updated 06:35 pm EDT, Tue April 24, 2012
Mobile Me service nearing its end
Apple's high sales of iOS devices, along with continuing Mac growth, continues to push the free iCloud service to remarkable levels of membership, with CFO Peter Oppenheimer revealing during the March quarter analyst conference call that iCloud had reached 125 million users. The service appears to have added 25M users in the two months since CEO Tim Cook mentioned a 100M member figure during an analyst talk in February, and 40M members since the year began.
The figures and the dates of their announcement suggest a slow decline in the average number of new signups per week (down to about 3.5M per week from the 5M per week average between January and February), but has already reached almost half as many subscribers as even its main competitor GMail, which is estimated to have around 260M users, in about six months. The iCloud service, which was introduced in October of last year, offers free IMAP e-mail and a set of syncing and other services, including storage and the recent introduction of limited hosting (for Photo Journals made with iPhoto for iOS).
Cook has called iCloud "a strategy for the next decade" and echoed former CEO Steve Jobs in saying that it had become the central "hub" of the digital lifestyle, replacing much of the desktop computer's role in that paradigm. The syncing services, which are much improved over the previous Mobile Me service, have "solved a lot of problems people were having" and "made [customers'] lives easier."
Apple has not disclosed how many former Mobile Me members have made the switch to iCloud, but the company has recently stepped up efforts to remind users that some Mobile Me services, including the iDisk and Photo Gallery features, will be closing permanently at the end of June. It has also begun offering some MM members a free copy of OS X Snow Leopard to help them transition from Leopard (which is not compatible with iCloud) to Lion.
One of the biggest changes in the loss of Mobile Me will be the shutting down of free hosting for personal websites generated mostly by iWeb. Users have the option of simply changing the hosting of the site to some other service, and users of iPhoto's Galleries feature may find some substitute in either third-party photo sites like Flickr Pro and Picasa, or the new iCloud-hosted Photo Journals that are presently only a feature of iPhoto for iOS.
The iCloud service offers free IMAP e-mail (unusually for such a offer, the e-mail is free of any advertising); 5GB of storage space;, automatic backup of all iTunes Store purchases; automatic "push" syncing of calendar, contacts, bookmarks and selected other information; a photo-synching service called PhotoStream; device and friend locating services, iWork document sharing and other features for free. The optional iTunes Match service ($25 per year) also offers to back up the entire iTunes library (not just songs bought from iTunes) of music, and additional storage can be purchased as well if desired.