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MobileMe packages disappear from Apple's shelves

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Apple's MobileMe service is running fine, but the $99 annual package has disappeared from both virtual and physical shelves in what some reckon is a prelude to the service going free.

The package disappeared from the online store, and Apple Insider has apparently been taking to Apple retailers who report that both the single user and family pack (the latter costing $149 for five accounts) options have been listed as "end of life" by Apple. Combine that with tonight's scheduled downtime for maintenance and you've got a perfect storm for rumour and supposition.

Apple certainly has big plans for its cloud-based synchronisation service, and the company has already said that its new, huge data centre in North Carolina will be iTunes related. The New York Times has already said that Apple is going to start bundling access to MobileMe with its hardware, but the same report refers to the half-size iPhone, which has since been dismissed by many Apple watchers.

Apple's ability to charge for MobileMe has surprised many in the industry. Google and Microsoft give away the same kind of personal information management (PIM) synchronisation for calenders and contacts, not to mention a few Gig of cloud storage, for nothing. It seemed impossible that Apple customers would pay for such things, but despite several initial hiccups the service has been running happily.

It seems unlikely Apple would just decide to start handing it out free, unless it was going to evolve into something bigger – that North Carolina server farm could synchronise an awful lot of calenders and is certainly planned for something bigger.

Cloud-based iTunes is coming, probably streaming content to iPods (and iPhones) everywhere (or, more likely, everywhere with Wi-Fi coverage), but why that would require giving away MobileMe isn't clear. We obviously asked Apple, and they obviously declined to acknowledge our existence, so we'll just have to wait and see. ®

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