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Apple’s Mobile Dominance and MobileMe

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It’s becoming abundantly clear that Apple (s aapl) needs to improve MobileMe. Obviously, Android is now Apple’s biggest threat in the mobile space and Google’s (s goog) 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.

30 Responses to “Apple’s Mobile Dominance and MobileMe”

  1. Contacts and Calendar are just fine and solid (except for the one time where I “lost” a contact..).
    The iDisk is horribly slow and loses against free services like dropbox. Gallery is nothing good either as it fails to sync large amount of pictures. The mobileme website is slow and not what I would expect from apple in most parts, even though the mail beta is a change for the better.

    Not having to pay the 79 EUR / year would of course help to just accept flaws but I’d rather see mobileme kick ass..

  2. Larry

    MobileMe is horrible. M 3 year subscription will not be renewed, in July….unless its free.

    Even the beta is slooooooooow. Microsoft’s offerings are 10x better, and will get even better in a few days when Live mail starts using ActiveSync.

    Wake up Apple, its to late for me, Google or Microsoft will be getting my traffic, but you may save some face with the iFan’s.

  3. Strongfist

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    This is a response to Seven ways PC World is wrong about the iPhone-Android matchup by tuaw which was a response to 7 Ways Android 2.2 Froyo Tops Apple’s iPhone by PC World

    In the article, Chris Rawson attempts to knock down Android accomplishments over the iPhone. He first claims that PC World is comparing todays iPhone with the ‘as-yet-unbuyable Froyo phones of tomorrow.’ Apparently someones outdated. Froyo has been pushed to the Nexus One handset just days after the Google I/O. Just wanted to make sure we are clear on that.

    check out the rest at

  4. Jameskatt

    While I wish Apple improved MobileMe – e.g. increasing storage space and bandwidth by using their new North Carolina storage facility – I realize that Apple will only do this if it MAKES MONEY.

    As an Apple stockholder (i.e. owner of Apple), I only want Apple to do things which increase its profit and bottom line. If Apple can make more money on the sales of its other products, then improving MobileMe is fine. Otherwise, I’ll live with it as it is.

    Remember, that Google hardly makes money on anything outside of Advertising. Despite all of Google’s projects, Google is essentially giving things away for free and wasting a lot of money doing so – exactly like what Microsoft does with its money. Both Google and Microsoft are very similar in that they both have a HUGE monopoly on something – Google has search, Microsoft has Office and Windows. Apple doesn’t have a huge monopoly on anything. For example, in the music business, Apple has tons of competition and at most 27% of all music sales. That doesn’t add to a monopoly at all. Further, generally people aren’t forced to buy Apple’s products but people are forced to use Google’s search and Microsoft’s Office and Windows because there is no strong alternative. Apple has to survive by simply creating the best product and hope people will buy it.

    Thus, I don’t support Apple giving anything away for free, without a concomitant increase in profit elsewhere.

    • Larry

      Apple has 71% of digitally distributed music. 27% of all music sales. Digitally distributed music grows each month and other forms shrink.

      That is why the government is looking at Apple right now.

  5. Shane

    I agree.

    While my concerns surround a single device (my iphone), now that I’m considering getting an ipad, I really don’t want to have to connect one then the other to my mac book just to get them in sync.

    The ability to transfer content over the air is a real want to have feature. While I’m prepared to suffer with restrictions to the music and video content (but leave my personal video out of this please), I’d love to be able to share photos and documents between my devices more freely!!

    It’s got bluetooth for crying out loud, this is one of the reasons it was created!!

    Apple continues to get in the way of its own innovation!! Sake the apple police and just loosen the control guys!

    • kisap

      I use MobileMe. I have been smart enough to arrange my things so that I don’t have to work anymore (10 years to retirement). My daughter was was nominated “The Student of The Year” in a major university (I suppose she has inherited her wit from me).

      • Larry

        If I was retired I would not care if my email did not make it to some people or I never got some email. However I do care and that is why I dont use the email portion of MobileMe.

        I agree, as it stands today its worthless. Slow and buggy.

