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Tuesday, 22 July 2008 17:34

How to get Apple MobileMe for free

MobileMe was meant to be "Exchange for the rest of us" according to Steve Jobs, providing a USD $99 per year one-stop-lifestyle-shop bringing sychronised contacts, calendaring and email onto your Mac, PC and iPhone. Pretty much everything that could go wrong, has gone wrong. Bad for Apple, great for the end user who wants to get MobileMe for free...

It was only last month that Steve Jobs announced at the 2008 Worldwide Developers Conference that MobileMe would be Exchange for the rest of us. Clearly wanting to jump aboard the same 'your life in the cloud' bandwagon, jealously watching BlackBerry and its army of CrackBerry addicts, Apple thought that it was on to a sure fire winner.

It might have been, had it worked. It might still be, if Apple can get it working. However, goodwill is not an easy thing to come by, and even Apple fanboys are starting to cut up rough about their treatment at the hands of the MobileMe machine. You only have to browse the Apple MobileMe Support Forums for evidence of the growing unrest.

Everything started pear shaped immediately upon launch, with eager early adopters complaining that either they could not login to the service or they could not sync with their new iPhone when they had. Emails mysteriously vanished into the ether never to be seen again, the great 'push' which promised instant BlackBerry-alike synchronisation turned out to be more of a slow 'pull' with reports of 15 minute delays when syncing computers with the cloud.

Apple responded to the online storm of protests by sending out an email to MobileMe users last week apologising for the launch hiccups and pretty much admitting that perhaps it was a little over enthusiastic in its use of 'push' to describe the service.

"While all email, contact or calendar changes on the iPhone and the web apps are immediately synced to and from the MobileMe cloud" Apple said "changes made on a PC or Mac take up to 15 minutes to sync with the cloud and your other devices."

Read on to discover how to get MobileMe for free...


All of which is very nice to know, considering that early adopters had stumped up USD $99 (AUD $101) for the privelege of not being able to login, sync devices properly and having to wait a virtual eternity for their emails, contacts and calendaring data.

Aha, says Apple, we have a fix for that. And so it was that the email offered those users a free 30-day extension to the service. yes, one month free to make up for the first week of end user mayhem. So far so bad, but it was soon to get much, much worse for Apple.

Next on the long list of cock-ups comes the strange but true question of when does a free trial cost UKP £121 (AUD $248)? The answer being when you happen to be an unlucky European user of the scheme who has signed up not with a credit card but a bank debit card instead.

Reports started arriving online of Brits who had used a debit card to provide the financial proof that they had an ability to pay for the service, which Apple required before it would let them trial it for 60 days free, seeing money being removed from their bank accounts. A lot of money as it happens.

The problem seems to have come about as credit card users go through a pre-authorisation process which ensures that the account is in credit, but debit cards have to take real money from the bank instead. Unfortunately the amounts taken bore no resemblance to the actual yearly subscription charge. So, no surprise that the very people Apple was trying to tempt into becoming new users of the service were actually feeling somewhat negative, to say the least, about their treatment.

I smell another apology and some more free time coming from the direction of Apple. Read on for details...


Time for another letter from Apple, this time aimed at those users who had been so charged and delivered over the weekend. It promises that credit and debit card users will not be hit by more than a USD $1 (AUD $1.02) pre-authorisation charge. Further it apologises to debit card users for an error that caused the incorrect amount to be taken. "Apple has identified and resolved an issue that caused an incorrect, temporary authorization hold of 121 GBP to be placed on your credit or debit card when your MobileMe trial account was created" it said.

It also threw another 30 days extension of the service into the now overflowing pot of Apple face saving generosity. So let's sit back and recap for a moment. If you were an early enough adopter, as in your signed up for the MobileMe service on the 15th July or before, and Apple rifled your bank account or credit card of more than a buck, then so far you have earned yourself 4 months of MobileMe for free.

There was an initial 60 day trial period, plus those two 30 day extensions to add, you see. Even if you have, for some reason that totally baffles me for now given the events so far, already upgraded to a paid for account you will get the 30 days free time owed to you by way of extensions to your subscription.

You might want to keep a close eye on the Accounts tab in the MobileMe web interface though, given how well Apple has managed not to manage MobileMe so far. Continuing with the less than instant theme of MobileMe, Apple says that these free time extensions will be reflected over the coming weeks rather than, well, instantly.

So can you get MobileMe totally free? Read on for the big reveal...


The simple truth is that we cannot say that you will be able to get MobileMe for free, forever. But, and in this case it is a but the size of an opera singers arse, as MobileMe continues to struggle with providing any semblance of a fully operational service the chances are high that there will be more apologies and more free extensions coming your way. Hell, just look at the problems Apple has had in delivering a simple software upgrade service and you can imagine the problems it will have with a complex cloud computing system.

The web services are still flakey to say the least, just pop over to the MobileMe support page and you will see a status message which says that "1% of MobileMe members cannot access MobileMe Mail." Really? Just a single solitary one percent? Reading the support forums themselves and searching around the web, it would appear that Apple has lost the plot when it comes to basic maths.

Apple has also lost the plot when it comes right back to that Exchange for the rest of us promise it would seem. After all, think of Exchange and you think of Outlook. And Outlook users appear less than happy with MobileMe right now as well. If they create appointments on the iPhone then they do not seem to arrive in Outlook on the desktop when synchronised, or rather not as the case appears to be, via MobileMe. You can see the appointment in your Today view, but not in your calendar.

If you are suffering from the same problem you might want to ask Apple for some more free time, I have a sneaking suspicion they will be only too glad to accommodate you based on the events of the last week or so.

So there you have it, MobileMe for free. Kind of. The clever money, however, is on people saying enough is enough and looking for alternative in the cloud social synchronisation of the sort provided by Google or even, dare I say it, BlackBerry...

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