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Inside MobileMe: Secrets of the Cloud and Mobile Push

post #1 of 26
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While Apple's previous .Mac service left many unclear as to what it offered beyond email and web hosting, its value under the new identity of MobileMe is far easier to communicate. MobileMe is all about push messaging, delivering immediate updates to mobile iPhone users over the air for their mailbox, calendars, and contacts as well as web bookmarks. This segment in the Inside MobileMe series looks at how the various components of the MobileMe service work together.Â*

Inside MobileMe: Secrets of the Cloud and Mobile Push
Inside MobileMe: Mac and PC cloud sync and mobile push

What it is

While the launch of MobileMe didn't go smoothly as planned, the service itself is brilliantly well designed, both usable and attractive (despite some remaining flaws), and demonstrates the real potential of the future of web apps and web services. The pioneering service is also the first consumer-oriented, low-priced push mail, contacts, calendar, and bookmarks solution for any platform. MobileMe is actually a collection of three layers of components: Apple's hosted web apps, its cloud of online services, and its client-side push and sync applications on the iPhone and for the Mac and Windows PC desktop.Â*

The web apps: the online side of MobileMe is composed of five apps (Mail, Contacts, Calendar, Gallery, and iDisk) and an admin page, all developed using the SproutCore JavaScript framework. That makes them accessible from any modern, standards-based web browser without the need to download some kind of extra middleware. Apple does warn Internet Explorer 7 users that Microsoft's browser "has known compatibility issues with modern web standards which affect Web 2.0 applications such as MobileMe," and recommends users try Firefox 3 or Safari 3 instead.



Internet Explorer does seem to work with MobileMe web apps for the most part however. Apple's warning does a good job of explaining to customers why they are better served by using a modern, standards-compliant browser. In contrast, iPhone users trying to navigate AT&T's billing website are likely to run across the Microsoft Automated Service Agent, which serves as an answer wizard for users with questions about their bill. When started from Safari however, the application complains, "sorry, but your browser does not allow this application to run," despite there being no actual problem with running the simple help tool in Safari.



The MobileMe web apps all share a cohesive look that reflects the appearance of the Mac OS X desktop. We'll profile the web apps of MobileMe separately in future segments of this series. These web apps only provide an interactive face to Apple's back end MobileMe servers however.

The server cloud: The real work behind the scenes is handled by the same servers Apple used to deploy .Mac. That includes what email headers reveal to be "Sun Java(tm) System Messaging Server 6.3-7.02 (built Jun 27 2008; 64bit)" for its SMTP email servers.Â*

For web services, Netcraft reports that Apple uses a mix of Mac OS X, Solaris, and Linux servers across its various sites, but identifies the www.me.com domain as running on Linux. However, it also identifies the www.me.com web server as being "Apache/1.3.33 Darwin," indicating that Apple either has its own Mac OS X Server machines in the mix, that it uses a hybrid system of multiple server types, or that Netcraft is not able to correctly determine what Apple is actually using on the back end. For me.com, Netcraft reports an "unknown" operating system running Apache/1.3.26 Darwin. Â*
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Apple has only controlled the me.com for the last few months. If we look at mac.com and its subdomains, which Netcraft has monitored for years (and which are still in use under MobileMe), we find a mix of Apache/1.3.33 Darwin (Mac OS X Server), NS_6.1 and NS8.0.49.2 (which appear to be Citrix Netscalers, a web application accelerator appliance that performs load balancing and protects against DoS attacks; these are also used by everyone from Amazon to YouTube. The real web servers hide behind these), NetCache appliance NetApp/6.0.5 (which may be hardware in use by Akamai, a company Apple uses to mirror website content for optimized download;Â*Akamai's mirrors may also account for why www.mac.com appears to be hosted on Linux), as well as something that identifies itself as AppleIDiskServer, which also runs on that "unknown" server OS, and often behind NetCache appliances.Â*

AppleIDiskServer is what Apple used and continues to use to serve up iDisk shares via WebDAV at idisk.mac.com. It also serves up web.mac.com and homepage.mac.com, highlighting the fact that WebDAV is really just a bidirectional webserver that can both serve up data and allow updates. HomePage was (and is) a WebObjects application, no doubt running on Mac OS X Server (aka the "unknown" OS).Â*

HomePage is still live under MobileMe, and even still sports the old .Mac branding and the brushed metal appearance from the branding era it was released in half a decade ago (below). The .Mac Groups is also still live (although Apple isn't taking any new applications for Groups from MobileMe subscribers), but iCards and the .Mac Bookmarks page are now dead, and the Mail and Address Book links now direct users to the new MobileMe web apps.



