Free Alternatives to Apple's Mobile Me
Apple's MobileMe service is great for anyone who wants to share information across more than one device. At £60 ($99) per year it's not too cheap though. In the age of SAAS, I was curious to see whether I could benefit from all of the services MobileMe offers, without having to pay for them. Here are my findings:
First of all, the most important thing for me was that my email accounts could be synced across my iMac, my MacBook and my iPhone. At any point I can be working from any of these three devices and it's important that I can access my information on each of them.
IMAP is the perfect mail protocol for this. I use GMail as my mail server and have an IMAP mail account set up on each of my devices to access my mail. Just like with a MobileME account, all of my folders and emails are synced between each of my devices - and it's FREE! As an added bonus, GMail allows you to use your own email address from your own domain - MobileMe insists that you have a me.com email address. Read these instructions on setting up your Gmail account for IMAP.
Contacts, Calendar & Notes Syncing
As with mail, you can also sync your Mac contacts, calendar and notes on your Macs, iPhones and iPads. On your Mac, simply open Address Book and iCal, go to Preferences > Accounts and add your Gmail account information. On your mobile device, simply add a new mail account, select Gmail as the account type and then check the boxes to sync contacts, calendars and notes - and it's FREE!
iDisk vs. DropBox
MobileMe offers iDisk, an online hard-drive that you can access from each of your devices. DropBox is an independent service, similar to iDisk in that you can access your files from any of your synced devices or online. Now, with 20GB of storage, iDisk seems to be a better service than DropBox who only offer 2GB with their free account. I've found though, even using DropBox everyday for many files that I need for work, and sharing between friends and clients, I've yet to fill my quota. They also offer an extra 250MB of space for every person who you invite to join (up to a max of 8GB). DropBox also have a free apps for Android and iPhone meaning you can access most of your files on the go. If 8GB free space isn't enough for you, you can always upgrade your DropBox to a Pro account which offers 50GB for, ironically, the same price as a MobileMe account ($99/year).
If you do try our DropBox, please use this affiliate link - I haven't reached my 8GB quota yet :)
Find my iPhone
Find my iPhone is the last useful feature MobileMe has to offer (IMO). Basically, if you lose your iPhone, you can log on to the MobileMe website and locate your phone via GPS. If it's been lost, you can send your phone an alert message asking to contact you. If it's been stolen you can remotely wipe all of the data from your phone so at least all of your info is safe. While I didn't find another service that offers this feature, I did find out that you can access this service if you have a free mobile me account. If you have an iTunes account, this IS your free mobile me account. On your iPhone, download this free application and follow the on-screen instructions. Set it up with your iTunes account credentials and hey-presto, you can now use the "Find my iPhone" service.
I'm a huge Mac fan and when I tried the 3month free trial of MobileMe I thought it was a great service. My biggest complaint was that I couldn't use my existing email address with MobileMe, otherwise I may have been tempted to continue with it. On the other side... brand loyalty seems to be the biggest weakness amongst Mac users. When Apple says "Jump!", we say "ooohh shiny!... how much should I pay you?". For me, paying an extra £60 a year for a service that I could otherwise receive free is bad business.