Mobile Me Shows Apple Still Dislikes Being a Team Player

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For a Steve Jobs Keynote, the kick-off to last week’s Worldwide Developer Conference was surprisingly, well, surprise-free. Apple rumor-mongers nailed the specs on the iPhone 3G, the pricing, the slipping ship date, and even the launch of Mobile Me, a major redesign of Apple’s .Mac service that focuses on Push technology for the rest of us. For subscribers of Mobile Me, all you have to do is make a change to your calendar on one platform, whether Mac, PC or iPhone, and the change instantly occurs on your other machines. Apple was going to become the Push company.

Phil Schiller demoed the applications involved, from photos to e-mail to address book for almost a half-hour, repeating the phrase “desktop-quality applications” roughly 900 times. As promised, the apps instantly updated across platforms. The Push technology really works, as well as, or, Apple hopes, even better than Microsoft Exchange for corporations. In every respect, it looked like a winning platform. For $99, anyone can have world-leading syncing of their entire digital lives. There’s just one problem: you have to use Apple’s Web applications to do that. No GMail, no Flickr, no GCal, no Facebook. Rather than delivering on the promise of automating the process of keeping every aspect of your life up to date, Apple requires you to leave behind your existing digital life to build a new one. Unless you’re an existing .Mac user, you need a new e-mail address, a new online photo gallery, a new calendar, a new form of online storage. And I, like a lot of people, am not going to make that change. I love Google Apps, Flickr, and Facebook. They’re where I keep my stuff. And that isn’t going to change any time soon. Rather than Mobile Me, Apple seems to have created Mobile Steve. To see the implications of this decision, click through.


Take calendaring. GCal has done everything that Phil Schiller demonstrated, minus the Push syncing, practically since the day it was introduced. And because it has a relatively open API, it has hooks to sync it with all kinds of different stuff – including Exchange. Google even makes a little tool for cell phones called Google Sync that brings push syncing between a Google calendar and my BlackBerry’s calendar (which push-syncs to my work’s Outlook calendar). The same works for GMail for mobile. And it’s all free.

Apple’s insistence on foisting its adequate but far from market-leading web applications on Mobile Me users is tremendously disappointing. The company is just not poised to create, maintain and dramatically update its own compelling web services. It does not have the tools to compete with Google and Yahoo on their turf. Instead, Apple should focus on its strength — putting a friendly, intuitive face on ugly technology. Take Mobile Me and use it to help people hook all of their myriad web services together into a lean, mean fighting machine. Help Flickr talk to iPhoto talk to GMail talk to Facebook talk to GCal talk to iCal talk to Jaiku talk to WordPress. Make the cloud accessible, but acknowledge that people enjoy choosing their preferred tool for a particular task instead of building all of them.

What Apple doesn’t grasp is that the real opportunity for the company isn’t in becoming a web services also-ran. In today’s Internet, we have no shortage of good web services. What we lack is an intelligent unifying technology to make them play nicely today If Mobile Me made sense of the twenty-odd Web 2.0 accounts that I had, I would subscribe in a second. Instead of focusing on expensive to develop Apple-only web services, just link together the fragments we leave online, and charge $50 for it. That would be compelling. I would sign up immediately, even before I finally pick up an iPhone.

But that’s just not the Apple way. In spite of a few signals of increased openness, Apple’s default approach is to build a mostly closed shop. The company doesn’t like to compromise on quality or consistency of look and feel. Working well with Google, Yahoo, and Facebook would lose Apple’s vision, which company leaders can’t live with. So they built their own elegant and, I fear, underpopulated playground. Even on the wide-open web, Apple distrusts anything that’s not invented here.

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  • janus

    nice post
    look into my blog and get view of porsche mobile and samsung “soul”

  • ADrian

    Sounds like your dissatisfied with the way your twenty-odd web 2.0 accounts work together and hoped Apple would come along and solve it for you.

    Not really likely to happen though.

