktop, this would finally make iOS devices independent of the PC.

    • H2

      MobileMe as described in the original post does not make sense. Requiring the end devices to be always on defeats the purpose of having a cloud service.

      quietstorms’ description makes more sense and hopefully what MobileMe would do.

  • I hope that’s not it. This would also require that the user’s “main” computer is always connected in order for MobileMe (as you describe it) to fetch the files. For a user like myself who uses a laptop as my main computer, along with iPhone, iPad, AppleTv etc, the setup you describe isn’t optimal.

    • ianfinity

      I agree—this is problematic for business travelers who might have their iPhone in their pocket and their laptop in their briefcase. Therre are also ennvironmental concerns associated with the energy consumption of machines required to be “always-on” not to mention energy costs and wear & tear on the hardware. Given some of those concerns, I almost wonder if it’s not more likely that Apple would introduce a home server with a mac mini or time capsule form factor that could be scalable 24/7 throu a ‘light sleep’ state. This would also solve the issue of a computer needing to be on for AppleTV 2 to function.

      • Stephen Silver

        I agree. This only really works if there is a home server. Way too many homes these days are laptop only, so the option for an always on mac or pc just isn’t there, and it absolutely makes the Apple TV much more attractive. Perhaps they change mobile me to where the wireless synching described above comes as a free service that comes with the purchase of this home server. It could be a relatively cheap yet substantial value add to both Apple’s Mobile and TV offerings.

        If Time Machine worked better on it, it could be a substantial value add to their computer offerings as well. I am thinking if you remove “MEDIA” from your time machine backups, as they are already backed up on your server, then they become much smaller, faster, and thus less error prone.

  • Robb

    I agree. While Apple has not been very forward thinking in their design of MobileMe, the concepts you are describing here are not new or particular useful in cloud computing and I think they need to be further ahead of the curve of mediocrity. The change criteria here with cloud computing is to break the dependency on local devices or client side devices and to free up the potential of mobile and highly streamline devices (like iPhone and iPad) from localized storage and apps. You don’t need everything in cloud. It’s pretty easy to analyze and decide what is more critical to have access to from multiple devices (working documents, mail, calendars, photos, etc) but not all (nobody needs their entire iTunes library or the entire contents of their hard drive backed up to cloud storage). I agree with a pervious post that having pointers to a hard drive that is always connected to the internet is NOT an attractive solution on a number of fronts – security, energy consumption, dependency on connection robustness… all factors that make it a failure prone circuit. And that’s what we have today and not a big draw for most users.

  • I think this idea is on the right track, but I also think Apple needs to create a Home Server device to support this and handle the “always on” issue.


  • Ben

    I don’t see this happening, primarily because people’s home internet connections are not fast enough (plus what the previous commenter said about most of us having laptops these days, and their not being connected to 24/7). Even with the 15 Mb/sec download plans, you only get maybe 1.5 Mb/sec upload. That’s not very speedy, especially if you’re sharing it with roommates (and boy will they be pissed off if you’re using all of the upstream!). If we were like South Korea or wherever that has 50Mb/50Mb service, that’d be a different story. But yeah, not gonna happen. Internet servers are there for a reason, because a) they are on 24/7 and b) they have fast connections. This does not apply to home computers.

  • Jeff

    Won’t work this way. Upload streaming from your home is too slow in comparison to download. People have different internet service packages. Would be a bag of hurt from a customer satisfaction standpoint.

    Not going to happen.

  • Anonymous

    Instead of on the computer, maybe Mobile me will be a device that hooks to the Airport Extreme through its gigabit Ethernet port. Or maybe via Wifi? So it could be a stand-alone device not depending on your computer to be running. Something like a WIFI Drobo for music. Then it can stream to anything on the network and to devices online.

    My main concern would be downloading photos over a 3G network and taking large chunks out of my “unlimited” data plan from AT&T. How soon would they no longer allow me to be grandfathered in with an unlimited plan if my usage spiked to triple, or more, my typical monthly usage?

    And with the Drobo theme, wouldn’t it be killer if you could just slip in bigger hard drives as your collection grows, no need to reform a RAID or whatever?

    Or maybe it could be a Lego-like bunch of blocks. When you run out of space, bolt on another section (using SSD storage of course…nah, that’s just crazy talk).


    • Wilbur Goltermann

      I think we have missed the point that MobileMe already provides a means of accessing all of the files on Macs on our home networks from a Mac that we carry with us wherever we go. The feature of MobileMe to which I refer is “Back to My Mac”. I have regularly accessed the entire file structure of my home network from a MacBook Pro when I have carried it on numerous trips from the east coast to the west coast, and even in Europe.

      IOS devices could be made able to take advantage of this ability to connect, and l suspect that it might even be done by an IOS app.

  • Djr12

    As a longtime MobileMe subscriber, I’d settle for iDisk working as well as Dropbox does, and doing away with that ridiculous me.com domain.

  • There is obviously more to this story than we know. If everyone one of us sees flaws it it, don’t you think Apple would as well?

    • Eran Nurmi

      Yup. People are seriously commenting this rumor as if it were the real story. C’moon, people, you can do better than that.

