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Summary:

In response to complaints about MobileMe, the latest terse Steve-mail asserts Apple’s cloud services “will get a lot better in 2011.” That’s good, because it’s hard to imagine the industry-trailing MobileMe taking a downward turn from where it is in 2010.

mobileme-feature

My MobileMe Fantasy

In response to complaints about MobileMe, the latest terse Steve-mail (via MacRumors) asserts Apple’s cloud services “will get a lot better in 2011.” That’s good, because it’s hard to imagine the industry-trailing MobileMe taking a downward turn from where it is in 2010.

The Competition

While a year of MobileMe goes for as little as $50 on eBay, Apple sells the service for $99 per year, or $69 for the first year with the purchase of a Mac or qualifying iOS device. For that, the MobileMe subscriber gets services like IMAP e-mail, data syncing, photo and website hosting, an interminably slow iDisk, a questionable Backup, and Find My iPhone. They also get 20 GB of storage and 200 GB of monthly bandwidth. There’s also a MobileMe Family Pack for $149, providing more e-mail addresses, storage, and bandwidth.

In comparison, Google offers free e-mail, data syncing, photo hosting, along with a free office suite, and free Android device location. If you need more than a limited amount of storage, it’s cheap. 200GB can be had for $50, with less space available for less money. Microsoft provides 25 GB of storage, along with free e-mail and other similar services, all for free. See where this is going? Apparently Apple doesn’t. Apple just recently  introduced Find My iPhone for free, but it basically had to because of what the competition is offering.

Sell Hardware, Not Services

That’s just the latest example of the miserly attitude Apple has had towards the cloud, an attitude that is a far cry from the forward-thinking introduction of iTools in 2000. When that predecessor to MobileMe launched, all services were free, and millions signed up. Two years later, Apple renamed iTools .Mac and started charging for it, losing about 90 percent of users in the process. Even after opening the service up to PC users, and more recently iOS devices, MobileMe has never been as popular as iTools. A free MobileMe would change that.

If it seems counterintuitive to give services away free that currently earn money on a subscription basis, it is, unless you aren’t really in the software subscription business to begin with, which Apple is not. Last quarter, Apple earned $20.3 billion in revenue, with just under $18 billion coming from sale of Macs and iOS devices. MobileMe was lumped in with software and services, which presumably includes OS X and applications like iLife and iWork. The entire group earned $662 million for the quarter. From desktops to handhelds, Apple is in the business of selling computers, and free cloud services sells more hardware, or at least help retain more existing hardware customers.

By making MobileMe free, those using it with iOS devices won’t be using services from Google or Microsoft, which makes switching to Windows Phone 7 or Android more difficult. While PC users would also have MobileMe free, they’d need to have iOS devices to make it really worth using. The Halo Effect, which argues that iOS device sales later lead to Mac sales mitigates the loss associated with giving away MobileMe to PC users in the present. If they do switch, free MobileMe helps encourage them to remain all-Apple in the future. Free MobileMe would be an investment in hardware customer retention, and it doesn’t even have to be completely free.

For example, Apple could give away a year of MobileMe with the purchase of every Mac or iOS device. After all, they already offer a discount with purchase. Free MobileMe would be an incentive to upgrade every year, like the “free” year’s warranty you get by upgrading your iPhone every year. However, that would still cause at least some consternation when the $99 bill comes due a year later if you don’t upgrade. A better solution would be to offer a version of MobileMe free for anyone using a Mac or iOS Device.

MobileMe Lock-in

If I were in charge of Apple marketing and stuck with the cloying MobileMe moniker, I’d go with: MobileFree, MobileMe ($49), and MobileWe ($99). The latter would be the MobileMe Family Pack. The prices would be reduced, of course, because this is 2010 and storage is cheap, especially in North Carolina, home of Apple’s new data center. MobileFree would include a basic set of services: mail, syncing, hosting, and a more appropriately named device locating service. Additional services and storage could be added in paid tiers.

Admittedly, most people would be happy with the free option, but there would be money to be made with advanced services, too. A service called Cloud Capsule would be a real, reliable backup solution using Time Machine off-site. Domain hosting would be Apple’s simple, elegant answer to what can be a difficult service to set up for the non-technophile. Perhaps a subscription iTunes service. These are just examples of ways to get people to use more storage and services to generate revenue, but revenue from MobileMe is not, and never will be, the point in and of itself.

