Will You Be Able To Get Your iCloud E-Mail Through A Browser?

Could iCloud, Apple’s boldest attempt at Web services to date, have been so myopic as to cut one of the most basic Web-based capabilities out of the former MobileMe service? A back-and-forth on tech blogs and Twitter Monday on an otherwise slow news day created a little confusion regarding how Apple’s plans for iCloud will affect current MobileMe users.

For the uninitiated, Apple’s current Web offering, MobileMe, allows customers to sign up for a $99-a-year Web-based e-mail account, calendar, and contacts service that syncs those services between their computers and their iPhones and is also available through any browser. That’s going away when Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) rolls out iCloud later this fall, which is a similar idea but goes beyond MobileMe to include syncing of applications, documents, and music. But Joshua Topolsky of This Is My Next suggested Monday in a story about Apple’s Web strategy that Apple would be going much farther by eliminating access to e-mail and calendars through a Web browser once MobileMe is discontinued next year, which he wrote was confirmed by Apple representatives.

Others weren’t so sure, however, and a debate quickly sprung up on Twitter and elsewhere questioning Topolsky’s conclusion. It would be a bit surprising for Apple to completely drop support for something not particularly challenging, a simple browser-based method of accessing e-mail. But Topolsky said this appeared to be part of a strategy to get Apple users to think app-first and not Web-first, writing “your devices will become not just the primary place where Apple intends for you to do your work and get your content–they’ll be the only place.”

As the afternoon wound down, however, more details emerged that suggested Apple was just playing coy about what iCloud would and would not enable, as per its usual strategy of sharing as few details as possible about products that have yet to be released. MacRumors posted a screenshot taken by a reader who was able to discover a Web interface hosted on icloud.com through the iOS 5 beta, suggesting Apple has done the work required to allow Web access to e-mail and calendars but just doesn’t want to talk about it. Jonathan Geller, editor of the Boy Genius Report, also said on Twitter that Apple will have some sort of Web access.

Topolsky stuck to his guns, so there’s still some uncertainty as to just how iCloud will work when it is formally released. An Apple representative did not immediately respond to a request for clarification on the issue.

At least iCloud will be free, so unlike MobileMe it will be harder to complain about missing features, but the absence of such a simple and useful tool would be a head-scratcher if it’s not around when iCloud makes its debut.