The Promise and Peril of MobileMe

Anyone tried MobileMe? Last night, I signed up for the free trial, got it syncing between my laptop and iPhone, and was incredibly impressed by how well and quickly it worked. An appointment added on one nearly instantly showed up on the other — so much better than having to fire up iTunes to have my schedule in sync. The power of the cloud! Or whatever. You know, useful.

Then, today as I was running late for a meeting, I opened the phone app and saw “No Contacts.” Uh, what? All of my contacts had been deleted from the phone. They were still on and on my laptop, but what I had with me was a phone with no contacts…not useful.

I fired up the support chat window on and went through a half-hour session of trying to get things working. At the end of that I gave up and am deleting my account, and hoping a manual sync (you know, with a cable and stuff) will restore my contacts.

Any similar experiences, or better? MobileMe seems like such a great idea, and one with such promise. Having it fail so completely on the very first day seems like such a miserable outcome. You can’t help but be impressed with the parts that work; it is incredible engineering and design all around. That’s no comfort when your data disappears, though. I’d love to hear what others have experienced; hopefully I’m an outlier. (For the record, I do have over 2,200 contacts, which I guess is a lot compared to other iPhone owners I know.)

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  • Anthony Ginepro

    I never had such kind of trouble, but I had some unsync issues sometimes, solved by forcing it again.
    I miss as well more information in my calendar events like the place and people attending.

    Despite these issues, MobileMe is still the best sync option I tried (against plaxo, google, etc..).

    Hope you’ll have more luck.

  • Slightly offtopic: I had a similar issue when I connected my Windows Mobile phone with my Vista PC. All contacts vanished – not available on the PC also! The default setting was to erase info (contacts, mails, calendar etc) on phone with the ones from PC. Gosh!! It was a terrible month from then on till I could get many of my contacts back.

    MS’s MyPhone seems to work extremely well, though! It automatically syncs and does not bother me at all.

  • Benjamin

    Got same troubles several times during the two first months… but after having suscribed.

    I used to switch the iPhone into Flight, then switch again on the network. Doing this i was reconnected to mobileMe servers. If not, ON/OFF, same result.

    But since an update (Q4 2008), I never had troubles again. MobileMe is pretty cool but maybe a bit expensive. I hope that Funambol will be able to sync iPhone datas (cal + contacts + mails) soon.

  • My iPhone sometimes refuse synching as well. The items on my desktop machine (Outlook Contacts, Calendar and Bookmarks) are synching this morning with MobileMe, but not with the iPhone… which is a new 3GS.

  • I’ve Mobile Me to be unreliable. For all it’s prowess in creating hardware and software, Apple just doesn’t have he chops to deliver reliable web services.

    I now sync my iPhone calendar OTA with Google Calendar, but continue to sync my Contacts with a cable to Address Book. (I like the profile pictures that pop up when the phone rings…) ;)


  • Mike

    Have not tried mobileMe, but I have had great luck syncing with Google Cal & Contacts.

    Between that and GCal Outlook sync, I cannot see paying for something extra.

  • Chris

    I’ve been on MobileMe since last August, no known problems. Probably a few hundred contacts.

  • I use MobileMe but I’m not a power user. I had similar issues when I first set things up. Now it’s running smoothly – it syncs properly. I agree that he first experience could deter many.

  • Drew

    I had all contacts disappear (I have ~1900) from my iPhone like that once last summer right after MobileMe sync debuted. It definitely had teething problems. I haven’t had anything like that since.

    Only sync issue now that I have is that every once in a while (~ once every 6-8 weeks?), calendar syncing slows down. Doesn’t seem to affect my linked computers, but the iPhone stops syncing for 6-24 hours, but then resumes. Not sure how it gets out of sync, but I haven’t invested much time in investigating it.

  • Andrew

    The best way to fix the issue in the article is turn off contacts sync on iPhone (opting to delete contacts on iPhone) then turn sync back on. 5 min fix

  • macguitarman

    This is one thing I do and it usually does the trick.

    It’s not necessarily Mobile Me, but the Sync on your local Macs.

    The local Sync service on the Mac OS X seems to just suck, so I turn it off, always.

    I keep my contacts, calendars on Mobile Me as the master and they will Push (sync) to the iPhone, and vice versa (from iPhone to MM).

    If you have Sync Contacts, Calendars turned on on your local Macs (using Address Book and iCal), your usually hosed, why?

