We’re living in an increasingly mobile world, with more and more of our important data now living primarily on iPhones, iPads, and other mobile devices, and in fact the popularity of iOS and the iPad means that many users don’t even own a desktop or laptop computer, much less regularly use one, leaving everything from important business documents to precious memories stored solely on mobile devices. For the most part, services such as iCloud have been the common solution for ensuring that your data is safely backed up separately from your devices, but iCloud isn’t a solution for everybody, which is where MEEM Memory’s new MEEM for iOS comes in — it’s a mostly automated solution that can ensure your data is safely backed up to local storage every time you plug your iPad or iPhone in to recharge it.
At its most basic level, MEEM for iOS is a Lightning charging and syncing cable with built-in flash memory storage, however it’s how this storage is used by the companion MEEM Memory app that makes the accessory quite different from other flash memory drives we’ve looked at for iOS. Rather than acting as a simple external storage device, MEEM is specifically designed to backup key data from your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch automatically each time it’s connected. It’s a solution for backups, not for adding extra storage, but by focusing on providing backups, it addresses this need in a more robust way than most other external storage devices we’ve seen, which often include backup capabilities as more of an afterthought. It’s available in capacities of 32 GB ($70), 64 GB ($90), and 128 GB ($120).
To get started, you plug the USB end of the MEEM cable into any USB power source and then the Lightning end into the bottom of your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch. The first time you do this, you’ll be sent to the App Store to download and install the MEEM Memory app. Launching the app will first prompt you to allow access to your Contacts, Calendars, and Photos, and then apply any necessary firmware updates to the MEEM, initialize the cable, and ask you to set a four-digit PIN to protect the data that will be stored on the cable. Once you’ve done this, an initial backup will run to copy all of your contact and calendar data as well as photos and videos from the Photos app. How long this initial backup takes will depend on how much data needs to be copied — MEEM copies data at a rate of about six minutes for each gigabyte of data, so the initial backup of a large photo and video library may take a while. Subsequent backups are incremental, however, and should therefore take much less time.
Each MEEM can be used to backup three different devices separately, and you can even share one MEEM cable among multiple family members — assuming of course that you all trust each other with your data, since only a single four-digit PIN is used to secure all of the data stored on the device. Additional options in the MEEM app also allow you to restore the contents of a backup, either in its entirety, or select specific contact records, calendar items, or photos and videos to restore individually. By default, the data backed up to the MEEM mirrors what’s on your iOS device, so anything you delete from your device will also be deleted from your MEEM during the next backup. However, you can choose to enable “Archive” mode for each category, in which case any information deleted from your iOS device will be left on the MEEM.
While MEEM basically does what it promises, there are a few caveats that are important to keep in mind. Firstly, while you might expect that you could carry the MEEM cable around with you and just plug the Lightning end in to backup your iPhone or iPad at any time, this is actually not the case — MEEM needs to be plugged into a USB power source at the other end. To be fair this fits with MEEM’s stated goal of backing up your device while charging, so while it’s not a deal-breaker in our opinion, it’s definitely something to keep in mind.
We also found that MEEM’s automated backups aren’t quite as automatic as most users would expect; some interaction will be required by most users when plugging in your iPhone or iPad, since MEEM can’t seem to start a backup if your device is locked. If you plug in the MEEM cable while your device is already unlocked, the MEEM app will start up after a second or two, then begin a 20 second countdown before automatically backing up your data. However, if your device is locked, MEEM will instead display a notification on your lock screen that you’ll have to acknowledge to unlock your device and open the MEEM app before the backup actually begins, and to add to the confusion, the wording in the notification doesn’t really make this clear. Since the 20 second countdown does actually get down to 11 seconds in the background before stalling, we suspect this may be a bug rather than an iOS limitation, but in either case it does make MEEM’s automatic backups a bit less “automatic” — it’s not really a big problem if you’re willing to unlock your device before plugging it in, but it’s not the transparent “just works” approach that MEEM is promising.
MEEM’s other major limitation is considerably less surprising to anybody who understands how locked down third-party apps and accessories are by iOS. For security reasons, Apple doesn’t allow third-party iOS apps to access most information stored on your devices, much less push that data out the Lightning connector, so MEEM has to work within these restrictions. This means that unlike a backup to iCloud or iTunes, MEEM can’t automatically back up anything more than your contacts, calendars, and the photos and videos in your Photos app. MEEM does provide support for backing up documents via the iOS Share Sheet, but this is a one-time operation on a per-document basis, much like copying a file to any other external storage device. While photos and videos are often the most important data for casual iOS users, there’s still a lot left out here, and this means you definitely can’t rely on MEEM for a “bare metal” restore to get a new iPhone or iPad back up and running the way it was. This is a limitation in iOS that applies to all third-party iOS app-based storage and backup solutions, but it nonetheless limits the usefulness of MEEM.
In an era of cloud-based backups, MEEM is a niche product that offers very little over simply using iCloud. It’s considerably less cost-effective when you consider that you can buy almost 6 years of more than equivalent iCloud storage ($1/month for 50 GB) for the same price as the least expensive MEEM model ($70 for 32 GB), and it doesn’t get much better on the higher end when you compare the 128 GB MEEM ($120) to Apple’s 200GB iCloud storage plan ($3/month). Add to this the fact that iCloud actually backs up all of your data — not only your contacts, calendars, photos and videos — and for most users it’s still the significantly better option. Further, users who have a Mac or PC handy can use iTunes to backup their iOS devices with no real additional costs, and this can even be done over Wi-Fi as long as you leave your computer on.
That said, however, MEEM isn’t without a purpose, and we can definitely see the appeal for users who either want to avoid cloud services entirely for privacy reasons, or those who live and work in situations where regular iCloud backups aren’t practical due to limited Wi-Fi access. If you can’t or simply don’t want to use iCloud, MEEM can definitely fill at least some of the gap, especially if it’s only your photo/video collection and a few important documents you’re concerned about backing up. While the vast majority of iOS users will still be far better served by either iCloud or iTunes, MEEM is a good solution for users in situations where those aren’t practical options, making it worthy of our limited recommendation.
Company and Price
Company: MEEM Memory
Model: MEEM for iOS
Price: $70 – $120
Compatibility: All Lightning iOS Devices running iOS 7 or later