  6. @Klaus: +1

    One more feature MobileMe is missing and which makes it unsuitable for any serious use: the restriction to use mail addresses only.


  7. Couldn’t agree with you more. Apple has completely lost this battle compared to Google, yet NOBODY AT APPLE seems to care about this at all! MobileMe is HORRENDOUS, compared to the offerings from Google.

    (You also forgot to mention that Apple has completely abandoned its Backup application… it isn’t even advertised on their MobileMe website anymore.)

  8. swellman

    Charge a lot less for it (better yet – free), let me keep my current email address, and I would consider using it just for the calendar sync feature.

  9. Alexander von Below

    “those who know, don’t use MobileMe.”: So you mean that I am a dimwit?

    I use MobileMe — and I have a little root server in colocation, too.


  10. Gazoobee

    Good article. I have one niggly point though…

    You say “Apple led us to believe it would actually be charging for this when iWork left public beta…” but I have never found any actual source for that rumour. People generally believe this and it’s talked about a lot but I don’t think Apple actually said that.

    Even if they did, it would most likely be rolled into the price of the product (iWork), not the service (MobileMe). It’s already a dirt cheap product with excellent reviews, so it’s hard to see how price will ever be an issue.

    Personally, I’d like to see Apple get serious about making iWork and especially Pages a real competitive mobile solution. Pages on the desktop is “usable,” Pages on the iPad is “interesting” (and hopefully will be useable soon), Pages on the web is more like an idea that hasn’t yet happened. I’d like to see Pages become a real first class contender, I already prefer it over Microsoft’s stuff, but it’s really not ready for prime time yet.

  11. RichardL

    Let’s not overlook that MobileMe is also a substandard product when it comes to security (and therefore your privacy).

    MobileMe is a product where Apple bundles a handful of cloud computing services in a one-stop easy-to-setup package. Most of these services can be obtained elsewhere on the internet for free. But Apple charges $100/year — a not-insignificant fee that’s comparable to the annual costs of full commercial versions of Microsoft Office or Adobe Photoshop. Now Apple is not the only cloud computing product that treats security capriciously — as examples Hotmail and Yahoo Mail are equally guilty and should be berated too, but then again those services are free.

    Apple now describes themselves as being primarily in the business of mobile computing products. A consumer choosing to buy MobileMe assumes they are buying a suite of services that are satisfactory for mobile use as the name MobileMe would imply. As an example, suitable for use on public Wifi networks. How do we know the product is satisfactory? By
    gaging how well all the services conform to a consistent set of standards for quality, security and reliability.

    Or not.

    Such standards work both ways. And the security standards of MobileMe are dragged into the dirt by the shoddy implementations of some of the central services. The security issues have been well known for years now. Apple ignores them.

  12. David Chartier

    Which Google service lets me sync third party data between Macs for apps like MacJournal, Shimo, SOHO Notes, and Transmit? Is it part of my Google Account or do I need to sign up for Google Apps?

    Which Google service gives me up to 20GB of web space and 200GB of monthly bandwidth for hosting a website that is built from Dreamweaver, iWeb, TextMate, or virtually any HTML authoring tool?

    Which Google service lets me backup all the data from my phone – including media and third party app data – with a single plug, then restore it to a new device simply by plugging it in and approving a couple of dialog boxes?

    I’m certainly not saying that MobileMe is perfect – it needs some feature improvements to integrate much better with the three devices Apple wants us to use it with. But the Mail beta at least shows that Apple knows that and, more importantly, is acting on it.

    I’m a big fan of MobileMe and Gmail, I even use Google Apps for my domain. But these are two very different services that serve different customers with different features, and are monetized in different ways. Google gives its services “for free” and asks you to give up some of your privacy and UI space for ads. Google has a zillion competitors in this space, from Yahoo to Hotmail and everyone in between. Why does Apple have to do things Google’s way?

    I use MobileMe and many of its services (that most rants like this always seem to miss) specifically because they’re not Google. If you want Google services, and you’re happy with the way Google runs things… then why not use Google’s products? Isn’t that what a capitalist market and the ability to choose between products are designed to allow?

