Monday, July 28, 2008

MobileMe does not work

I am starting to have the feeling that MobileMe is the worst product Apple ever launched... This is quite surprising because they are maniacal in what they do. But push email and synchronization are tough beasts that require a lot of time and a ton of people to get right (you can count the scars on my back, if you do not believe me, seven years and 2.5M downloads after the birth of Sync4j ;-)

The nail in the coffin came from Walt Mossberg (a.k.a. Uncle Walt) on the Wall Street Journal. His article on MobileMe is probably the worst review I ever seen him writing (and he writes a lot...). The title: "Apple's MobileMe Is Far Too Flawed To Be Reliable". Ouch!

The rest is worst:
[..] Unfortunately, after a week of intense testing of the service, I can't recommend it, at least not in its current state. It's a great idea, but, as of now, MobileMe has too many flaws to keep its promises.

I am not referring to the launch glitches that plagued MobileMe earlier this month, such as servers that couldn't keep up with the traffic and email outages that, for some users, persist as I write this. Those were bad, but they have eased considerably. Apple already has apologized for them and is giving customers an extra 30 days on their subscriptions to make up for the poor start. The problems I am citing are systemic. [..]

But in my tests, using two Macs, two Dell computers and two iPhones, I ran into problem after problem. One big issue is that while changes made on the Web site or the iPhone are instantly pushed to the computers, changes made on computers are only synced every 15 minutes, at best. Apple has admitted that this is a problem, and says it is working on it.

But there's more. The Web site was sluggish, and occasionally calendar entries wouldn't load at all. Sometimes, you have to manually refresh the Web pages to see changes made on your devices. And when I tried to open my Web-based file-storage page directly from the MobileMe control panel on Windows, I got an error message on both Dells.

My MobileMe calendar, which originated on a Mac, didn't flow into the main Outlook calendar, but appeared as a separate calendar in Outlook, which was visible only by changing settings. My address-book groups on the Mac, which are simply distribution lists, didn't show up as distribution lists in Outlook, but as separate address books, and they also weren't immediately visible. Apple blames Outlook quirks for these issues, but in my view, it should have overcome them.

Other problems abounded. On one occasion, my synced contacts on the iPhone appeared as names only, without any information. In general, synced contacts on the iPhone loaded slowly.

When my Apple Mail program used rules I had set up to automatically file certain emails into local folders instead of leaving them in the inbox, they simply disappeared from my MobileMe account on the iPhone and the Web site. Avoiding this requires a tedious editing of all your rules.

Twice, MobileMe was unable to sync my bookmarks at all, and when it did, their order was scrambled. When I synced contacts to my iPhone, my custom ringtones for particular contacts were lost and had to be reselected.
Ooopss. I share with Walt that it is a great idea. Even better if you could use more than just an iPhone for it or more than just an account... A great idea of a service everyone would use, and even pay for. Unfortunately, it is not easy to make it happen. You need lots of time and lots of people that test and make sure the solution really works. It is called open source. Steve, give us a call, we'll come to rescue you :-))

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

MobileMe does not push

Sometimes marketing goes too far. Even the pros make mistakes. Apple today has written a note to the users, apologizing for the "snag", adding that "the new MobileMe web applications had lots of problems initially".
Another snag we have run into is our use of the word "push" in describing everything under the MobileMe umbrella. While all email, contact or calendar changes on the iPhone and the web apps are immediately synced to and from the MobileMe "cloud," changes made on a PC or Mac take up to 15 minutes to sync with the cloud and your other devices.
Now, the Register went a bit further than Apple. First of all:
Email is managed through IMAP, and strictly speaking is pulled by polling the IMAP servers every minute, though that gives a reasonable impression of being pushed.
Wow, polling email is not really push. Not even close. Everyone in our market knows it... If you want to be a competitor of RIM or even ActiveSync, you should know it. Push is push. Now ActiveStink (as the Apple spokesperson for MobileMe once called it) on the iPhone does not stink anymore, right?

The Register adds more:
But changes made using the desktop application are not instantly or automatically reflected on the iPhone or within The Cloud. Such changes need to wait for a synchronisation process, a lag of up to 15 minutes, before they are propagated between the platforms. Not only that but anyone trying to use some of the more advanced IMAP capabilities, such as the APPEND command, will find the MobileMe service unaware that any changes have been made to their e-mail account, at least until a good-old SMTP delivery triggers notification.
Ok, this is not even close to push...

