One of the interesting Apple rumors bouncing around is the idea that MobileMe might become a free service.
I really don’t like MobileMe, or .Mac before it. I think it’s badly overpriced, charging $99 for services that are available elsewhere, and are often better elsewhere, for free.
But what I really hate about MobileMe/.Mac is a sense that Mac OS X has long been deliberately crippled in service of MobileMe. Many of the obvious and interesting uses of Bonjour, such as syncing your laptop and desktop, never appeared in Mac OS X and are obvious by their absence… and that absence is explained by the fact that Apple hoped to charge $99 to round-trip your files through their server farm, rather than performing the entire transaction within your household LAN (which, aside from being free, would be faster and more secure). Year after year, when the O’Reilly editors would ping the Mac bloggers about wishlists for MacWorld or other milestone events, I always made sure to put “an end to .Mac” as one of my requests. And I never got my wish. To quote my appearance in Chuck Toporek’s pre-Macworld 2006 ruminations: “Add to this the confusion of explaining .Mac to the switcher or new user, and I think you’ll agree that not only is .Mac overpriced, it may actually be harming the Mac platform. I hope that by the end of 2006 it [.Mac] is either free or dead.”
So maybe now we’re finally going to get it. And this is what makes me think Apple is moving in this direction: AirDrop, an announced feature in Mac OS X 10.7 (Lion), offering simple computer-to-computer file transfer, the kind of thing for which Apple had previously told us to use .Mac/MobileMe public folders. If they’re finally using Bonjour for easy computer-to-computer file transfer — like they should have been doing since about 2003 — then that makes me think that MobileMe has finally been sufficiently discredited to allow OS X to add these kinds of features.
What changed? As always with Apple, who the hell knows? But you have to think they’re at least a little surprised by the emergence of Dropbox as the de facto tool for exchanging files between your desktop and productivity applications on your iPad. Not MobileMe, and certainly not the clumsy file-exchange offered by iTunes. I’m actually really surprised by how totally Dropbox has won: all the text editors I evaluated for light on-the-go coding (*) support Dropbox, and few bother with MobileMe. Does that sting Apple? Maybe. Hopefully.
Now the fun question for me is, if MobileMe becomes free, will it be worth my time? I certainly don’t see a compelling reason to migrate my mail off GMail, or my documents off Dropbox, so except for the “Find My iPhone” feature, which has already been made free and which I still don’t use, it’s not clear that there’s anything there that I care about. Maybe I’m overlooking something… let me know in the comments.