    Because, if iCal or Address Book are empty (and usually are on the first Sync, the local OS X Sync is stupid and tries to replicate the empty (erased) state to MM, result, contact and calendars are deleted from the iPhone and MM.

    Yes it is has happened to me.

    I only will local Sync Bookmarks, but always turn off, Contact and iCal sync locally.

    Just use MM / iPhone as your master for Contacts and Calendars. Either from MM or your iPhone. Never use iCal or Address Boo locally for sync, or at some point this is what happens.

    Plus, it is so much easier to manage, a central server based master. I for one do not want to be saddled with so many iCals / Calendar entry points and worry about sync.

    Even though the local Sync service says, that MM will replace the local data, (one way down), this is not always the behavior, in my experience.

    The of course there is that MM, local Sync error message one can get about “inconsistent data”

    It could still be and MM issue or perhaps Apple fixes it with Snow Leopard.

  • I haven’t used Mobile Me but the first time I sync’d my iTouch with Google Contacts it nuked all my contacts on the Google side. Seeing as I had over a thousands contacts there … yeah that was Not Fun.

    Why can’t calendar/contact syncing be as seamless as IMAP?

  • Eng.º Paulo Jorge Góis

    A similar thing sometimes happens to me. Sometimes when the iPhone is syncing all the contacts disappear for a few seconds, then they’re restored. I must admit it got me scared the first time.

  • Consider yourself lucky you have a copy of the data somewhere. iTunes completely deleted a bunch of my apps and their data that was only on the iPhone, when a sync got aborted. Gone forever. Two way sync is hard, but Apple’s software needs to err more on the side of never ever deleting stuff unless it’s sure.

  • Craig Thomas

    Firstly on your Mac(s) make sure that you have sync’ing set to “Automatically” in the System Preferences/MobileMe/Sync and the appropriate items checked. If any weren’t previously set appropriately perform the “Sync Now”. Once you added a MobileMe account you need to do a couple of things on your iPhone too. Go Settings/Mail, Contacts and Calendars and make sure that “Fetch New Data” is set to “Push”, then tap your MobileMe Account above (still in the Settings/Mail, Contacts and Calendars and turn on Mail, Contacts, Calendars and Booksmarks if you wish. With each one that you turn on there will be a slight pause and you will be asked whether you want to merge or replace those items. I suggest you merge as to not lose anything you may have added directly to you iPhone. This will pull in the data stored in the Cloud.

  • Matt

    I’ve lost all my contacts about every 4 months on all my linked computers. Both on my mobile me account and my wife’s. Definitely a bug there. I haven’t figured out what tickles it but I export my addressbook every week or so to make sure I don’t loose them.

  • I sync contacts & calendars between my phone, laptop, and desktop with MobileMe. My wife and I sync our various calendars across the desktop using BusySync, and those synced changes get propagated to our iPhones (and back the other way) via our MobileMe accounts. There has been an occasional hiccup involving BusySync (solved by restarting or resetting BusySync) or something with contact syncing (solved by resetting the sync history or some such thing), but nothing worse than that.

  • I’ve used this service back when it was .mac. Never had any trouble with over the air syncing with MobilMe. it updates both iPhone and Macbook in a timely manner. I have never used the service with Windows, though. MobileMe is much improved over .mac. The interface is easier to use.
    I just don’t like the name.

  • I used MobileMe briefly, but I have everything syncing between iPhone and laptop and desktop just fine with Google Calendar, contacts etc. Couldn’t justify the annual fee for MobileMe.

  • Wayne

    I had a one issue where a calendar didn’t update for a while, but have not lost any contacts. Also, when I recently upgraded from a first-gen iPhone to a 3GS, I had to turn push off and back on to get it to work. Not many problems, really.

    And I really like the convenience of MobileMe sync over the air and would never go back now. (Of course, it syncs over the air, and you can also use the web interface. I use that at work, because my phone gets no reception at my desk.)

    Were you syncing with both MobileMe and iTunes at the same time? I can’t remember if you are prompted about which source of Contacts should be authoritative on first sync or not,

  • ben

    i’ve been using mobile me for 3 years. in the early days -very unreliable, small feature set – not really worth the money. Now though – don’t have any REAL problems. this is how syncing across mobile devices / computer SHOULD be (what palm was trying to do way back when)

    Sometimes the synchronization of mail / bookmarks doesn’t always get updated across multiple computers / accounts. But then again – i’m using 6 accounts across 2 laptops and 2 desktops…. Even if it’s 80-90% synchronized – that’s pretty good.