    Google, Yahoo, Hotmail, and a zillion others all do things just about the same way. What’s wrong with Apple offering a different option?

  13. AlfieJr

    yes, all these good points are pretty obvious.

    i have to think the huge new Apple server farm now (almost?) complete in North Carolina is intended for a whole new generation of Apple “cloud” services, presumably via MobileMe and iTunes. so let’s suppose Apple has been waiting for this capacity, and now …

    hope to hear some news next week at WWDC. to start yes, MM should definitely come free with purchase of Mac hardware. fingers X’d.

  14. Klaus

    Thank you for speaking my mind!

    I would like to add one more feature MobileMe is missing and which makes it unsuitable for any serious use: the restriction to use mail addresses only.

    This is 2010, and most people these days have multiple addresses, e.g. personal accounts, correspondence addresses for their clubs or associations, eBay, work addresses, you name it. People have their own domains, too, and after years of using them don’t appreciate being restricted to when they sign up for MobileMe.

    As you said, the offering is for absolute beginners only, those you don’t have a previous life online.

  15. Nicklas

    I’d love to use MobileMe but it’s simply too expensive. If they made it a free service I would jump onboard day one! And why do they have to charge for something like this? Because it’s ad-free or what?

    MobileMe seems like a cool service, but it isn’t help much either that Microsoft revamps it’s hotmail service over the summer with many cool features like 25 GB free space and 10 GB file transfer.

    If MobileMe was free, I wouldn’t use anything else. It’d be my online multimedia hub.

  16. Simon

    I use drop box for files and never use my mobile me for email, I have mobile me however for the device synch.I know that my work Mac,home Mac,iPhone and now iPad are all in synch with contacts and calendar.I know there are free alternatives but mobile me works the best in my opinion with no effort to add a new machine.

    They do need to up the anti on this front though.I havnt tried to get docs off my iPad yet but integration with a good online service (dropbox) would make life a lot easier by the looks of things

  17. I stumbled across the Calendar beta help pages the other day and if they’re anything to go by then Apple is certainly looking at making MobileMe much more useful than it currently is.

    The new Calendar sharing features will certainly be useful for me. A calendar may not seem very exciting but from what I see Calendar 2 should be a good upgrade.

    Check out the new features coming soon, particularly Calendar Sharing.

  18. kisap

    I have used MobileMe and all of its predecessors. Its great value. iDisk has totally replaced USB flash drive in my life (iDisk is so much handier). Its great for distributing stuff (photos, documents, etc.), syncing mails, address book and bookmarks between my work Mac, home Mac and iPod Touch, etc., etc. And its practically free.

  19. “…make something awesome out of MobileMe.” – Hell, I hope they make anything at all out of it. As it stands, it’s been completely useless since they started charging for it.

  20. KsbjA

    I really hope Apple is going to make something awesome out of MobileMe. I don’t trust Google, and I don’t want to give them all my personal information. Apple seems more trustworthy to me, partially because they’re not an advertising company. (Granted, they’ve got iAds, but that’s a different story – their advertising model seems to be different.)
    Speaking of Google, they’re nasty hypocrites! On the one hand – “closedness”, “evil”, “control” and other meanwhile turned completely meaningless words of bashing Apple and sucking up to their users, and on the other hand – they have all your personal information (documents, photos, mail, calendar, geographical location and history, list of visited sites and whatnot else!), they archive it all for unknown purposes, and they spam you with ads. It sure sounds tempting to do everything online, then get an Android phone and sync it – but what a threat to privacy! Apple’s “control” seems more steered towards the benefit of users – for example, the infamous App Store approval process is a necessary quality filter, without which the App store would suck as bad as Nokia’s (I have a Nokia ATM, a word of advice, don’t buy touchscreen Nokia’s!).
    Anyhow, again, I wish Apple all the best. Competition will (hopefully) result in better service for everybody, and I hope I will be able to ditch Google once and for all following releases of Apple’s new and improved web services.

  21. I couldn’t agree more, mobileme is an orphan that lacks any strategic direction and is truly in need of a champion to make it competitive. One of the few strategic areas (the Cloud) that apple is missing the boat on-