Apple might be riding the crest of a wave with the release of the iPhone 3G of late but while all eyes are on the Cupertino based firms technology there have over the last day or so been a number of sharp steps forward from their software division. OS X users who have performed a software update over the weekend will have noticed by now that the ubiquitous .Mac logo has now been consigned to history to be replaced by the new and improved MobileMe banner.

For the uninitiated .Mac was a series of online services that Apple introduced in recent years to provide the user with a series of tools to compliment their information usage. Essentially you paid the fee and for your money you received a 10Gb space allowance, a .Mac email address and some tools that enabled the user to host web sites and galleries (a la flickr somewhat). Since the roll out of Leopard there has also been a suite of synchronisation tools so your data at home and work is kept in check.

Under the .Mac banner however the service always drew some levels of criticism. In the beginning many people didn’t like the prospect of paying for online storage when if you looked around at the time you could find alternatives (granted with less space) for free and of course acquiring an email address these days doesn’t have to cost you anything.

Apple’s “new” MobileMe which replaces the outgoing .Mac service is more of a rebrand than anything else. Designed to integrate seamlessly with the iPhone and the iPod Touch as well as your computer the service comes with a redesigned front end which I couldn’t help but notice is reminiscent of some of Google’s free desktop services. The price for a single account is now £59 (£89 for a family account). You do get an additional 10Gb of storage included now bringing your total to 20gb (people with an existing account are upgraded to MobileMe for free).

In actual usage the whole service does feel a little snappier than it used to, whether that is down to the new front end or whether there has been some under the hood trickery to speed things up I’m not sure yet. However the previously criticised upload speeds when you are placing files in storage does seem to have been addressed somewhat and while my machines still have some sporadic glitches in connecting to my iDisk I have to say as a whole the service has been improved considerably. it’s not just “a Mac thing” either. PC user and theoretically Linux heads can also make use of the service with it being browser based you should be able to access it from anywhere (the only issue I had with access was attempting to login from my Blackberry). Features like the online calendar have that polished Apple feel and as a whole it does feel like an extension of your desktop.

For me personally the service has become pretty handy, I walk everywhere and carrying a laptop isn’t always an option (even the smallest Macbook is a bit heavy in a rucksack if you’re going to be on foot for awhile). So being able to leave your machine uploading files from home so they are ready when you are at work (or an internet cafe etc) is a boon and of course my contacts are backed up from my phone which has a cachet of handiness just in case I ever lose it.

it’s not a major step forward in technological terms, after all there are many online ways to integrate your data and in fairness many options are free. However what Apple have done here is once again deliver a package with a user friendly appeal and a comparatively feature rich functionality.