6 Tips to Make MobileMe Yours

Apple announced MobileMe in June 2008 with big promises that it would become the data-sync service “for the rest of us.” But when it launched on June 30, those promises quickly turned hollow when problems plagued the service. In an uncharacteristic mea culpa, Apple admitted in mid-July that it had released MobileMe before it was ready, automatically extending all paid subscriptions by 30 days.

Not quite a year later, the service works as smoothly as advertised. Still, there are several handy ways to customize MobileMe so it behaves exactly how you want it to. Though Apple continues to improve MobileMe’s Help functions, we dug around to come up with a shortlist of easy customization tricks you won’t easily find within MobileMe’s built-in Help or in Apple’s support knowledge base.


Modify The Sync Frequency From The 15-Minute Default

The only issue we wish Apple would address is the frequency of automatic syncs, which defaults to every 15 minutes–it’s just not often enough. However, if you’re willing to spend $25 and put on your true Mac geek hat for a few minutes, there is a way to change the 15-minute sync interval so MobileMe syncs more often.
screen shot of mobileme options page
If you assume choosing automatic syncing for MobileMe in your System Preferences will enable instantaneous data exchange among your Mac(s), iPhone, and “the cloud,” you’d be wrong. Auto sync only happens every 15 minutes.

A caveat: This tip involves editing a .plist file, which isn’t something average Mac users are generally encouraged to do–or interested in bothering with. A .plist file is a property list, essentially a list of user settings for certain apps or functions on your Mac. Property lists are different for different user accounts (more on that below).

Start by installing PList Edit Pro ($24.95, www.fatcatsoftware.com/plisteditpro). Locate the .plist file for MobileMe syncing frequency, located on your Mac here: ~/Library/Preferences/ByHost/com.apple?.DotMacSync.your_MAC_address.plist.

screen shot of Plist edit pro app for mobileme
It takes a little wrangling–and a $25 cash outlay for PList Edit Pro–but the app lets you easily change the MobileMe sync frequency from 15 minutes to an interval of your choosing.

Since you want to edit the property list for yourself (and any other user account on your Mac), start in the folder on your hard drive most likely named with your first initial and last name (or the first initial and last name of each user on your Mac).

Once you’ve opened com.apple.DotMacSync.your_MAC_address.plist in PList Edit Pro, you’ll see an item under Root called AutoSyncInterval. If you’ve set up MobileMe to sync automatically in System Preferences, the number that will show up is 15. Double-click 15 and change it to the sync frequency you prefer. We changed ours to 5, for example, so MobileMe would sync every 5 minutes. Save the file (Command-S) and close it. Your MobileMe data should now sync at the interval you’ve selected.


Trick MobileMe Into Syncing Your iCal Subscriptions

MobileMe doesn’t automatically add iCal calendar subscriptions to your calendar in MobileMe, but there is a workaround that allows you to get the info into your calendar across multiple computers and your iPhone or iPod touch.

screen shot ical app
If your needs are as simple as ours, you may just want your home country’s 2009 holidays added to iCal. If you live in the U.S., Canada, the UK, Australia, India, Malaysia, Singapore, New Zealand, Hong Kong, or Romania, you can get the iCal subscription you need fromwww.calendarlabs.com. Apple offers hundreds more free on its site.

Start by subscribing to the iCal calendar(s) you want: On your Mac, launch your Web browser and visit www.calendarlabs.com/ical-calendar-holidays.php. You’re presented with a number of choices for 2009 federal holiday calendars. (While you’d think it would be simple enough to grab the 2009 U.S. holiday calendar from Apple’s site, we found it faster to get the file from CalendarLabs, www.calendarlabs?.com/). In addition to federal holidays, Apple’s site has calendars for the moon phases, sports team schedules, and many more. Click on the calendar you want to subscribe to. A window appears asking what app to use to open the file. Find iCal in your Applications folder. When you select iCal and click Open, you’re shifted to an iCal window with the URL to that calendar subscription. To add it to iCal, click Subscribe.

To save a few clicks, in iCal, choose Calendar > Subscribe, type in the URL shown in the screenshot, and click Subscribe.

Now you have to trick iCal and MobileMe into adding the iCal subscription(s) to MobileMe by exporting each one, then importing it back in to iCal, then syncing. In the case of our 2009 U.S. holidays, in the iCal sidebar, select the calendar subscription you want to sync to MobileMe, then choose File > Export and save it someplace easy, like your Desktop. Next, in iCal, uncheck the calendar you just exported to avoid duplication on the local iCal Mac, choose File > Import, select the Import An iCal File radio button, click Import, and select the file you just saved to your Desktop (it should have a file extension of .ics). To avoid confusion, in your iCal calendars list, rename the calendar so it’s different from the name of the calendar listed under Subscriptions; we changed the name U.S. Holidays to just holidays, for example.

Sync this new calendar to other Macs via MobileMe: On the Mac on which you just subscribed to the new calendar, sync to MobileMe by choosing  System Preferences > MobileMe > Sync > Sync Now (or click the Sync icon in your taskbar and select SyncNow from the drop-down). You can also let it do its thing on its regular auto-sync schedule. Your newly subscribed calendar data should appear on your calendar in MobileMe, and now, when you go to another Mac and sync it with MobileMe, everything should match.

screen shot of ical app calendar
Thank goodness we won’t miss out on Groundhog Day and Lincoln’s Birthday, now that we tricked iCal and MobileMe into syncing an ’09 holiday calendar subscription.

