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MobileMe-to-iCloud Transition Messaging Provokes Confusion

Plans for MobileMe never seem to go right. Its launch in mid-2008, as a transition from the previous .Mac service, was riddled with failures, data loss, and confusion (see “MobileMe Fails to Launch Well, But Finally Launches,” 12 July 2008). Steve Jobs, according to a recent Fortune report, berated the MobileMe team and then replaced the group’s head during a meeting at that time.

And now we’re partying like it’s 2008 once again. Immediately on the heels of the Worldwide Developer Conference announcement of iCloud, iOS 5, and the ship date for Lion, Apple sent email to MobileMe subscribers, theoretically explaining the situation. (For our initial coverage, see “What Happens to MobileMe” in “iCloud Rolls In, Extended Forecast Calls for Disruption,” 6 June 2011.)

In short, Apple extended all current subscriptions through 30 June 2012 for free, and suspended signups for new customers. In a support article, Apple said more details would be available when iCloud becomes available “this fall” (the third quarter of 2011), but that leaves months of confusion. Why not answer questions more clearly now and avoid customer frustration and confusion? It’s the Apple way, sometimes. Unfortunately, so much secrecy begets a culture in which clarity is the enemy of strategy.

The confusion was intensified by a report in This Is My Next, the Engadget team’s post-AOL project, in which Joshua Topolsky writes,

Let’s be clear about what happens when iCloud goes live — according to what was described on stage at the event, and what I’ve confirmed with Apple PR — the service will effectively replace the current web offerings of MobileMe. That means that when the cutoff date of June 30, 2012 comes around for users, the web-based email client, calendar, contacts app, and other components of the web suite will cease to exist. You will no longer be able to log in and check your mail through a browser, change calendar events, or edit contacts.

We have a query into Apple PR ourselves to find out whether Topolsky is characterizing that correctly. If so, this will be a big loss. If you lack access to a Mac or iOS device with which you sync mail, calendar events, and contacts, you’ll be cut off from your data.

Topolsky’s claims seem to be contradicted by other reports, such as one about Apple testing freshly written iCloud-based Web apps on its intranet. MacRumors just posted a screen capture of an iCloud invitation to a calendar that one of its readers appears to have generated using an iOS 5 beta.

Regardless of the future status of Web apps, a number of questions surround other current MobileMe-related services:

  • New iOS Buyers: If I buy an iPhone today and want over-the-air sync, can I purchase a MobileMe subscription? I don’t know what people are being told in AT&T, Verizon Wireless, and Apple stores. It would seem peculiar that the service you need for sync among computers and multiple iOS devices is simply unavailable for new customers for a period of months. Perhaps it is being given away quietly?

  • Storage Amounts: iCloud will include 5 GB of free storage across all media (excluding purchased iTunes Store items, which don’t count) with the apparent option (shown in iOS 5 betas) of upgrading to more storage. MobileMe included 20 GB of storage in the $100-per-year subscription. We don’t know what final pricing will be nor how much storage you can purchase.

  • iDisk: Where will our iDisk files go? Will public files still be reachable? Will we have to archive everything or will it be moved automagically into the new system? And what if we have more than 5 GB of data and haven’t paid for upgraded storage? On 30 June 2012, does it all disappear? (Dropbox, SugarSync, and similar services can pick up the slack, but it will still be a jarring change.)

  • Gallery: iCloud includes Photo Stream as a conduit for photos passing among iOS devices and computers. But what of all the stored albums in MobileMe Gallery and the integration with iPhoto? The iCloud service as described doesn’t mimic this feature, which is a popular method of sharing photos both with the world at large and with private groups.

  • iWeb Hosted Sites and Personal Domain: As with MobileMe Gallery, iCloud doesn’t seem to have an analog to MobileMe’s iWeb integration, nor the option to alias a domain name you own to match up with a MobileMe-hosted site. What will happen to existing Web sites hosted on MobileMe?

  • Back to My Mac: Back to My Mac relies on several pieces of MobileMe infrastructure unrelated to any of the public elements of the service — such as wide-area, dynamic DNS — to create secure tunnels among machines registered to the same MobileMe account. This could easily be migrated to iCloud, as Back to My Mac has no interface beyond a Start/Stop button in the MobileMe preference pane. But will Apple do it? The company is mum on whether the service migrates to iCloud.

  • Apple Communities: Dennis Swaney notes in the comments that years of using his Mac.com address in Apple’s discussion forums has given him credibility and authority. However, you cannot merge reputation data and your forum posts into a new Apple ID, he says. That may disrupt the forums and dispirit those who provide advice there unless Apple comes up with a solution to enable people to merge Apple IDs.

  • MobileMe Aliases: Some users rely on email aliases in MobileMe. Apple says new aliases may no longer be created, but what will happen to those already in the system?

  • Pre-Lion Mac OS X Users: While iCloud may be the ticket for Lion, what happens to users of Leopard and Snow Leopard, if not earlier, for whom MobileMe worked just fine? Will they need to turn to Web apps, assuming they exist, and lose all synchronization options? That seems the likely outcome at the end of the transition in 2012.

  • Original iPhone and iPhone 3G Users: With the original iPhone locked out of iOS 4, and the iPhone 3G limited to iOS 4.2, owners of both models have at least been able to stay synced up. Will the move to iCloud prevent their use of sync services after the 2012 transition ends?

  • Find My iPhone: As with Back to My Mac, the data used by Find My iPhone could easily be moved over to iCloud and associated with an Apple ID rather than a MobileMe login. Apple started supporting Apple ID-based accounts for Find My iPhone last year when it made the service free to all iOS 4 users for all their devices. If your Apple ID is different than your MobileMe account, will iCloud handle the transition cleanly?

This is the list we’ve come up with so far. What other questions do you have about using MobileMe before the release of iCloud? And what other concerns do you have for those MobileMe-hosted data and services that Apple hasn’t yet discussed?

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