Google: The Next (free) .Mac?

I never subscribed to .Mac, not even the free version, so when I read all of the recent editorials floating around, I really don’t have much to compare to. From a distance, .Mac looks pretty slick, but despite it’s appeal as an Apple product, ripping on .Mac seems to be the new hot thing. So, excuse me as I jump on the bandwagon for a bit.

After reading Michael Heilemann’s recent rant on .Mac, I’m beginning to think it’s official: Apple’s .Mac offerings just aren’t enough to go head-to-head with Google.

.Mac v Gmail

What Apple is Up Against

Apple’s .Mac is great. For a hundred bucks a year you gain a mac.com email address, remote storage, a few web services, and all kinds of seamless integration with OSX and third-party applications. It’s “Your life. On the Internet,” as they say. Their features work as advertised, and all told it seems like a pretty nice package. Until you take a look out your window and see what the competition has been up to.

We all know Google, the veritable 800 pound gorilla of the internet, but not everyone is familiar with the wealth of offerings that Google has made available. For starters, there’s GMail, complete with integrated Google Talk (their Jabber-compatible chat client). Anyone can sign up, and it’s completely free.

Google sweetens the deal with their hosted solutions, providing anyone with a web domain the option of using GMail, Google Talk, and Google Calendar with their own email address. You can also browse your RSS subscriptions from within GMail, a trick I wish Apple’s Mail would’ve learned long ago. If you’re lucky enough to have your own domain, Google lets you set up as many email aliases as you’d like, each with their own GMail interface. We’ve been using it over at Fresh Pursuits for a while, and it’s brilliant. I only wish Google would offer IMAP services.

Google, of course, has a plethora of other services, though none offer the remote-storage functionality that you can get with iDisk and iSync. So, two points to Apple for seamless integration, but negative 5 points for making me pay for it. And another negative ten for missing the bandwagon on social networking and real-time chat.

As Rui Carmo aptly put it earlier this month, “it’s not about the cash, it’s about the functionality.” Sure, the new .Mac webmail is soon to be released, but in the face of Gmail and Yahoo’s spiffy Javascript-packed interface, it may be too little too late. (In Apple’s defense, the new .Mac webmail offers a few very nice features).

It’s only a matter of time before someone unlocks the Google API and builds OSX syncing software for us all. Good luck, Apple.

Give (Your) People What They Want

There have been literally hundreds of rants on .Mac, including a wonderful piece by our own Eddie Hargreaves. I’m not here to add to the pile of criticisms, but I’ll do my best to summarize what I’ve noted.

It seems to me that Apple has doomed .Mac by forgetting to uphold three relatively simple rules.

  1. Listen to your users.
  2. Deliver on your promises.
  3. Make your die-hard fans feel special.

The list of insults and broken promises from Apple with respect to .Mac is long, and makes me wonder who’s idea this whole .Mac thing was in the first place. For a company that has been brought back from the dead by it’s die-hard fans, it seems ludicrous to deliver these same mavens a slap in the face when it comes to integrated web service. Where’s the tiered membership? Why do we all have to be treated like Mac-novices?

Maybe we need .Mac Pro to match the rest of the “pro” line.

Integrate, Don’t Recreate

We’re living in an era of connectivity and open-source development. The big names in internet media and search tools have some many simple open APIs, that it’s becoming hard to find a personal website that doesn’t integrate Google, Del.icio.us, and Flickr. Flickr and Del.icio.us focus on what they do best and continue to develop their strengths further.

Why, then, does Apple continue to reinvent the wheel? What .Mac needs is so much more than a new interface — it needs integration, or it will fail. It’s going to take a whole lot more than the horrendous rollover effect on the .Mac homepage to entice a true user base.

It’s just like what Merlin Mann wrote last month, .Mac needs to become a hub. Surely, “my life online” consists of much more than cheesy photo galleries and e-cards.

It’s Hard to Argue With Free

I can honestly say that I don’t ever forsee myself purchasing a .Mac subscription. I’ve better ways to spend my money, especially when folks like Google do social networking, RSS, and email better than .Mac — all for free.

The future of .Mac is truly up in the air, as more and more Apple regulars drop the service from their internet repertoire, the uphill battle that Apple is already fighting will become more futile. Unfortunately, Apple continues to treat this corner of their product line shrouded in the same cloud of mystery that their hardware is developed under, making it next to impossible for them to gauge what we want or how we’re react to it. If you build it… well, you know.

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