  • Jim

    You don’t mention which model of iPhone you have, or whether the disastrous sync was happening over WiFi or cellular network; these things matter.

    The sync between MMe and iPhone appears to sync all records, not just those that have changed, as happens between a Mac and MMe. Because the phone is never considered the source of “truth” for any data, as any given data transfer may have been previously interrupted, this is the only way to ensure the phone has the most complete dataset possible.

    So, if you have a 1st-gen iPhone and were without WiFi access at the time, or had crappy cell signal, yes, your address book would appear to be gone while the phone was attempting to download the latest AB data from MMe. In time, it would have come back on its own. If you open the Contacts app while this is occurring you should see the activity spinner going at the top of the screen but I’ve noticed that this isn’t always accurate — data transfers often occur without the spinner appearing.

    The 3G phones are less susceptible to the user noticing this happening because the data transfer happens so much faster over the cellular network (when a 3G signal is present), but it still happens.

    No one’s claiming that MobileMe, or syncing in general is perfect, but you reacted before even really trying to figure out what was going on or whether your data was ever actually at risk of being lost (it wasn’t).

    When you’re on/near the edge of the envelope with 1900 contacts, it pays to remember that you’re on the edge and sometimes more work than usual is required of you to use/understand services intended for people that are well inside the envelope. This is especially the case when you’re dealing with data networks that don’t have near-100% connectivity and/or have less-than-stellar transfer rates.

  • brian d foy

    I love MobileMe save for the fact that you can’t access it in Safari from an iPhone. Apple detects that you’re using a browser and tells you to use the apps on the iPhone. That doesn’t work if you are using someone else’s iPhone, though.

  • EB

    I had this problem back when the 3g, 2.0, and MM were first launched, and it was very frustrating. I have not seen a recurrence of it since (neither with my 3g replacement this spring when my old one was stolen, nor after the 3.0 upgrade, nor after I got my 3gs.

    When I did have the problem, the solution was to turn off syncing and then turn it back on. These days the OS is much more aggressive about keeping a contact list around. As you can imagine, if this was a common occurrence then MM would be useless…

  • Jefsters

    Wow…in over two years NEVER seen this happen. I would. I would reset it all and have the contacts on the Mac over write the phone and sync from there on.

    BTW: I traded up my first gen iPhone for the 3GS and before I even left the store MobileMe had synced everything back up again.

    FAR different than your experience I know so I suspect you were just a victim of an unfortunate glitch.

    Good luck! It’s awesome!

  • Ron

    I’ve been using MMe w/my 3G for over a year and never had it lose contact, calendar or etc. In fact after owning the 3G for a few months I ended up getting a replacement phone (battery issue). I was quite nervous about losing data, resync etc. Turns out it was flawless and as someone else said it udpated in the blink of an eye. I have about 1,000 contacts.

  • sfmitch

    MobileMe has been very reliable for me.

    I don’t think it is worth $100/year but I really do like the convenience of contacts and calendar instantly updating between my 2 Macs and iPhone.

    Keychain and Safari Bookmark Synching is handy, too.

    As with any synching, I plan for the worst (I manually backup Address Book & iCal in addition to normal backup routine).

  • We have developed an app for the iPhone call EIM short for Enterprise Information manager. We think we have solved sync better than anyone else. We are using contact versioning instead of traditional sync. Your contact will sync with our web app and then with Outlook. We have sophisticated dupe checking. Currently you have to be a full user of Cosential to use our app at $60/month but we plan to offer a new “contacts only” plan for $4/user per month. This is designed for companies and collaboration. For more information please see or search the app store for cosential.

    If anyone is interested in beta testing our “just contacts” app, please contact us through the contact form on our website

  • Vic

    This issue is probably a simple ‘Setting’ which is set up wrong on the iPhone or in the System Prefs on your computer. Unfortunately, I’m not at home where I could easily look up the settings… Phone has to be set up to receive ‘Push’ Notifications for one thing. One thing to watch out for, once it’s all set up properly, if you Delete an eMail on the iPhone, it automatically Deletes on every other device it sysnc with, so make a mistake and delete it on the iPhone and it’s gone on the home computer almost instantly!
    The good news… I figured out fairly soon after paying full price for a MobileMe account that Apple almost always has MobileMe as one of the items ‘On Sale’ on ‘Black Friday’ (the day after Thanksgiving here in the U.S.). So, I renew my MobileMe account every Black Friday and pay only $69.00 a year vice the normal $99… a MUCH more ‘friendly’ price!!
    All the best…

