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Keep Your MobileMe Email Address without iCloud

[Updated 18 May 2012: Due to ambiguous information from Apple and conflicting reports from users, we’ve updated this article to reflect our current beliefs about what happens when someone migrates a MobileMe email address to iCloud. -Adam]

If you’ve already migrated your MobileMe account to iCloud, move right along — nothing to see here. But if you haven’t yet done so because one or more of your devices doesn’t meet Apple’s system requirements for iCloud, you should be aware that Apple is now offering MobileMe users a way to keep their existing email addresses — and possibly their calendars too — even after MobileMe shuts down for good on 30 June 2012.

Until a couple of weeks ago, it looked as though the end of MobileMe would mean the permanent disappearance of access to email for me.com or mac.com addresses that hadn’t been upgraded to iCloud. Apple supported the MobileMe-to-iCloud transition only on Macs running Mac OS X 10.7 Lion and on PCs running Windows 7 or Vista, so people with older desktop operating systems couldn’t migrate their old MobileMe accounts, even if they had iOS devices that support iCloud.

At the beginning of May, however, Apple sent email messages to people with valid but unconverted me.com and mac.com addresses, informing them that they could keep those addresses even if they couldn’t sign up for iCloud. In case you didn’t get one of these email messages, here’s a quote from Apple’s MobileMe Transition and iCloud page:

What if I just want to keep using my email on all my devices?
As of May 1, you can choose to keep using your mail after MobileMe ends, even on devices that don’t meet the iCloud system requirements. Just go to me.com/move and select the option to keep using your email after MobileMe ends. Once you have completed this short process, your mail will continue to work on devices that don’t meet the iCloud requirements after MobileMe ends on June 30th, 2012.

Because I migrated my own MobileMe account to iCloud a long time ago, I didn’t get this message from Apple and couldn’t walk through the steps myself. So, please take the following as second-hand information, compiled from a variety of sources on the Web, personal email messages, and the comments to an earlier version of this article.

If you visit that page and sign in with your old address, you’ll see two “Next” buttons, one next to “All My Devices Are Compatible” and the other next to “Not all my devices meet requirements.” If you click the latter, you’re prompted to agree to the iCloud Terms of Service, after which your email — but not other MobileMe data — is transitioned to iCloud in such a way that you can continue to use it on your existing devices. If you later upgrade your devices so they are fully iCloud-compatible, you can then use them to sign in to iCloud and access the remaining features as well.

However, what happens next is somewhat ambiguous, and I’ve read conflicting reports. The MobileMe Transition and iCloud page doesn’t specify whether continuing access to email will be available only via a Web browser (and if so, at which URL) or also using conventional email clients such as Mail. Assuming you can keep using Mail with your existing settings, it’s unclear whether that will continue to be true after June 30th, or whether changes will be required.

Here’s what I’ve been able to piece together:

  • As far as Web-based access goes, people who have made the partial transition can continue, for now, to check their mail at www.me.com, and in fact, some people are redirected from www.icloud.com to www.me.com. Apple support reps have reportedly said that after June 30th, Web-based email access will switch to www.icloud.com.

  • Some people say they can, for the time being, continue to access their email accounts in Mail on a Mac or iOS device without altering any settings at all. But other information suggests that after this partial iCloud transition, one must go through the same steps to access iCloud email that would be required of someone who has done the full migration and wanted to use a pre-Lion or pre-iOS 5 device. That is: In Mail, delete your existing MobileMe account: Choose Mail > Preferences, click Accounts, select your MobileMe account in the list on the left, and click the – (minus) button. Then click the + (plus) button to add a new account and fill in your mac.com or me.com address and password. But now hold down Option while clicking Continue. This bypasses Mail’s automated setup process (which would configure the account for the MobileMe servers — not what you want). On the next screen, choose IMAP from the Account Type pop-up menu. Enter imap.mail.me.com for the incoming mail server address, click Continue, and enter smtp.mail.me.com for the outgoing mail server address. On an iOS device, go to Settings > Mail, Contacts, Calendars, tap Add Account, and then tap Other followed by Add Mail Account; fill in your details; and then, with IMAP selected, enter the IMAP and SMTP server addresses mentioned above.

    It could be that existing MobileMe account settings will work for now, but that after June 30th the new iCloud settings will be required. It could also be the case that different settings are working for different people. One person told me that after moving his email, although imap.mail.me.com did not work for incoming mail, smtp.mail.me.com did work for outgoing mail. I’m not sure what to make of that.

  • If you have performed a conventional, full MobileMe-to-iCloud transition using a Mac running Lion or a PC running Windows 7 or Vista, you can still access your iCloud calendars on a Mac running Snow Leopard — in a Web browser, via BusyCal, or, with some extra effort, using iCal. (For more information, see “iCal in Snow Leopard Can Participate in iCloud,” 11 December 2011.) Circumstantial evidence suggests that if, on the special me.com/move page, you click the Next button next to “All My Devices Are Compatible” (even if they aren’t), not only your email but also your calendars will be transitioned to iCloud. It’s unclear what happens to the rest of your data in that case; how, if at all, this process differs from a complete MobileMe-to-iCloud transition; and whether you can (temporarily or permanently) continue to access your calendars in iCal or Calendars with your existing settings.

In short, although it’s fantastic that people still running Snow Leopard can hang onto their MobileMe email accounts, Apple has left a lot of the details vague and confusing. If you can add any clarifications from your own experiences in the comments, please do!

Finally, once you’ve done all this, don’t forget to deal with any other data that’s still on the MobileMe servers — I’m thinking especially of any files on your iDisk. The only safe assumption is that they will all be irrevocably deleted at the end of June, so don’t wait to find them new homes! I offer suggestions for doing so, as well as a great deal of other helpful information about moving to iCloud, in “Take Control of iCloud.”

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