Apps News Reviews

12 Free (or Cheap) Tools to Replace MobileMe

MobileMe Calendar
Apple’s MobileMe has come a long way since its former iTools and .Mac days, and if CEO Steve Jobs is to be believed, this year it will get even better — and maybe even free, if not cheaper. But if you simply can’t justify $99 a year for the service right now, there are less-expensive options available.

MobileMe may not be the bargain of the century for $99 per year, but for its core feature set, it does a pretty good job for most of us. Here’s a look at some non-Apple tools you can use to cheaply emulate the MobileMe experience for less cash — though you’ll have to cobble these services together to make it work.

BusySync (replaces Calendar Sync)

Get your iCal calendars off your computer and onto the web with BusySync, which not only syncs calendars with other computers in your home network but also with Google Calendar as well — including the mobile browser of your iOS device. $39.99 gets you a single user license, while $69.99 gets you a Family Pack for everyone in your household.

Dropbox (replaces iDisk)

Dropbox before & after
iDisk claims to be “your hard drive on the web,” but we get far more use out of Dropbox, which offers 2GB of cloud-based storage for free, accessible from just about anywhere — Mac, Windows, iOS, Android and your web browser. iDisk is also notoriously slow when used from the Mac OS X Finder, while Dropbox is lean, clean and downright mean (in a good way) at what it does. Drop your files into the Dropbox folder and they’ll be accessible from all of your computers and devices, ‘nuff said. If you need more than the basic 2GB, Dropbox has 50GB and 100GB paid options also available via monthly or annual payments.

Facebook (replaces Gallery)

Facebook Photos on iPhone
One of the easiest parts of MobileMe to replace is Gallery for viewing uploaded photos and videos. If you have a Facebook account, this is a no-brainer — upload your iPhoto albums to the service and view them easily from the free iPhone app or one of the many iPad-optimized variations (at least until Facebook blesses us with a true native app). If you’re concerned about privacy, simply lock down your Facebook photo albums to prevent others from seeing them and you’ll still be able to view (and share) them whenever you’d like.

Flickr (replaces Gallery)

Flickr Photostream
Another fine option for pictures that integrates with Mac OS X’s iPhoto is Flickr — particularly since there’s a nice free, official iPhone app as well as a host of third-party paid solutions for all iOS devices. The only downside is that the free Flickr service is limited in terms of monthly uploads and downloads, but a Pro account is only $24.95 per year (or $47.99 when you buy two years).

GadgetTrak (replaces Find My iPhone)

GadgetTrak iOS app
Now that Apple has made Find My iPhone a free service for every iOS device owner, you might find it curious why anyone would want to replace it. Be that as it may, for a flat $3.99, the universal GadgetTrak iOS app will help keep tabs on all of your devices simply by enabling tracking via Location Services. Should your device wind up lost, head over to the GadgetTrak website, log in and the service will use GPS, cell tower triangulation and/or Wi-Fi positioning to find out where the missing device is at any time.

Google Mobile Sync (replaces Email, Contacts & Calendars)

Google Calendar
If you love your iOS device but prefer Google services over Apple, you can use Google Mobile Sync to indulge that passion. Thanks to Microsoft Exchange on iOS, you can access Gmail, Google Contacts and Google Calendar and forget about MobileMe completely.Your Mac OS X Address Book can be configured to share contacts with Google (and then get them onto your iOS device), with the whole shebang being accessible from any web browser as well.

NuevaSync (replaces Contact & Calendar Sync)

Billed as “smartphone cloud services,” NuevaSync offers an inexpensive Personal plan for $15 per year, promising extensive calendar and contacts syncing. The company’s $30 per year Premium plan also adds push IMAP email (via Exchange) from a wide variety of services.

Soocial (replaces Contact Sync)

Soocial website
One of the core features of MobileMe is the ability to keep your contacts and calendars synced between all computers and devices. While it lacks the push abilities of MobileMe, Soocial does a good job of keeping contacts in sync between a wide variety of devices and services, including Gmail, Yahoo, Windows, Android, Mac OS X and iOS. Fire up the free Soocial iPhone app, press Sync Now and your address book is backed up to the cloud and ready to sync to other Soocial-ly minded places. Up to 250 contacts and three connections are free, and the Premium plan gets you unlimited service for $4 per month or $39 per year.

Spanning Sync (replaces Calendar & Contact Sync)

Spanning Sync account
Working hand-in-hand with the free Google Calendar and Contacts, Spanning Sync is a Mac OS X System Preferences pane that syncs iCal and Address Book with their respective Google-based cloud services. From Google’s mobile-optimized websites, you’ll then get access to all of your contact and calendar data from anywhere you have an internet connection. Spanning Sync 3 is $25 per year or available as a one-time purchase for $65, and referrals from friends could potentially get you the app for free.

SugarSync (replaces iDisk)

SugarSync website
As blissful as Dropbox is, there may be times when you just want to keep certain folders on your computer synced to the cloud and accessible from anywhere. That’s where SugarSync comes in, offering a free 5GB plan — along with mobile apps for iOS, Android, BlackBerry, Windows Mobile and Symbian — that give you granular controls over which files and folders get synced to the cloud. If you want to sync even more of your hard drive to the cloud, SugarSync also offers 30GB, 60GB, 100GB, 250GB and even 500GB plans ranging from $49.99 to $399.99 per year.

Xmarks (replaces Bookmark Sync)

Xmarks logo
MobileMe is also great for getting your Safari bookmarks onto your iOS devices, but wouldn’t it be nice to share those bookmarks with other web browsers and platforms? Xmarks does just that. The free version will keep your bookmarks automatically synced between Safari, Chrome, Firefox and even Internet Explorer on Windows, while the Premium version for $12 per year adds the ability to access bookmarks from apps for iOS, Android, BlackBerry and even through an extension for the Dolphin HD browser on Android.

Yahoo! Mail (replaces Push Email)

Yahoo! Mail Plus website
Replacing MobileMe’s push email isn’t quite so easy without an Exchange server to tap into, but many people forget that Yahoo! Email was one of the original iPhone partners in 2007 and continues to offer free push for their email accounts to iOS. Unfortunately, that rules out IMAP email accounts, but with the $19.99 per year Yahoo! Mail Plus you’ll at least get offline access via POP as well as the ability to forward incoming mail to another address.