updated 12:40 am EST, Sat November 20, 2010
iOS 4.2 GM code references free MobileMe
New code discovered in the iOS 4.2 and 4.2.1 gold master builds tonight has hinted that Apple may finally fulfill promises of free MobileMe services. A finding in a new AppleAccounts.framework section references error messages for a "maximum number of free accounts" for iPads, iPhones and iPods while also mentioning separate paid services. Deeper investigation by MacRumors has also found mention of an error that would allow an account access to syncing and likely most other services but which would prevent using MobileMe mail.
"This Apple ID cannot be used for MobileMe Mail, but you can use it for other MobileMe services," the error said.
Apple has never made mention of switching some MobileMe services to a free model and may not activate it when iOS 4.2.1 is made public. However, the additional evidence beyond earlier interface changes implies that the company is close to if not ready to make a change to a service that lost its free access upon the switch from iTools to .Mac in 2002.
If completed, the switch would most likely be to counter Android. One of Google's key advantages has been its account sync, which with a sign-in can not only restore contacts and e-mail but bring back app downloads and even wallpaper. Cloud sync options have been available on iOS for free but have usually been limited to third-party apps, such as Dropbox storage. Free sync, and possibly extras like Find My iPhone tracking and media hosting, could put the iPhone on par even if a paid tier was necessary for other features.
Apple's North Carolina data center is rumored to be near going live and could potentially play a role by providing the space and bandwidth to manage large-scale calendar, contact and media syncing. Most believe the server cluster could focus on real-time streaming media, but its exact role has never been determined. If not active in days, the data center is known to be going live by the end of the year.