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.Mac Morphs into MobileMe

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Pleasing copyeditors everywhere, Phil Schiller announced MobileMe, a new online service that replaces the awkwardly named .Mac ("dot-Mac"). The changed name should also make the service more appealing to Windows users, who can currently use many aspects of the service even if they don't have Macs. In essence, MobileMe is a spruced-up version of .Mac, but with one significant difference: Dubbed "Exchange for the rest of us" by Apple, MobileMe uses Microsoft's ActiveSync technology to keep email, contacts, events, photos, and files updated on the fly, so that a user can sync their data without having to tether an iPhone or iPod touch to a computer via a USB connection, or even have the mobile device in the same location as the computer. MobileMe will also continue to offer the usual .Mac features like iDisk online storage, Web galleries of photos and movies, and iLife integration. Apple has also increased the base storage amount to 20 GB, up from .Mac's 10 GB.

MobileMe works with native Mac OS X applications like iCal and Mail; under Windows, the same functionality applies to Outlook, Outlook Express, and Windows Contacts under Windows XP or Vista.

Although still costing $99 per year (with a free 60-day trial), the idea is that MobileMe is less a separate service and more of an extension of what you already do on your Mac, PC, iPhone, or iPod touch. For example, your email messages and mailboxes will apparently instantly be the same, whether on your iPhone or your computer, a feature that many users should welcome with open arms. And, contacts and calendar items will sync automatically. As a final example, a photo you snap with an iPhone can be immediately uploaded to your MobileMe gallery, and viewed by anyone accessing the service via computer, iPhone, or Apple TV.

When I wrote earlier that MobileMe is spruced up, I didn't mean to downplay the new look and feel. Apple excels at user experience, and this iteration promises to make you forget you're using a Web browser. Transferring files to and from your iDisk is a drag-and-drop operation in a browser, just as it is in the Mac OS X Finder.

What about .Mac? Current .Mac users can visit the .Mac home page to find details on getting ready for MobileMe, retaining their email addresses, and how to start using a new email address.

MobileMe is expected to become available in early July with the iPhone 2.0 software, though Apple's Web pages list only "coming soon." For Macintosh users, the service will require at least Mac OS X 10.4.11 Tiger, but Apple Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard in order to access all the features. You'll also need Safari 3 or Firefox 2 for the Mac. Windows users will need Safari 3, Firefox 2, or Internet Explorer 7.


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