MobileMe, the iPad/iPhone, and syncing.

So I was reading daringfireball, as usual, and this post on MobileMe and syncing piqued my interest. I’ve come to adore MobileMe, because around 15 months ago as all of a sudden my wife and I have calendar & contacts shared between 3 Macs and 2 iPhones, and hopefully one day an iPad.

It was this wireless, immediate syncing that finally pushed us over to really using our iPhones to replace paper-based calendars and address books. And the iPad will fill one need we’ve had; an immediately visible calendar for the whole family to see, possibly with a family photo slideshow thrown in.

So in the aforementioned article, John Gruber is commenting on Sachin Agarwal’s post on MobileMe. Agarwal wants MobileMe to be free, and to sync everything else that on our mobile devices; media, and presumably apps and their data. Gruber comments is that this isn’t feasible, which I take issue with.

With 802.11n in the iPad, and surely in next month’s (oooh, NEXT MONTH) “iPhone HD”, we’ll now have access to our home network and the computers on it at, let’s say 15-20 MB/s (which is what I see in practice.)

Now does that figure ring a bell? How fast is a USB 2.0 connection in reality? I get a transfer rate from my USB drives of around 20 MB/s. So 802.11N is certainly fast enough for syncing on a local network.

But not to the cloud. (Are we allowed to drop the quotation marks on “the cloud” yet?) There, we have tiny download and even more craptacular upload speeds, (4 Mb/s down and 1 Mb/s up for me) and that’s likely to be true for years to come.

So no, we’re not going to have all our tens of gigabytes of photo, music, and video media in the cloud for a long time yet.

Let’s take a step back then. We already have iTunes home sharing, which means that making sure all our iTunes downloads and CD/DVD rips end up on the home server is no longer a totally manual process. It’s only natural that this will eventually extend to our iPhones and iPads, in a very similar way. This can work, since unlike calendars, contacts & email, our media collections don’t change radically very often, rather we’re just adding a CD or movie every week or so.

The way I’d see this working would use the magic of Bonjour (as see in iTunes Home Sharing, the AppleTV, and even the iPhones themselves when used with the Apple Remote program to control iTunes). When your iSomething is on your home 802.11N network, it would appear in iTunes just as if it were connected via USB. Syncing would be handled when the device was inactive, and if necessary due to the large transfers, only when connected to power.

Ultimately then, this would be the out-of-box experience:

  • You buy an iPad or iPhone.
  • Turn it on and login with your MobileMe account.
  • Your email, calendars and contacts sync down from Apple’s servers.
  • Your media and applications sync over your local wireless network.
  • Boom! You’re done.

And as a final comment on Gruber’s post, I’d agree that turning iTunes accounts into basic MobileMe accounts is a brilliant idea. (And the years I’ve already paid for can be refunded through iTunes credit.)

Optus 3G image recompression

The other day I noticed that webpages browsed to via my iPhone were looking a little strange. But then I loaded my own website, and all the images looked rubbish. I immediately contacted my mobile provider Optus, and they told me that there was absolutely no proxying or image re-compression going on.

Because I don’t often browse the web for extended periods via 3G (and I trusted Optus not to blatantly lie “be uninformed” when talking to me, I couldn’t be bothered further with it until I saw this thread on MacTalk: Optus re-compression of images over 3G.

So, I turned off WiFi, emptied my cache, and ran a test. The results are below, 3G browsing on the left, and then (after resetting my cache once again), WiFi browsing on the right. You be the judge.


Comparison1 (Click to view larger on Flickr.)

Now this is totally unacceptable for me, as images are everything when I work as a photographer. Why would I go to the length of fixing up my site to work nicely on the iPhone (and I presume later other smartphones and the iPad), if my images look like rubbish. I’d be glad to have a Flash-based site in that case; at least my clients wouldn’t get the wrong impression.

So, I’ll be chasing this up further with Optus. And if it affects you, I suggest you do as well. If this does affect you, feel free to contact me via @josh_m on twitter and let me know your experience. All for the sake of a few lousy kilobytes…


I ran a test on my wife’s iPhone. She doesn’t have this issue. I presume it somehow relates to having enabled tethering before?

Update – 25 May 2010:

Seems like this is a hot issue. I spoke to Ben Grubb from ZDNet Australia this morning, and my remarks are written up in this article: Optus 3G accelerator spawns blurry pics.  In hindsight though, I don’t think “blurry” is really the right word… the pictures look more like they’ve gone through a meat grinder. :)

Also, I still haven’t personally chased this further with Optus, beyond speaking with Scott from their social media team. Bigger things happening, but I will get back on the case in a few weeks.