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  • The WWDC Report #2: Is MobileMe a Big Letdown?

    June 9th, 2008

    Shortly after the WWDC keynote ended Monday morning, an estimated one to two million members of Apple’s .Mac service received an email message from the mother ship, which began: “Today Apple announced a new Internet service called MobileMe — taking the best of .Mac and adding a host of new features. As a current .Mac member, your account will be automatically upgraded to MobileMe in July.”

    Now we all understand that .Mac has been an under achiever for an awfully long time. Even Steve Jobs has admitted as much. At $99, storage space of 10GB isn’t a big deal, and there are those erratic and never-ending service outages to contend with.

    Of course, Microsoft has notorious for rebranding a product that doesn’t succeed as well as expected, so you have to wonder whether Apple had any of this in mind in creating MobileMe. But that’s not the entire story.

    For most of you, the most significant new feature in MobileMe is “push.” As Apple says in that email: “Push email. Push contacts. Push calendar. In addition to Mac-to-Mac syncing, MobileMe now keeps your iPhone or iPod touch in sync too. MobileMe pushes new contacts, calendar items, and bookmarks to your Mac or PC, and over the air to your iPhone or iPod touch. For example, if you add a calendar event on the web, the change will automatically be pushed to your Mac and iPhone. New email will be pushed to your iPhone in seconds, eliminating the need to check for messages manually.”

    Just to clarify the market-speak, yes, sync capabilities are available from PC-to-PC and between Macs and PCs.

    Indeed “push” technology is a technique that immediately moves your data back and forth without having to wait for a fixed time for receiving email, or synchronizing the rest of your stuff.

    That’s what Microsoft offers with its Exchange email service, and simplifying and refining a usually arcane technology for regular people is a large part of Apple’s magic touch. So you can well understand how MobileMe is being promoted as “Exchange for the rest of us.”

    However, MobileMe is not groupware. It’s primarily a souped-up .Mac designed for for empowering individuals. And thus the interfaces of all the components that formerly constituted .Mac will be refined, made more elegant, and also easier to operate on an iPhone.

    The removal of the “Mac” label is also meant to make the service more palatable to Windows users, and it will be designed for both, same as iTunes, Safari and all the rest of Apple’s two-platform products. It will work with the current versions of the major browsers, ranging from Safari to Firefox and even Internet Explorer.

    So what’s going to happen to your existing stuff over at .Mac? Well, other than getting a new set of clothes, in keeping with Apple’s promise, you’ll lose none of your data. Your account will be automatically converted, and your storage allotment will increase accordingly.

    In addition to those new or modified features, and interface refinements, the standard storage package will double to 20GB, and if you opted for an extra-cost storage upgrade, that, too, will double.

    As to your email address, you’ll get two. One will be your existing mac.com address, and the other will be a me.com account, with the same username. Pick your poison. But at least you won’t have to send any change of addresses notices anytime soon. I do suspect, however, that after a few years of this, Apple might indeed phase out the various .Mac designations for the sake of simplicity, less confusion, or whatever.

    So what’s the cost of all this joy? It’s still $99, folks, although discounts can be had from time to time, particularly when you buy a new Mac, or you do a little price shopping online.

    I suppose MobileMe isn’t a bad name among the potential choices, though it sounds a little juvenile to me. I can imagine grade school students embracing that title without hesitation, but it seems a little much if you’re over 13. The same goes for that me.com email address, which is the main reason while I plan to hold onto my mac.com email address for as long as Apple will allow.

    The real concern, however, is one that was never discussed during the keynote, and that’s too bad. While I realize there may be some network glitches during the initial transition process, the question remains just how Apple plans to handle the ongoing service issues that periodically impacted .Mac over the years. In addition to the push messaging, they might have said something about working on the servers to improve reliability and performance.

    But they didn’t, and I remain highly skeptical that anything will change, other than that there will be more to break.

    At the same time, I’ve grown accustomed to my mac.com email address, and I do use the iDisk storage space on a rare occasion. So I’ll probably keep my membership active for a while longer.

    Apple, however, is going to have to work a lot harder to convert the skeptics. Let’s see how well they fare with the reinvention of .Mac.

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