The point is lock-in. Get people using Apple’s free services with Apple’s highly profitable hardware, and they’ll be less likely to buy hardware from competitors. That’s how the iTunes and App Stores work, and that’s how MobileMe could, too. If only Apple would set it free.

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  1. Even if MobileMe becomes free, Apple’s arriving very late at this ball game. Google mail and its kin already own free mail and many Mac users now consider the free features of Dropbox as the way to synch. All these competing products work so well, it’s difficult to imagine how Apple could come up with something that’d make the bother of switching worthwhile. No build-it-into-the-OS-so-they-must-use-it will counter products as easy to set up and use as Google Mail and Dropbox.

    I suspect the blame rests on the same business/marketing-school-trained bean-counters who want to dribble out new features to iPhones, iPads and iPods slowly to force us to upgrade. They think that, with the proper marketing and dancing shadows, they can sell us anything, including MobileMe. Not so.

    The belated and anemic camera on iPod touches is a good example. A cleverer company wouldn’t just have a decent camera on all touches, it’d have a touch model that’s also a high-quality point-and-shoot camera, not a one-size-fits-all models differing only in storage. That’s a bit like having a line of cars differing only in the size of the trunk.

    Apple’s making the same mistake it made in the late 1980s–too little real diversity and flexibility in its products. There’s too much “our way or the highway” at Cupertino.

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    1. “A cleverer company”? A clever company know’s it’s audience. Does Apple know that people will wait in line for X-gen products and then a large percentage of those to do so again 12-18 months later when they release the next generation of the product? Another percentage taking an every 24 months approach. The fact that it is working for Apple extremely well speaks for itself. How much profit is Apple making year over year?
      Maybe they should be like Acer, etc. where all their products range from crappy to decent and are basically out of date the day they are released. Like having a huge inventory of automobiles all ranging in different shapes, size, color, etc. thus increasing the resources of production and distributing. How much profit does Acer and GM have year over year? Clever indeed.

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  2. knock a zero off the end of those GB figures and maaaaaybe

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    1. Apple offers 20GB for single users and 40GB for the family pack. If Microsoft can offer 25GB free, I don’t see why Apple can’t do better than Microsoft.

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  3. Never trust someone who offers something for free.

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    1. trust some random commenter then?

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  4. I appreciate interest and attention to Apple’s MobileMe service. But you’ve missed the point. The .mac service has always had the potential to be a uniquely valuable asset to Mac users, but has never worked right.

    MobilMe has 2 distinct advantages. 1) By mounting iDisk folder alias icons into Finder sidebar, we get the very best way to upload files. iDisk folders could be just as accessible as local folders. 2) We get to organize and name our own files on iDisk. This makes it easy to automate sharing. With one click in BlogAssist, I get a complete img src tag ready to paste. You can’t do that with any other photo sharing service, because you have to take whatever file address they decide to dish up.

    The problem with MobileMe is that Apple has always been too cheap to make make it work reliably. Making the service free is not going to help. I want to pay for great service. After all these years of hoping, I’m giving up. MobileMe keeps getting worse. Apple has refused to deliver great service, so I’m migrated to Google and gritting my teeth. If I’m doomed to bad service, it may as well be free service.

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  5. MobileMe email lacks any decent spam filtering, so the only way I can use it is by forwarding it to Gmail to let it do the spam filtering for me.

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    1. That’s what I do as well, works well :)

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  6. I stopped using this service shortly after naming shift to .Mac because I could get all the essential services with a vastly better feature set and more reliability from Google, for free. I would absolutely use Apple’s service if they offered comparable calendar sharing and email filtering, among other services. But their approach to this cloud services model has always been, as the article said, miserly.

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  7. If only this was real. It would make my $100 worth it for sure. I can only hope that Apple does what you call Cloud Capsule. They can do it now with that massive data center they just built.

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    1. While I wouldn’t pay $100 for MobileMe, I would, and do, pay about $50 a year buying it off eBay. If those deals ever went away, so would I.

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  8. Mobile me goes from bad to worse. Now it has started to refuse to accept passwords from 1password.

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  9. from your lips to god’s ears (and by god, i mean SJ)

    The point is lock-in. yes, and if they had kept iTools free they would have had millions locked in…

    sometimes it is just frustrating the small errors that they make that everyone can see is an error… it is like like they don’t have anyone out there that is mixing with the regular folk. (us non-gods)

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  10. I’ve long thought apple should offer extra value for mobileme /.mac by including, say, a free OSX/iLife upgrade while you’re a member, and/or make mobileme free for the length of your applecare warranty.

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