This is what you get with MobileMe:
  1. No push
  2. Support for only .me email addresses (what about the other billions of email addresses out there?)
  3. Support for only the iPhone (what about all the other 3B phones out there?)
  4. No notes support (I know, this looks small but it is big for many)
  5. $99 taken out of your pocket every year
I think I could take #1 to #4, if I could remove #5. When things are so expensive, your expectations go up. Marketing pumps it up and then your crash is very loud. Nice ;-)

Oooh, and yes, I almost forgot: you can build your own MobileMe with Funambol software :-)) Open Source. Or you can give us a call if you are a service provider or a device manufacturer. And we know what push means ;-)

Monday, July 14, 2008

A video of the Funambol iPhone plugin

I realized you might not have bought an iPhone 3G yet (whaaat?? are there people out there who did not buy one??) or you might not have upgraded your iPhone to firmware 2.0 (let me guess, you have a jailbroken and unlocked phone and you are just waiting for Zibri... Me too. Just wait). Therefore, I put together a short video to show how it works. Here it is.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Migrating your contacts from your old phone to the iPhone 3G

You spent three hours in line in front of an Apple store and you were one of those who made it, and went back with an activated iPhone 3G. Now you are at home and you are looking at your old phone, thinking "how do I move my contacts from this old and ugly phone to my new and shiny iPhone 3G?". If you have to do it by hand, it might take you another three hours... It could work if you have to buy another iPhone 3G for someone in the family: go in line and bring the two phones, migrating your address book one-by-one.

Or, you can use Funambol and myFUNAMBOL, which is free and open source. You can do it in five minutes.

Follow these steps:
1. Sign up at myFUNAMBOL with your browser, putting in your old phone. Follow the instructions (it configures your phone over-the-air, nothing to type) and sync your address book to the portal
2. Click on "Change my phone" on the left, change your phone to the iPhone 3G, follow the instruction to install the Funambol app from the App Store, put your credentials in and sync.

Bingo, you are done. No need to waste three hours. And now you have the ability to add Outlook to the mix, if you want to keep your address book in sync over-the-air (e.g. without needing to cradle the device and use iTunes). Yes, you can do the same with MobileMe, but it is very closed and very expensive ($99/year vs. $0/year). And our open source community has built clients for Thunderbird, Mac OS X, to sync your Gmail or Yahoo address book and much more.

Which phone do we support? What if I have:
- a Motorola RAZR or something like that? YES
- a Nokia phone or something like that? YES
- a BlackBerry? YES (use the BB PIM Plug-in from the download tab in myFUNAMBOL)
- a Windows Mobile? YES
- a Sony Ericsson or something like that? YES
- a Google Android phone even if it does not exist yet? YES (it is true, there is a Funambol plug-in for Android... we are just missing the phone to test it on...)

Check the complete list of all the Funambol devices supported, it is quite impressive: thanks to the community we are passing 1,000 different models supported (wow).

BTW, MacWorld put our little iPhone sync app in the top 20 for your iPhone 3G. Can't miss it ;-)

Friday, July 11, 2008

Why are you standing in line??

This morning I drove to the Apple store and I saw a huge line, longer that the one I saw at the launch last year. My first thought was "Why?? Why are you standing in line?". The iPhone 3G has nothing new. Nothing. Just the 3G part, which works on 10% of the US... And I have lived without it for a year without missing it much. It can't be it...

The only explanation for me is price. But if it is just price, why would you stand in line the first day? You do it to look cool with girls (or boys). But the new iPhone does not make you look cool. The first iPhone was a magnet, nobody saw anything like that and you had eyes of everyone around on you, as soon as you took it out of the pocket. This one is a yawn, saw it for a year, nothing new. Don't tell me that a plastic case makes a difference...

On top of it, the first day is a mess by definition. People spent three hours in line to find out they could not buy the thing (congrats, Matt! ;-) The at&t sign-up process failed many times today, as it did a year ago...

Last year, I bought the phone the first day at 11 pm. No line. Smooth activation while I was sleeping. This year, I just updated my old iPhone to the 2.0 firmware at home, nice and easy. I have all the new cool stuff on it and no pain. I will get a new iPhone sooner or later, but probably not today...