    • I’m not so sure. iDisk has been horrible for…what…5+ years now? The problems are well known to Apple and yet they are never fixed. It’s still miles behind upstarts like DropBox. So I’m skeptical.

      • Agreed! All who’ve used iDisk know that it is a NIGHTMARE. From what I can tell, Apple doesn’t know sync. It is one of their weakest areas and they can’t seem to fix it. I don’t know how they can then transfer this service to a syncing between computer and your mobile devices.

  • What if it’s a combination? Media bought through the iTunes store will be streamed from there. Your own music (cd rips etc) will possibly stream through mobileme. Mobileme will be the sync gateway between the two. But there must be some mechanism that your home computer doesn’t need to be online. The limit of cloud storage may not be an issue at all. I have more than a terrabyte at backblaze. Granted, it doesn’t do anything like streaming and syncing, but I don’t think storage will be an issue for apple. So, maybe it’s a simple cloud storage anyway, streaming through mobileme.

    One thing that bothers me is the current slowness of idisk. I really hope a new iteration of mobileme is going to solve the speed issues with the service.

  • Alg

    I want my ITunes music stored on my IPhone period. I don’t want to make a phone call to get it. Imagine the network blockage if everyone is downloading their own info over an already stressed network.

    • Chris

      Then buy an iPhone with inboard memory. Not everyone may make the same choice. Some might like a cheaper but somewhat more limited device. Witness the number of folks who fall for Android BOGO deals!

  • Mark

    With Music, Apple could use some clever logic so that they only store one copy that by inexong, we all share. So the original upload of our library would be almost instantaneous if all my tunes are established main stream recordings. This way the upload speed (from user to Apple) does not really matter, just a few bytes of uniquely identifying data (a fancy check-sun) would all that would be needed to confirm it is just yet another copy of Madonna’s “Holiday” or whatever it is. If I subsequently need to download a copy to some secondary device, then the whole track would need to be downloaded but this tends to be the speedier direction.

  • This discussion, which I enjoy, reminds me of Michael’s Wolfe’s answer to a question about why Quora was more popular than similar products: http://www.quora.com/Dropbox/Why-is-Dropbox-more-popular-than-other-programs-with-similar-functionality

    “There would be a folder. You’d put your stuff in it. It would sync. They built that. … ‘But,’ you may ask, ‘so much more you could do! What about task management, calendaring, customized dashboards, virtual white boarding. More than just folders and files!’ No, shut up. People don’t use that crap. They just want a folder. A folder that syncs.”

    If Apple wants MobileMe to grow, it will have to be that easy (if not that simple). Configuring “Back to My Mac” is not. Juggle which files can fit on what devices is not. Tracking bandwidth caps is not.

    I have way more media that will ever fit on my iPhone or MacBook Air. I want it all, available anywhere, instantly. A tall order, indeed.

  • Anonymous

    I’d rather have MobileMe sync as much media and documents as I can fit on my phone, and stream the rest. God, it would be awful without at least something being locally stored, or cached at the very least.

  • Why would they need a $1,000,000,000 data center to do this? Whatever they’re doing, they’re putting a LOT of your data in the cloud. Think of your scenario, but with the data center caching your media for reliability and speed. That’s what I’m hoping for.

  • Anonymous

    The following is pure speculation. I’ve always view MobileMe (as well as its earlier forms of existence) as beta testing for OS X Server. A great webmail interface as well as improving Groupware features such as CalDav, contact management, iChat/Facetime and Web and Wiki hosting. I think it’s all leading up to the Mac Mini OS X Lion Server 10.7. One machine which is always online, used to sync your families Macs as well as its iOS devices. All that’s missing is an iTunes Server component to administer multi iOS devices. Remember not everyone needs a personal computer.

    I’m not a proponent of the “CLOUD”. I want my data under my control and I believe that Apple based upon its past, also thinks that way. For Apple the “digital hub” has always been a user’s machine unlike Google’s as well as MS Exchange’s focus being the net server (cloud). I know not everyone has a need for such a family server or even the necessary bandwidth at present.

    Last but not least the new data center will offer it’s services as a Time Machine depot for the Mac Mini OS X Lion Server as well as continuing to host the normal MobileMe offerings such as it’s great family pack plan. 5 exchange like capalable accounts as well as other features for 150 $ a year is a steal. Here in Leipzig, I’m about 6 to 9 months away from having a 50 to 100mb V-DSL line. Although I have a Mac which is collocated at a hosting company I would rather have 24/7 physical access to my server at my home or work space.

    As I had mentioned pure speculation.

  • Let’s say I buy a copy of Toy Story 3 from Apple. Apple knows I’ve bought it. Apple already has a copy of it. Why on Earth would Apple require me to upload a copy of it from my home computer to stream it to me? It doesn’t save them money, and it sure has a bunch of problems.

    The key is that for commercial media, Apple doesn’t need to store duplicates (and in fact could even do something like “rip” DVDs to the cloud by simply registering that you own a copy of a DVD and then giving you access to the content on it which it already happens to have; similarly it could figure out that my ripped CDs match the stuff it has already got corresponding to those tracks and simply give me access to them.).