It appears Apple also uses its own custom software for its MobileMe sync services. The company considers the exact nature of its MobileMe servers to be a proprietary secret, and would not reveal any details on what it actually uses on the backend, even to developers under non-disclosure agreements at WWDC.Â*

While the launch of MobileMe ran into problems and suffered outages, its cloud infrastructure is not the amateur befuddlement that some pundits like to make it out to be. Apple uses the same enterprise class hardware and deployment partners as other major Internet sites, and can be expected to occasionally run into the same kinds of problems that caused Amazon's entire US retail store to fall offline for hours back in June, or that just dumped Google's apps and its Gmail service (even for paid premier users) offline and unavailable for 15 hours earlier this week, neither of which was associated with a major update or new service transition.Â*

Steve Jobs' recent appointment of Eddy Cue to serve as Apple's vice president of Internet services is noteworthy, as Cue has previously managed to success the highly regarded iTunes Store. He will now also be overseeing both MobileMe and the mobile Apps Store. In his email to Apple employees, Jobs wrote, "the MobileMe launch clearly demonstrates that we have more to learn about Internet services [...] we will press on to make it a service we are all proud of by the end of this year."

The client apps: MobileMe's launch problems were mostly related to the new web apps and related backend changes to accommodate them. On the client side, things went more smoothly because there wasn't as much change to manage in the migration from .Mac to MobileMe. For standard POP or IMAP email, any email program can still access MobileMe in the same way they'd connect to Gmail or any other standard mail account.Â*

Similarly, any standard client app that can access WebDAV file shares should also be able to connect to MobileMe's iDisk, just as before. Mac OS X can connect to and mirror the MobileMe iDisk to appear as a local drive, and Windows can attach to iDisk shares natively in the Windows Explorer or via the web interface. None of this has really changed from .Mac.

MobileMe's push messaging is new; support for it is integrated into the new iPhone 2.0 software, which despite being entirely new worked pretty well, as long as the cloud was puffing along appropriately. There's still no way to access some MobileMe features on the iPhone, including iDisk files or Back To My Mac file shares. It's also currently impossible to access any of the MobileMe web apps themselves. If you try to pull up me.com in Safari on the iPhone, it simply directs you to use the standard apps on the phone instead (below). So much for Steve Jobs' real Internet.

Of course, given the iPhone's intentional inability to actually download or upload files from the browser, and the duplication between its native apps and the web apps, the lack of to access MobileMe web apps within mobile Safari is mainly an annoyance only because the web apps offer a handy way to troubleshoot problems. Apple should at a minimum publish its system status information on the me.com redirect page it serves up to its mobile users, so when the service does run into problems, users can have some idea of what's going on.



The next Inside MobileMe segment will look at MobileMe on the Mac and PC desktop, and how mobile push differs from desktop sync, followed by a comparison of how the service stacks up in features and price against other competing offerings.
post #2 of 26
I would like Apple to add to MobileMe subscriptions the ability to remote lock the iPhone, remote data wipe the iPhone and remote track (using the iPhone 3G A-GPS).
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post #3 of 26
omg i just realized the logo correlates to the "cloud" service. LOL
post #4 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by Imagine Engine View Post

I would like Apple to add to MobileMe subscriptions the ability to remote lock the iPhone, remote data wipe the iPhone and remote track (using the iPhone 3G A-GPS).

That would be a nice feature. I'd also like to be able to force a GPS location request if I misplace my phone.
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post #5 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by solipsism View Post

That would be a nice feature. I'd also like to be able to force a GPS location request if I misplace my phone.

Too bad GPS can't tell you where in your house- like in your couch, in your jacket?

Hey- how come this article says mobileMe is all about push messaging? I thought it was also for non-iPhone users?
post #6 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by teckstud View Post

Too bad GPS can't tell you where in your house- like in your couch, in your jacket?

that would be nice but knowing that it was in a certain location would be better than nothing. I tend to have too many things going at once and can easily misplace things.

Quote:
Hey- how come this article says mobileMe is all about push messaging? I thought it was also for non-iPhone users?

I'm not following. This article is talking about different aspects of the MM service. Push is just one of them. You don't need an iPhone to use the service. You can update the web app with new info and have it Push to your Macs and PCs or update your Macs and PCs and have it update MM and your other machines (within the next 15 minutes).
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post #7 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by teckstud View Post

Too bad GPS can't tell you where in your house- like in your couch, in your jacket?

