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How Hard is MobileMe Really "Pushing"?

Push in the bush? Or sync with less stink? Look at me! I'm Merlin, and I'm writing funny headlines!

Apple's MobileMe Lacks True Push Syncing - InformationWeek

MobileMeAccording to many users, and as reported by numerous news outlets, Apple MobileMe's implied promise of instantaneous sync between between multiple devices (including, it had been implied, your desktop Mac) is not accurate. Since it appears that syncing from the desktop to anywhere else in "the cloud" can actually take as long as 15 minutes, many are questioning Apple's referring to this functionality as "Push" (as opposed to simply sped-up, automated "syncing"). Marin Perez of InformationWeek writes:

The gripe comes because data entered on their Macintosh or PC address books and calendars isn't immediately pushed to MobileMe's servers.

"Selecting Automatic in Mac OS X allows your computer to immediately sync and update when there are any changes on the MobileMe servers," read a support note on Apple's Web site. "Those changes come from your iPhone, iPod Touch, the MobileMe Web site, or another computer. Changes made on your computer will be synced to the MobileMe 'cloud' every 15 minutes."

You may have shared my slack-jawed gape and consequent fistbump when Phil Schiller's WWDC demo of MobileMe [free iTunes link] implied magically fast, truly instantaneous syncing. Because that's really hard to do well -- and implying MobileMe would enable such a thing suggested mighty technological leaps over the previous .Mac service, whose sync skills and reliability were famously uneven at best.

While most of us won't see our lives fall apart if true Push is not happening on MobileMe, it's still disappointing that Apple implied they were solving a complicated and thorny problem vs. simply speeding up the frequency of syncing via an existing method.

FWIW, this weekend I informally tested MobileMe's syncing skillz on two Macs, "the old iPhone," and via apps on the MobileMe site. Mostly this consisted of creating calendar items with unique date and time stamps and seeing how long it took for them to show up on the different devices. Let's just say the two Macs were, far and away, the pokiest syncers for both incoming and outgoing events.

Mostly I guess I'm just bummed that this wasn't the sufficiently advanced technology that it seemed. I'm sure there's room for improvements and enhancements to MobileMe -- and God know what it took to get that thing out the door in the midst of last week's shitstorm -- but I'm disappointed in Apple. I don't mind the RDF -- a lot of times, it's a fun place to hang out for an hour or two -- but playing fast and loose with terms that mean something in the market they're trying to penetrate is not cricket.

Elsewhere on this issue:

holgr.com » Blog Archive » Apple’s MobileMe - Push or in sync?

Looks like Apple has removed all mentions about push mail from their MobileMe site. It has been removed from the MobileMe Mail features list too. Now your mail is “in sync”. But they forgot the mentioning at their enterprise site, where they are talking about Exchange push mail.

MobileMe not so pushy - The Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW)

That, to me, doesn't sound like "push," it sounds like "sync." The term "push" still applies, however, to me.com email, as that shows up immediately (in my experience, at least.) Calendars and contacts, though, not so much, apparently.

MobileMe's Push Services Detailed, No Mac to MobileMe 'Push' - Mac Rumors

The point of contention comes when changes are performed on your Mac. These changes do not trigger an automatic sync and instead waits until the next scheduled sync which is every 15 minutes:

Changes to Mac -> Me.com (15 minute sync)

Apple has confirmed that this is expected behavior in a Knowledgebase article which has generated some complaints in our MobileMe forums. Alternatively, users can hit the "Sync" menu option at any time on their Mac to trigger a sync at any time.

The Question to You

Was Apple playing lawyerball with the term “Push?” Is this just a marketing disappointment, or are you missing functionality that you were counting on? Is a 15-minute syncing adequate for your needs? And what had you taken away from the MobileMe demo at WWDC? Was Mr. Schiller’s explanation accurate of the service you received? Jump to starting around 1:07:00 of the WWDC Keynote to decide for yourself.

Update 2008-07-16 09:00:04 PDT

Excerpted from a Me.com customer email sent an hour ago:

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. So even though things are indeed instantly pushed to and from your iPhone and the web apps today, we are going to stop using the word "push" until it is near-instant on PCs and Macs, too.

Classy, well put, and mostly well-explained. Plus, as Dan Moren mentions in comments, they're tossing in a free month of service, owing to a .Mac -> MobileMe transition that was "rockier than we had hoped."

Thing is, it still doesn't help me understand how some of the most competent engineers (or is it marketers?) in California knowingly chose to call this functionality something that it clearly was not. That still bugs me.

marcpalmer's picture

Classic "marketing didn't grok what tech was saying"?

I'm not familiar with the details of the OS X Sync Services, but from what I can see here, desktop OS X is highly unlikely to know when any app (remember sync services works for any app that wants it) makes changes to its data. It is most likely asking apps what data there is to sync when a sync is instigated by the user (or the fixed repeat interval).

As such true push from desktop OS X can surely only come with the addition of a new API / changes to sync services and all apps to be modified to use it, to indicate "please push this changed item" immediately.

This improvement is necessary long term, as doing a full system sync is braindead and very very slow, when you just have a single address change to push, and puts massive extra load on mobileme servers. It is actually totally bonkers, and having everybody reduce their sync interval to 1min or so will probably bring mobile me (and peoples' macs) to their knees very quickly.

Conversely, a flurry of small pushed updates should ideally be batched...

So while they screwed up with the marketing, the sales monkeys probably just didn't grasp the "we need a new OS X update and all apps to be updated before we can push from desktop" message from the dev team ;-)




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