A recently-published report from Germany suggests Apple will soon add brand new functionality to MobileMe: the ability to subscribe to the suite of online services with a form of payment other than a credit card. The rumor discourages hope for MobileMe becoming a free offering.
According to macnews.de, one of its readers ran into trouble while trying to renew his subscription to MobileMe. Currently, it's practically impossible for Apple's customers to activate a subscription to the US$99 per year online service without a credit card. When the macnews.de reader, who doesn't have a credit card, explained his situation to Apple's support hotline, a support agent for the company told him, "We're currently working on offering customers alternate payment options." The support staffer could not provide any further details or a release date.
Once upon a time, customers like this macnews.de reader could walk into a store, purchase a boxed "copy" of MobileMe using their preferred payment method, bring the box home and use the included activation instructions to enable or renew their MobileMe subscriptions online. But in February, Apple discontinued shipments of boxed MobileMe activation kits, leaving customers with only one option for buying the service: online with a valid credit card. This limitation could dramatically reduce MobileMe subscriptions in countries like Germany where about 80 percent of consumers use bank transfers to complete online transactions, according to research by The Nielsen Company. If Apple wishes to continue charging customers for all or part of its online services, it would be necessary for the company to offer more payment options.
Prompted by an email from Steve Jobs promising MobileMe would "get a lot better in 2011," many speculate the service is due for a major overhaul this year. Today, Apple's suite of online services allows subscribers to publish websites and photo galleries, access ad-free IMAP email, synchronize data between Macs and devices over the internet, backup and share files online and locate lost iPhones. Rumors suggest any or all of these services will be revamped and expanded to include a "media locker" to give subscribers online access to certain content purchased from the iTunes Store. Speculators hoped Apple planned to offer MobileMe free of charge, especially after the company discontinued the service's boxed activation kits. But if Apple is exploring alternative payment options, an entirely free MobileMe seems unlikely.