Apple’s Mobile Dominance and MobileMe


It’s becoming abundantly clear that Apple needs to improve MobileMe. Obviously, Android is now Apple’s biggest threat in the mobile space and Google’s innovation wheel isn’t slowing down. To fully understand just how bad Apple is at running Internet services, let’s take a trip back in time.

At the Macworld keynote on January 5, 2000, Steve Jobs released iTools which was built for Mac OS 9. Features included:

  • An email address
  • 20 megabytes of iDisk web storage
  • An easy to use web page builder called Homepage
  • A KidSafe product that ensured a safe Internet experience for the little ones

If you’re dying to know more, here’s the press release. What made the offering such a breakthrough is that it was an absolutely free service, back when Google was still just a search engine. Because of the seamless integration with Mac OS and the fact it was free, millions of Mac users signed up for iTools. This was the highlight of Apple’s Online Services product and, ever since, Apple has struggled to keep up.

In 2002, iTools was rebranded as .Mac and the price shot up to $99.95 a year. Apple dropped KidSafe, upped the iDisk storage too and introduced “Backup” which was an OS X app to backup files and folders to the online iDisk.

It was pretty clear that Apple didn’t truly put a lot of thought into .Mac because, while was touting, “Macs don’t get viruses”, .Mac touted that you get a McAfee’s Virex Antivirus software for free just for joining and Apple stores across the U.S. were required to maintain a 60 percent attach rate for .Mac on all new Macs sold.

Apple still had a better service than any other web service, mostly because the cloud services that were existent saw Macintosh as too small of a market (remember this is 2002) and Apple seamlessly integrated .Mac into the system to the point where a power user may be nagged to just buy it already as Quicktime and iMovie had a “Send to .Mac” feature and Apple Mail placed .Mac as the first choice when adding a new e-mail account.

Apple lost thousands of subscribers in the shift to a paid model but many stayed until Google and other competitors began strengthening their cloud offerings. In 2008, Apple finally upgraded the aging online subscription model with real features that power users were aching for.

MobileMe, released in June of 2008 at WWDC, still included e-mail, iDisk and your own personal homepage (via iWeb ’09) but the new killer feature was sync. You could now keep multiple PCs, Macs, iPhones and now iPads in sync instantly via the web with calendars, contacts and email talking to each other to ensure the latest info is always on the device you have with you.

Apple’s foray into cloud syncing was a failure at first. Steve sent out this letter shortly after MobileMe’s launch admitting the MobileMe launch was a failure saying, “The launch of MobileMe was not our finest hour.” Apple gave out free months of service to people who purchased the new service and improvements were made. Since then, Apple has done little to add to the service and MobileMe is now completely overshadowed by every other competitor in the market. Even startups like started by a couple of guys with some angel financing were able to top Apple’s iDisk that was introduced back with iTools in 2000.

Apple added features like “Find my iPhone” in 2009 and continued to make slight improvements, but Google offers e-mail, sync, storage, calendars, contacts and more for free. Sure, Google has advertising but no one seems to care, because $99 for an email address and some syncing between devices is completely ludicrous now that we’re half-way in to 2010. We featured a post in February, “10 Ways to Make MobileMe Perfect” which detailed exactly what Apple needs to do to find relevance again among a slew of superior products from competitors.

Another great example of Apple completely missing an opportunity with MobileMe is the iPad. Why must you sync with iTunes and deal with a difficult-to-use interface to get documents on and off of the iPad? Why isn’t MobileMe the key that makes iPad a true on the go device? In his review, John Gruber writes:

Apple has MobileMe, but because it’s a paid service, they can’t (or at least won’t) assume that all iPad owners are going to use it. But then even those of us who do u

se MobileMe get stuck with a first-run iPad experience that involves a tethered USB connection to a computer. The Apple Way is to assume that your primary data stores for these things are locally stored on your Mac or PC — Address Book, iCal.

I think most of the Mac community has accepted that iTools, .Mac and now MobileMe is a product for new users and not a service for power users and my personal motto became, “those who know, don’t use MobileMe.” It wasn’t until Google’s I/O conference last week in San Francisco that I realized how poorly Apple is positioned in the fight for mobile dominance.

Google released Android version 2.2 with over the air everything. You can purchase music in your web browser and it’s on your Android phone instantly. The same goes for Google Maps links, which you can click “send to phone” and the maps app opens automatically. The real power of Android is entering your Google ID and all of your data comes down from the cloud and stays in sync without ever plugging into a computer. Apple has completely failed at this.

I’m not writing the death of MobileMe just yet. Apple’s recent beta release of a new and improved MobileMe webmail is a step in the right direction, but it still has a long way to go.

Apple purchased which is an incredible startup that allows you to stream music that you’ve purchased from anywhere and Apple has announced the closure of Lala on May 31 (only a few days ahead of WWDC). One can only imagine that Google’s ultra-cool over the air music purchase technology demoed last week will soon be old news as iTunes in The Cloud becomes a reality where your entire music library travels with you anywhere as long as you have an Internet connection.

The ultimate task for Apple is to bite the bullet and make MobileMe free again. It’s easy to compare Google to Apple’s products when one is free and the other is $99, but when comparing two free services and accounting that MobileMe is built into every Apple device you own, it’s a much easier consideration for users. Doing the math is easy when you consider that Apple might make $99 per user per year but losing an iPhone sale to Google’s Android platform is a far greater loss and Apple needs to free MobileMe from a subscription model to compete head on with Google.

Of course, there’s a lot more Apple can do beyond simply offering up MobileMe for free. Remember This collaboration tool goes head to head with Google Docs in many ways but it’s still in beta over a year after being previewed at Macworld 2009 and Apple lead us to believe it would actually be charging for this when iWork left public beta.

I could go on and on comparing Apple to Google in every way, but it’s clear that Google is the winner and that wouldn’t change even if Apple dropped the price of their suite of tools to $0. That boat has set sail and Apple is still offering a miniscule 20GB iDisk storage and iDisk is just as reliable as it was 10 years ago. Let’s hope Google’s kick in the butt with Android 2.2 will encourage Apple to step it up and bring MobileMe up to speed very soon.

For those interested in cloud computing or data centers, check out our Structure conference in June.

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