Finally, you’ll want to sync your iPhone or iPod touch devices to MobileMe too. On your iPhone or iPod touch, press the Home button, tap Settings > Mail, Contacts, Calendars > Your MobileMe account. Slide or tap the on/off slider next to calendars to On. You’ll see a warning that informs you that your calendar info will be removed from your iPhone. This shouldn’t be a problem because it will all reappear after you sync with MobileMe, but if you’re unsure, sync your iPhone with your computer in iTunes before completing this step, so you’ll have a backup.

Just as we did with the publicly available U.S. holidays calendar, ?you can follow similar steps to get your Google calendar data synced to MobileMe by exporting it as its own file then importing it back ?into iCal.

Securely Share Files Via Your iDisk Public Folder

The beauty of iDisk is that it gives you access to files you may keep on your home Mac from any Web browser at any time you need them. Using the Public folder within iDisk, you can also share these files with others.

screen shot of idisk public folder
Your file-sharing buddies can add your iDisk Public folder to their Finder.

Two things to keep in mind when stashing files in iDisk for your own use or to share with others in your Public folder: You’re limited to a file size of up to 1GB when uploading via me.com using a browser. To upload a file to iDisk, log in to MobileMe at me.com, click the iDisk icon, then click the Upload icon (an up arrow in a small white circle). To save time, you can also mount iDisk on your Desktop and plop files up to 2GB in size there using the Finder. To do this, open System Preferences > MobileMe and click the iDisk tab. At the bottom of the window, turn iDisk Sync on by clicking Start. This is where you can also set a password and manage user privileges for anyone who goes to your Public folder to view or access files. The URL for your Public folder is ?public.me.com/yourmobilemeusername. If you set a password, the username is the ?word public.

They can also get to your Public folder from the Finder by choosing Go > iDisk > Other User’s Public Folder. In the box that appears, they just type your MobileMe username—and, of course, the password, if you’ve protected the folder with one.

Now, to put files into your Public folder, open a new Finder window, and drag files from their location on your Mac’s hard drive to Public on the name of your mounted iDisk “drive.” Voilà—file sharing made relatively simple.


Add Photos To MobileMe Galleries From Your iPhone or iPod Touch

screen shot of mobileme gallery folder
Select an album in the Gallery and click the icon that looks like a switch, then check the box that allows you to upload photos via email from your iPhone or iPod touch.

The best thing about this is what a time-saver it can be, particularly if friends and family habitually share their photos with you via email. First you need to set up the albums in your MobileMe Gallery to accept new photos from an iPhone. In MobileMe, click on the Gallery icon. If you want to change the settings on an existing album so it will accept photos sent from your iPhone, select the album and click the Settings icon. In the dialog that appears, check “Adding of photos via email or iPhone,” then click Publish. Now, when you receive a photo via email, or snap a photo on your iPhone that you want to add to a MobileMe gallery, the option to Send To MobileMe appears among the email options that appear when you tap the Send icon at the bottom of the screen.

screen shot of iphone app camera roll
After a photo has been saved to your Camera Roll, adding it to your MobileMe Gallery is a matter of tapping the Send icon at the bottom of the screen, tapping Send To MobileMe, and choosing the album from the resulting list.


Eliminate Duplicate Dock Items and Dashboard Widgets

When you first set up MobileMe syncing on your primary Mac, if you select the option to sync Dashboard Widgets (System Preferences >MobileMe > Sync), you may experience duplication when you go to use another Mac that is synced with the same MobileMe account—particularly if you had duplicate Dashboard widgets installed on both Macs.

screen shot of dock
The same Dock items on all your Macs—continuity is a beautiful thing.

To set things right, set your Dashboard widgets exactly as you want them on one Mac, sync with MobileMe, then, when syncing your other Macs, allow MobileMe to replace the data on that Mac with data from MobileMe.

The same concept can be applied to Dock items too. We also love the fact that you can sync System Preferences for each MobileMe account, so when you change prefs on one Mac, they’ll apply to your other Macs whenever MobileMe syncs.


Change iSync Prefs to Minimize “% change” Pop-ups

screen shot of isync folder
Don’t waste your time with inconsequential 5% data-change notifications. Change the percentage in iSync prefs instead.

Depending on which Macs (iPhones, iPod touches, etc.) contain most of your contacts before you start using MobileMe regularly, you may encounter messages when MobileMe syncs warning you that “Syncing with MobileMe will change more than 5% of your Contacts”…or calendars or other data. Rather than worry about this or trying to get to the bottom of exactly what the alerts mean, we prefer instead to change iSync preferences so the number of changes has to reach a higher threshold than 5 percent to trigger an alert. Open /Applications/iSync, choose iSync > Preferences (or just type Command-,) then under Protect Your Data On This Computer, click the Show Data Change Alert in the drop-down to the right from 5% to something higher (we chose 25%).

This way, your Mac will only notify you when more than 5 percent of a certain data type will change as a result of MobileMe syncing.




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