In particular, the App Store features Funambol. Our app is much faster now, compared to the one in the jailbroken devices. It rocks. Over the air synchronization of contacts is the way to go (even Apple says it now, with MobileMe and $99 a year vs. free...). You should definitely try it, maybe when you wait in line to get your new iPhone ;-)

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The iPhone App Store

Well, tomorrow is the day of the iPhone 3G. For me, it does not make a big difference, from the HW standpoint (I could live with my EDGE device with fake GPS triangulation) and the SW standpoint (the Installer gave me all the apps I wanted). However, it is big for those that felt 3G was a must (all my European friends) and those that were scared about jailbreaking the phone (c'mon, it was safe ;-)

Mostly, tomorrow is the day of the App Store. After a year of downloading apps outside of jail, I will be able to download apps within jail. Those that like to stay in jail (the majority, I would assume) will be finally able to enjoy iFartz (assuming Apple will ever allow it on the App Store, since they are manually reviewing every single application).

I can't talk about the App Store because I am under NDA with Apple, but I found this sneak preview that lists a few applications. Oh, I know one of those ;-)

There's been a lot of speculation about whether the iPhone App Store would open today or tomorrow. Turns out you can see its contents right now. Here's how. First, use Software Update on your Mac to install the iTunes 7.7 update. Then open up iTunes and search for any app you know about - "OmniFocus" works fine. Click on the application's icon, and you'll go to the OmniFocus page. The breadcrumb navigation at the top of the page (Apple > App Store > Productivity > OmniFocus) will let you navigate back up to the main store page, and from there you can explore to your heart's content.

A quick scan shows a number of apps of potential web worker interest ready to ship: OmniFocus, Things, EverNote,. Funambol, Photobucket, SalesForce Mobile, TypePad, PayPal, and more. Of course, you'll have to wait for the iPhone 2.0 software update to actually install any of these applications.

See you tomorrow in line at the University Ave store in Palo Alto...

Monday, July 07, 2008

Microsoft after Gates

I have been a fan of Bill Gates since the day I grasped the beauty of the OS strategy they deployed in the PC world. Nothing to do with technical abilities, just spectacular strategy. My admiration grew when I saw the way they defended themselves from the Netscape assault, having missed the Internet completely (ok, I know, it is easier when you have a monopoly... but it is still remarkable).

Lately, I have to say I am not thrilled with Microsoft or its strategy. My feeling is that Gates has not been there enough. Now that it is official he is gone, I am seeing a dark future for MSFT. The positive note is that Bill will focus on his foundation, so I see a bright future for the world. No Microsoft dominance and better health in Africa (my brother is a Bill Gates fan, and he worked in Africa for years so he knows his stuff, whatever RMS says). I can take that.

In particular, I do not see a chance for Microsoft to be relevant in mobile OSS. Now that Symbian is gone open source, we have three open source operating systems (Symbian, Android and LIMO derivatives) that are going to dominate the market. On top of it, you have the iPhone. That's 90% of the market easily in a few years. Windows Mobile will be left with less than 10%. Even if WM becomes free (they have to make that move and it will be so painful for them), I do not think they will win market share. Their motto will be "think different" :-))

Unless they do the unthinkable: make Windows Mobile open source. That would be an incredible move, one that I think they cannot do with Ballmer at the helm.

Whatever they do, Open Source is going to dominate Mobile (man, it feels good even just to write it :-)

What are the things that Microsoft could do in the after Gates era? This article gives five tips to the big monopolist:
  1. A greater acceptance of open source
  2. A new approach to Windows releases
  3. Secure new revenue by buying big
  4. Taking the web seriously through interoperability
  5. More Microsoft than Gates
We'll see how it goes, but I am going to miss Bill...

Friday, July 04, 2008

An interview on TalkTech TV

A few weeks ago I was interviewed by Kristin White for TalkTech TV. Here you have the interview, with a demo of Funambol at the end.

Funambol has developed open source mobile messaging software that provides any type of mobile phone with email, calendar, and contact management functionality, similar to the BlackBerry interface, but completely free. I had the opportunity to speak with Fabrizio Capobianco, CEO of Funambol and a native of Italy. He speaks about the tremendous demand for free email on mobile devices, the effectiveness of the company's worldwide community of developers in building portability of the open source application across 1.5 billion phones, and his experience as a web entrepreneur in Italy in the early 90's. He also includes a complete demo of the Funambol application on the RAZR and the iPhone, so you can get a firsthand glimpse of the software.

Download Episode

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

A new look for the blog

It took me a few months, but I finally managed to get my blog in the queue for our designer to make it look nicer (yes, I have zero priority in Funambol, I know it is sad). Finally, here it is! I hope you like the extensive use of the blue...