More rumblings point to free MobileMe in April

Apple's paid MobileMe Web service is yet again said to be going free. This time the news is based on an educational buyer being told to hold off on a purchase.

Josh Lowensohn Former Senior Writer
Josh Lowensohn joined CNET in 2006 and now covers Apple. Before that, Josh wrote about everything from new Web start-ups, to remote-controlled robots that watch your house. Prior to joining CNET, Josh covered breaking video game news, as well as reviewing game software. His current console favorite is the Xbox 360.
Josh Lowensohn
3 min read
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Once again there are reports that the long-rumored free version of MobileMe will arrive in April, some three years after the paid service became generally available and months ahead of initial estimates for when Apple planned to revamp its Web suite.

In a story this morning, blog iLounge cited a person it called a trusted source at a major educational institution as saying that the institution was unable to buy MobileMe subscriptions. Additionally, the source said Apple was planning to release a revamped version of the service as soon as next month. In the interim, Apple is said to be encouraging users who wanted to get their hands on a paid subscription to use Apple's free, 60-day trial instead, since the new version of the service, according to iLounge, may be "quite different."

MobileMe, which costs $99 a year, had originally been introduced as a replacement for Apple's .Mac service (which had formerly been dubbed iTools). Among MobileMe's hallmark features was a sync service pitched to consumers by Apple CEO Steve Jobs as "Exchange for the rest of us." It synced bookmarks, contact information, and calendar information across devices.

One of the service's other features, which let users both track and lock down their iOS devices, was made free for all users back in November with the release of iOS 4.2. As part of that process, Apple also opened up registration for users to nab a @me.com e-mail address free of charge, leading many to question why the company was removing some of the features that were originally behind a pay wall.

The first reports of Apple planning to make MobileMe a free service popped up on Mac Daily News in May of last year, though they were put forth as merely rumors without much credibility or sourcing. However, last month a report in the Wall Street Journal, which had cited sources familiar with the matter, claimed Apple was exploring putting more of an emphasis on file storage as part of MobileMe, as well as dropping the $99 price tag. That report also claimed Apple was developing a smaller, low-cost version of the iPhone that would pack less storage, and thus need something like a MobileMe to give users enough room to stash files.

About a week after the Journal's report, blog iClarified reported that Apple had alerted retailers that it was discontinuing retail packages for MobileMe, which could be purchased and the code inside used for a subscription.

More recently, a report by German Web site Macerkopf.de had claimed Apple was planning to hold an event at its campus in Cupertino, Calif., in early April where it would be unveiling the next major version of the iOS system software, along with a brand-new, and free, version of MobileMe.

So where does all this leave current MobileMe subscribers who may have just shelled out $99 a month or two ago? iLounge's source claims Apple plans to support the paid version for the next year, which could mean there will be premium features for paying members, or simply that Apple intends to keep two differing versions running while the transition takes place. However such an option would be fairly unlikely given the quick (though messy) transition from .Mac to MobileMe back in 2008.