At its best for a consumer device, GPS can't be expected to be any better than tell you what side of the road you're on. Without super expensive devices, better than 1 meter accuracy is unrealistic, I think 10 meters is about typical.
post #8 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post

While the launch of MobileMe ran into problems and suffered outages, its cloud infrastructure is not the amateur befuddlement that some pundits like to make it out to be. Apple uses the same enterprise class hardware and deployment partners as other major Internet sites, and can be expected to occasionally run into the same kinds of problems that caused Amazon's entire US retail store to fall offline for hours back in June, or that just dumped Google's apps and its Gmail service (even for paid premier users) offline and unavailable for 15 hours earlier this week, neither of which was associated with a major update or new service transition.*


The client apps: MobileMe's launch problems were mostly related to the new web apps and related backend changes to accommodate them. On the client side, things went more smoothly because there wasn't as much change to manage in the migration from .Mac to MobileMe. For standard POP or IMAP email, any email program can still access MobileMe in the same way they'd connect to Gmail or any other standard mail account.*


At last, a factual and honest appraisal of the service. Unlike the ramblings of the illiterati on this and many other websites about this being an example of Apple's arrogance, incompetence and an overall breaking down of its structural integrity, the difficulties and complexities of the operations were spelled out clearly and with no hype.

If only all articles were written with such clarity, competence and impartiality. Well done!
post #9 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by rjwill246 View Post

At last, a factual and honest appraisal of the service. Unlike the ramblings of the illiterati on this and many other websites about this being an example of Apple's arrogance, incompetence and an overall breaking down of its structural integrity, the difficulties and complexities of the operations were spelled out clearly and with no hype.

If only all articles were written with such clarity, competence and impartiality. Well done!

Now all we need is BBM for iphone and i'd get one.
post #10 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by Imagine Engine View Post

I would like Apple to add to MobileMe subscriptions the ability to remote lock the iPhone, remote data wipe the iPhone and remote track (using the iPhone 3G A-GPS).

Remote locking and data wipe are brilliant ideas. The first opportunity when a signal is available - either via the phone or WiFi - void that stolen handset!

Now, that's a killer app! Actually has some everyday real-world use and value!
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post #11 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by solipsism View Post

I'm not following. This article is talking about different aspects of the MM service. Push is just one of them. You don't need an iPhone to use the service. You can update the web app with new info and have it Push to your Macs and PCs or update your Macs and PCs and have it update MM and your other machines (within the next 15 minutes).

So then "Push' is just another word for iSync or Rendezvous?

BTW just passed Apple Fifth Ave at lunch- line down the block for the iPhone still.
post #12 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by teckstud View Post

So then "Push' is just another word for iSync or Rendezvous?

How do you get that? Push is the automatic, immediate pushing of data from location to another upon a change. Granted, the Push service only works on the MM cloud and OS X iPhone, but it's still Push.

iSync could be used to describe the Mac and PC syncing to the MM cloud and Rendezvous could be used to describe the wide area implementation of Back To My Mac service (now trademarked as Bonjour by Apple or generically as Zeroconf).
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post #13 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by solipsism View Post

How do you get that? Push is the automatic, immediate pushing of data from location to another upon a change. Granted, the Push service only works on the MM cloud and OS X iPhone, but it's still Push.

It doesn't work as originally advertised though. The Mac/PC was part of the equation, and it was meant to be instant. It's like a slow dying dog. My Mail takes 2 days to sync correctly, even iPhone to cloud. Sorry, but that it not push, not anything like it.

All in all I'm extremely disappointed in this service. Online has no alarms, I've no bookmarks in the cloud, my calendar colors don't match up, and I cannot sync subscription calendars to Mobile Me.
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post #14 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by solipsism View Post

How do you get that? Push is the automatic, immediate pushing of data from location to another upon a change. Granted, the Push service only works on the MM cloud and OS X iPhone, but it's still Push.

iSync could be used to describe the Mac and PC syncing to the MM cloud and Rendezvous could be used to describe the wide area implementation of Back To My Mac service (now trademarked as Bonjour by Apple or generically as Zeroconf).

What I meant is- is Push a replacement for iSync or an additional feature. How would Push be any different on a Mac to Mac - because its instantaneous?
post #15 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ireland View Post

It doesn't work as originally advertised though. The Mac/PC was part of the equation, and it was meant to be instant. It's like a slow dying dog. My Mail takes 2 days to sync correctly, even iPhone to cloud. Sorry, but that it not push, not anything like it.

All in all I'm extremely disappointed in this service. Online has no alarms, I've no bookmarks in the cloud, my calendar colors don't match up, and I cannot sync subscription calendars to Mobile Me.

Hoepfully Eddy gets things worked out on your end. I've had issues with .Mac syncing properly for years. It always saved and restored by data perfectly, but the .mac web apps had issue with displaying my contacts properly and iDisk was slow and would often time out. After the initial 3 days of MM issues I have had none. I'd register a complaint with Apple if you already haven't.


Quote:
Originally Posted by teckstud View Post

What I meant is- is Push a replacement for iSync or an additional feature. How would Push be any different on a Mac to Mac - because its instantaneous?

Now it's neither. The iSync app was used for .Mac syncing but with Tiger Apple moved it to the Sync Services framework so iSync is no longer used. I know I'm being pedantic, but I just wanted to be clear because I'm not sure were on the same page.

