Thursday, June 24, 2010, 09:55 pm PT (12:55 am ET)
iPhone 4 and iOS vs. Android: desktop and cloud services
MobileMe isn't free
On the other hand, while Google's online services (Gmail and Calendar/Contacts, with both sync and push messaging) are free (with ads), Apple's tightly integrated MobileMe service isn't. Of course, you don't have to pay for MobileMe to use your iPhone; it works just as easily with Google's free services as Android does, and in some cases is actually better. MobileMe is also not very expensive. At $69/year (with a new phone purchase, or from Amazon), it's less than $6/month.
In its previous form under the name .Mac, Apple's cloud service made some sense for users who wanted a simple messaging and content sync service that just worked. When Apple made it part of iPhone OS 2.0, it greatly enhanced the service conceptually with push services. But push came to shove, and the service debuted in flames of catastrophe.
Since that rough introduction, Apple has resolved its availability issues and introduced new apps that expose the services' features: iDisk for cloud file access, Gallery for uploaded pictures and movies, and most recently, Find My Phone, in addition to the built in apps that support sync: Mail, Contacts, Calendar, and Notes. At the same time, Apple has now downplayed MobileMe's web hosting services, focusing its efforts on mobile cloud sync between iOS devices and the Mac or Windows desktop.
MobileMe isn't the most generous file and web hosting service, and certainly isn't the cheapest email, calendar & contact cloud service (although it is very affordable compared to hosted Exchange or BlackBerry push messaging services). What it does offer is a pretty complete set of unique features in a single package from one vendor, complete with push messaging, email aliases (something that is not supported from Gmail, but is now fully and automatically supported as sendable email addresses in iOS 4), iDisk file sharing with password protected sharing (useful for sending large file attachments that are too big to email), Gallery for direct photo and movie sharing, web browser bookmark sync, and the Back To My Mac and Find My iPhone features.
Most of those features can be assembled from various third party offerings on Android phones, but doing so requires multiple accounts and different vendors to complain to when things stop working correctly. Roll MobileMe in with Apple's App Store, iBooks, and iTunes music, audiobooks and movies (with rentals, something Android is missing support for entirely), and you get one account and a bunch of services that all work pretty seamlessly through tight integration from one vendor.
That's not to say MobileMe and Apple's other cloud services are perfect; the company should really integrate Gallery into iOS 4's Photos app, and things like Notes sync (new in iOS 4) don't always appear to work flawlessly yet. However, just as Apple has kept the latest iPhone 4 ahead of Android in terms of hardware features (which it wasn't supposed to be able to do, given Android's multiple hardware partners), it's also managed to keep its cloud features a couple steps ahead of Google's (also a seemingly improbable task, given Google's apparent home court advantage in offering cloud-based services), while also offering a solid foundation of "non-cloud" services within iTunes, something that no other smartphone maker has caught up with yet.
On page 3 of 3: Exchange Server & open enterprise cloud services support.
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