  • vic

    Oops, just remembered how to get everything to Sync on iPhone / Mac…
    On your Mac, go to System Prefs on the Dock.
    Go to MobileMe panel
    Here is where you choose WHAT you want to sync between computers, iPods, iPhones, etc
    Examples: Keychains, Bookmarks, Mail, Calendars, Contacts, etc.
    Once you make those chioces, Choose Sysn Now to sync everything up, and from that point, every time you plug in your iPhone / iPod to your Mac, everything syncs up.
    Don’t forget to plug in your iPhone to iTunes, so you get a ‘Backup’ of your Music, Contacts, Calendars, Podcasts, Photos, Movies, etc. etc.
    That way, should you loose or have your iPhone stolen, you can issue a ‘Remote Wipe’ command so your info doesn’t fall into the wrong hands. Should you be lucky enough to either find or otherwise retrieve your iPhone, just plug it into your Mac again and iTunes will ‘Restore’ everything that was previousely on your iPhone…

  • I’ve been using MobileMe since I bought my iPhone 3G a year ago. I love it. I use it to keep my mail, contacts, calendars, keychains, and bookmarks in synch across my desktop, laptop and iPhone. It has worked quite well for me. No major glitches, no data lost (knock on silicon.) I’ve also used the online photo galleries, and the large file sharing tool, which are also just swell. It’s the cloud synch that is worth real $$ to me, though. It means I have all 3 machines in basically the same state regarding all that data.

  • Jocca

    I started using .Mac way back and have three macs and my iPhone synching without any trouble except once when my contact disappeared on my 2G phone. I quickly turned off the phone and I checked my desktop and it was normal. So I checked back on the phone and the contacts were there. They had momentarily disappeared for a very short time. I never could duplicate the problem but have had no trouble since, Mobile Me has worked great for me, so far.

  • win39

    I have been a mobilme user since it was called It has been very reliable for me including the sync. Love the cloud. The only glitch was when I got my new iphone recently, one contact disappeared from the the list on both the phone and the computer. I did a search in Address Book and it popped up, apparently out of a hidden data base, suddenly appearing in the “all” list. I dragged it to my business contacts and synched again. Everything back to normal and no problems since.

  • Ciro

    Had the same happen to me about 5 months ago. The key to recovery is to turn the syncing off and than on again forcing the iPhone to find and sync with Mobil me. Since it has been awhile, I believe it is one of these two methods. Under general settings, go to location, turn it off, wait a Few minutes, and turn it back on. If that wasn’t it, go to reset, and do a reset the network.

  • In my case I loose my contacts complete, I was looking the why to became again to my iphone but nothig. For me was not so a good experience but the program looks nice i like but i never used again. So bat for me and take the time for make again my contacts … uff a lot !

  • novato

    I use mobile me for an entirely different purpose. I’m working on a manuscript and have to travel, so I was concerned about maintaining a backup copy of the ms. and the accompanying pictures somewhere other than on my laptop. The ‘cloud’ works perfectly for this – I’ve downloaded my ms. file from my mobile me site to another computer I’m using (don’t have wifi with laptop on the road) and when I’m done tweaking I’ll upload the latest version, then send my publisher the link so they can download my latest copy.

    The file is too big to send via e-mail, with the pictures, so this is a great system and works perfectly.

  • I’ve spent 6 months with MobileMe on Windows. I even Migrated my 2500 contacts to Outlook just to handle ensure a synching universe. A full debrief of my experience is shown here (or linked from my name above)

    “iPhone 3G and my MobileMe Universe (on Windows)”

    In short though, and once the oddities of synchronising were sorted out, I’ve found the system to be worthwhile. The MobileMe interface (in a web browser) is however SLOOOOOOW – no matter which browser your prefer. Apple has been too ambitious with this implementation.

    I understand that infinitely repeating calendar appointments and 1000s contacts are the key things that weigh it down – but that’s Apple’s problem, not mine.

  • Henry Seiden

    I found that if I enabled a older slower (OS X10.4.x) desktop into the mobileme “fabric”, that’s when the syncing problems started when syncing email contacts and settings for example.

    Since the latest updates MobileMe has been stellar. I now have one iPhone and three computers somewhere in the cloud. My wife has a laptop and an iPhone, similarly great results.