As for Pushing being a replacement for syncing? No, it's added feature that has yet to be made Push from all nodes. If you are only using it to sync between a couple of Macs you are still getting the same service as before.
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post #16 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ireland View Post

..., my calendar colors don't match up,....

i found that if you reset the sync data (override .mac with the data from your mac), then click on the colour once on the website, close it without changing, it then updates the colour on my ipod touch correctly.
post #17 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by solipsism View Post

Now it's neither. The iSync app was used for .Mac syncing but with Tiger Apple moved it to the Sync Services framework so iSync is no longer used.

Actually, the iSync app can still be used (in a very limited capacity). Right after upgrading to the iPhone 3G, I had trouble syncing (like many). An Apple tech instructed me to use the iSync app to reset the sync history and then sync the iPhone again. I didn't even think iSync was still resident on my drive, but it was there (lurking in the Utilities folder, I think) and resetting the sync history fixed resolved the issue. Not sure what else, if anything, iSync might still be good for.

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post #18 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by DanaCameron View Post

Actually, the iSync app can still be used (in a very limited capacity). Right after upgrading to the iPhone 3G, I had trouble syncing (like many). An Apple tech instructed me to use the iSync app to reset the sync history and then sync the iPhone again. I didn't even think iSync was still resident on my drive, but it was there (lurking in the Utilities folder, I think) and resetting the sync history fixed resolved the issue. Not sure what else, if anything, iSync might still be good for.

iSynce can be used for many mobile devices that aren't from Apple.

You can do it from the MM preference pane too, but it's more steps and takes longer to load than iSync.
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post #19 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by Tofino View Post

i found that if you reset the sync data (override .mac with the data from your mac), then click on the colour once on the website, close it without changing, it then updates the colour on my ipod touch correctly.

No I tried that, twice. It's only one calendar now, birthdays. It's Orange in iCal but green (and unchangeable) on Mobile Me. On the iPhone it's simply not there at all, and this is one of the features on Mobile Me. They got rid of this, which I had before Mobile Me existed.
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post #20 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ireland View Post

It doesn't work as originally advertised though. The Mac/PC was part of the equation, and it was meant to be instant. It's like a slow dying dog. My Mail takes 2 days to sync correctly, even iPhone to cloud. Sorry, but that it not push, not anything like it.

It's a shame people have had a bad time with MobileMe Mail. My experience has been totally different.

I asked for my mac.com address to be returned (after letting it lapse) and (eventually) I got it back. Also whenever I sign up to something online which requires email confirmation, pretty much seconds after I hit the submit button, Growl shows I have new mail waiting.

Now I just need to find out if I can get iCal/Calendar working as well as Google Calendar does!
post #21 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by jowie74

Also whenever I sign up to something online which requires email confirmation, pretty much seconds after I hit the submit button, Growl shows I have new mail waiting.

That's normal with any email client. It's the syncing which people are having issues with.
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post #22 of 26
Now that I've read about how MobileMe is Brilliantly Designed and run by a crack team of professionals, now I know what happened to Bagdad Bob. I guess I was mistaken when I thought that MobileMe was a poorly executed replacement for a seemingly pointless service in the first place. I clearly made a mistake renewing this dog hoping it would be better after the transition.

Whatever happened to "it just works"?
post #23 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ireland View Post

That's normal with any email client. It's the syncing which people are having issues with.

I'm not having problems with Mail sync, at least not yet anyway.
post #24 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by jowie74 View Post

I'm not having problems with Mail sync, at least not yet anyway.

Yeah, not everyone, just lots of folks.
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post #25 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post


AppleIDiskServer is what Apple used and continues to use to serve up iDisk shares via WebDAV at idisk.mac.com. It also serves up web.mac.com and homepage.mac.com, highlighting the fact that WebDAV is really just a bidirectional webserver that can both serve up data and allow updates. HomePage was (and is) a WebObjects application, no doubt running on Mac OS X Server (aka the "unknown" OS).

[...]
It appears Apple also uses its own custom software for its MobileMe sync services. The company considers the exact nature of its MobileMe servers to be a proprietary secret, and would not reveal any details on what it actually uses on the backend, even to developers under non-disclosure agreements at WWDC.

Is it just me - or am i too thick to Idisk/synch my iTunes library to MM ? I dont want backup but just a mere copy of each file

It usually stalls after 4GB out of 10.

I bought the service to synch my iTunes (purchased) library into the cloud so that if ever my backup strategy fails I wont have to explain to Apple why I need to reload several thousands of files...
post #26 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by freelander51 View Post

Is it just me - or am i too thick to Idisk/synch my iTunes library to MM ? I dont want backup but just a mere copy of each file.

Do it in sections.
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