    The big problem comes for unique content such as family photographs and video clips. But this is where the biggest potential win is. Imagine if Apple makes it trivial to seamlessly store and back up all those photos? All they’d need to do is put some kind of quota on it to discourage people simply dumping every out-of-focus RAW file and they have lifelong customers.

    • Toner Restock

      Why did you buy a copy of Toy Story 3?

  • I’ll play the odds that Apple does give us all cloud storage to host our iTunes libraries… just not the way most people seem to be thinking about it at present.

    Apple did, after all, purchase Lala. The only thing we’ve potentially seen come out of that acquisition so far is that abortion they’re calling Ping. But Lala’s big product was putting a copy of your music library into the cloud. Not through individual partitioned user storage, but from a master collection that identified your music by fingerprinting. Given Apple isn’t particularly prone to buying companies just to eliminate possible competition, I’d wager we’ll see a Lala-derived “iTunes Cloud” in the near future.

    The technology was already there for music, so there’s no reason not to dust it off if Apple can hash out the licensing.

    Video’s where this idea falls apart; obviously adding iTunes-purchased media to people’s theoretical cloud libraries is easy as pie, but the beauty of Lala was that you’d upload any tracks it didn’t have. That’s not going to fly with multi-gig video files, especially considering the aggressive upload rate caps most ISPs use. Would Apple launch this kind of service with only iTunes video content available? I don’t know.

    On the other hand, Jim’s got an intriguing idea here with your own mini-cloud. It would be contingent on owning an AirPort base station or a Time Capsule (and a Mac), but everything’s in place today to roll out something like AudioGalaxy or Air Video that also solves the problem of your media library being on a computer that’s asleep. Throw together Back to My Mac and an ABS/TC, et voila, wake and stream to your heart’s content.

    Pair that up with a Lala-style product for all your music and your iTunes video and you’d have a killer product. Add in the smart features for documents that Jim proposes and I think I’m love.

  • Anonymous

    Very doable with a tweak on Time Capsule. OR use the USB port on Apple TV and attach a Apple made matching Hard Drive to it. Could store all content.

  • Spr222

    There is a problem with the author’s thinking. If I have “Thriller” and you have “Thriller” and we both want to upload it to Apple’s LaLa service, MobileMe only needs to keep have one “Thriller.”

    So no, everyone doesn’t need 100GB to house their music. Music is music.

  • What the article proposes sounds exactly like Zumocast, an app that allowed you to stream your music and videos from your computer to your iOS device. It works great for music not so well for video (Zumocast promised to transcribe videos, not matter the format, on the fly to stream to your device. I’d link to the app but the company pulled it from the App Store shortly after being acquired by … wait, for it … Motorola Mobility.

  • Anonymous

    “I believe Apple will use MobileMe as the brain of the cloud service.”

    So you think Apple is building a $1 billion data center to offer a dynamic DNS service?

    Doesn’t make sense.

  • My feeling is this… if DropBox wasn’t a cloud storage service, and instead just a protocol to access part of my macbook pro when I’m out on my iphone… I wouldn’t use it. You want to remove dependency, be it a DVD, HDD, or USB stick.

    Also, I think it’s very optimistic to think that everyone will need to upload their 20GB music libraries. I think it’s much more likely that you’ll only be able to stream music that you’ve purchased through iTunes. Apple can use this to incentivise the music labels into permitting the streaming option – “This will encourage people to stop ripping music from CDs and/or pirating it”. It would become another reason to get music legally through iTunes.

  • So what you’ve described is called Libox — the iPhone app just got an update last week. It uses caching and low-level cloud storage and does the streaming/transcoding from a desktop computer. It works quite well, actually.

    Real Networks Unifi is a hybrid of this model nit it also includes a cloud storage quota (for $X a month), Unifi was one of the best things I saw at CES 2011.

    I’d hope Apple would be able to offer a value beyond Unifi or Libox (or even Zumocast), because if it doesnt, purchased video confenf not withstanding, I’m not sure what MobileMe would offer over the competition

  • I wrote about this exact same concept, and discussed the big 4 in this area: Dropbox, Apple, Google, and Microsoft. http://blog.jasonlotito.com/technology/whats-better-then-kents-g-drive/

    When you realize that MobileMe and Dropbox already handle Sync-on-Read on mobile devices, it starts to come together.

    “Apple has the best opportunity to do something like this. They have the complete infrastructure, from hardware to software, to handle something like this. Controlling the entire pipeline, it’s really just a willingness on their part that is needed. Consider for a moment that they already have MobileMe which handles a lot of this.”

    It will be interesting to see if this plays out like I predicated. =)

  • eyez00

    As a MobileMe subscriber what is described above sounds like a complex and ugly addition to an existing slow and awkward service.

    Isn’t that the opposite of Apple’s “Simple & Elegant” philosophy?

    Good job this cloud “service” will be free, cuz i for one aint paying for it!

  • Anonymous

    I got a text last night from AT&T that they are raising it to 4GB but the fee remains $25. Thank you Verizon for some downward market pressure. : D

    • Anonymous

      No, they are raising the tethering plan to 4 GB. That has nada to do with the standard $25 plan.