    Extremely convenient… I have 1934 contacts at last count in my Addressbook and years of appointments floating around in Calendar. We share calendar events regularly via email. All works swell between the cloud.

    As to expensive, yes. However, if you buy a computer Apple generously gives you a $30 MobileMe rebate- up until today on the next year. Woo, Woo!

  • jomo72

    Mobile me is the worst thing i’ve ever signed up for. Firstly, as with you, it deleted all of my contacts when I decided not to keep it mid way through the trial period. Then it stopped my phone being able to sync up with itunes! I msn-ed mobile me and, although they were helpful, they couldn’t resolve my problem. I’ve wasted a whole day installing and uninstalling itunes and it all could have been so much easier if they could have admitted the mistakes the can make. I will never sign up to it again. Might try blue retriever, anyone any experience with that?

  • Nils

    MobileMe and iCal is highly ureliable. I have two computers + an iPhone synched (iCal, Contacts) via MobileMe. Suddenly the calendar was empty, both the cloud version and the one on the phone. There were no obvious reasons for this happening. I have to rely on the second computer for restoring most of the calendar. It’s a good concept, but MobileMe is still an unreliable, slow and expensive product, unfortunately.

  • My wife and I share a bunch of calendars through a combination of MobileMe and BusySync, and both sync our contacts with MobileMe. And it scares me — the sync stuff is all too magical, and when it goes wrong, it’s very unclear as to how to fix it up. (as is evidenced by the variety of “fixes” listed above.) It’s unclear which service is the “master”, which one wins when something gets erased and replaced, etc.

    I’m a little twitchy because of a lot of bad experiences with my old Treo and Missing Sync, which (I believe?) used Mac sync services under the hood too. And if it didn’t, it highlighted the same problem — once your sync is hosed, you’re in a world of hurt.

    Anyway, sure enough, we’re getting bit by this right now — my wife’s sync started acting wonky a week or two ago and, in trying to fix it, she ended up with no contacts on or on her phone. Now after some fiddling she has duplicate contacts on her phone, including stuff from a 2008 backup, and nothing anywhere else. All along in trying to troublshoot this, I’m wondering when we’ll accidentally delete half of *my* calendar data (since she and I share a number of calendars).

    And this is the whole issue. I don’t know for sure that she’s done all the exact “correct” troubleshooting steps as an Apple sync engineer would list them off, but she’s technically savvy and has I believe been working off of Apple KB articles. If she can’t get this to work, then certainly no “ordinary” user can. Which makes you wonder if Apple really expects people to rely on their sync stuff.


  • Nick Habanaro

    My business has been using mobile me fo about a year. I have 5 phones synced up to the calender & contacts. This is very helpful for sharing contacts & events with all my colegues. From the start we found the system very quirky. We had to stop syncing or computers with the cloud because of several problems we encountered. For about year we have been using the calender & contacts on our iPhone & the cloud. This worked fairly well for quite some time. Recently, we have not been able to log on to the cloud for a couple of weeks. Today we lost all of the info in our caleners, months & months of apointments. We have a backup but it hasn’t been updated in a couple of weeks.
    Since this has happened I have read many similar nightmares , on the web.
    My colegues want to keep using mobile me and manualy re- enter any of the info we can remember. Personaly I think the system is severly flawed & would prefer a better alternative.
    Has anybody been using calenders with iPhones, computers & google calenders? Can I sync 5 phones with one calender?

  • Kristen Clayville

    I just signed up for Mobile Me and the exact same thing happened- it erased all of my updated contacts and calendar. Can I get this stuff back! Not happy.

  • Carey B

    I do not have a MobileMe account, but I am continuously getting the following message, and my Mac is has slowed down noticeably: “Inconsistencies in your sync information for Bookmarks were detected and have been repaired. The next sync for .Mac and Safari may take longer than usual.”

    I have a Sync icon (looks like 2/3 of the recycle arrow icon) in my status bar at the top of the screen, and when I click on it, there are three items to select: (1) Never synchronized MobileMe (grayed out) (2) Sync Now (doesn’t appear to do anything), and (3) Open MobileMe sync preferences (which takes me to where I would enter my MobileMe account login info, if I had an account

    In Safari preferences, there is no checkmark next to “Synchronize bookmarks using MobileMe” and in the MobileMe preferences, nothing is checked because I do not have a MobileMe account. Is there any way to make this annoyance go away?