    Apple doesn’t patch over somebody else’s old and broken; they just create their own, future, new and broken.

  • jalarmo

    Apple stays out of plenty of markets, and there are countless millions of words of blog posts complaining about it.

    “If Apple did X, they’d bring the trademark Apple user experience to an otherwise awkward device/service.”

    Apple is Apple because they know which markets *not* to get into.

    If Apple tried to “appleify” Facebook, GCal, Digg, the UMPC, the Tablet PC, the camera, the home theatre PC, the air filter, the USB key or the dog, they wouldn’t be Apple. They’d be Sony — a company that simply paints a veneer of extra usability over pre-existing devices in every possible segment and resells them for a 30% premium.

    You’re hardly the first blogger to write “Apple just doesn’t get it: they are missing out on a huge market potential.” You’re beginning with a large assumption there: that Apple is *trying* to capture the entire market.

  • steve

    Good points, Pete. My first question when listening to the keynote in the MobileMe section was “nice, but, can I integrate it with GoogleApps, twitter, facebook…?” There are tools to integrate Google calendar with iCal that works fairly well, so I’m optimistic that MobileMe’s API will allow for integration with other services that I use.

    AM: the very fact that Apple is peddling MobileMe as “Exchange for the rest of us” and have exchange support in the coming iPhone suggests they’re willing to do exactly that. As to Web2.0 aggregators, there’s several approaches out there already: friendfeed, ping.fm, socialthing – just to name a few. I think what Pete’s referring to, though, is a different level of functionality. Push technology COULD be used to enable that as most of the services we’re talking about here have APIs to do just that: integrate with the rest of your digital life.

  • theguycalledtom

    The thing I like most about Facebook is the Export button on Facebook events. It downloads an ics file which Safari sends to iCal, then that event is synced to whatever iCal syncs to.

    Likewise, all Flickr photostreams have an rss feed that you can subscribe to in iPhoto. iPhoto web galleries also have their own RSS feed.

    I haven’t tried it yet but in OSX 10.5.3 you can sync your Apple and address book with your google contacts. Since your Apple address book will also be in sync with Mobileme, your contacts should be with you where you go.

    So even without seeing any further details about Mobileme, there is already some basic tools to integrate between other web apps.

    The one thing that annoys me about Mobileme is that they have removed .Mac’s feature of seeing your bookmarks online, even though they will still be synced. I don’t see why this would be so hard to include in Mobileme since they are syncing the data anyway and they already are able to do it on .Mac

  • Si

    I think that the key to understanding the service is the tag line that they were using i.e. ‘Exchange for the rest of us’. You could re-word that as ‘Web 2.0 for the rest of us.’

    It’s for people who don’t want to juggle their information Gmail, G Calendar, Flickr et al – they just want to put it in an app or folder and have it magically appear/be accessible on all other machines that they use – or through any web browser.

    Also the elegance comes out of wanting a solution that is integrated with iPhone primarily – so it has to look slick and integrated with that device.

    Web 2.0 can be a lot of work for consumers – Apple it taking the effort out of that and is willing to bet that busy high-earners (i.e. iPhone owners!) will pay $99 for the convenience, integration and ease of use.

    Still, as you point out it’s missing a few things such as an online office – let’s see what iLife & iWork brings, shall we? I sense iPhone & Mobile Me versions of some of the major apps in these suites on the horizon…

    P.S. I won’t be subscribing though, so I agree with you! I’d need an iPhone and the mobile/web versions of the iApps before it looked tempting…

  • Pmoes

    That’s great! The more of you people who want/expect Apple to be everything to all people who don’t subscribe means more bandwidth for me!
    Apple also wants to make money. So if you are happy with the other products (which you are obviously not, because you want/expect Apple to make it all better for you) stay there and stop bitching
    I love .Mac, it suits me to the ground and will help win other people to the Mac platform, iPhone, Mac or other.
    It is designed to get people who haven’t got a clue how to navigate their way around all the flickr/gcal apps you worship to try web 2.0 for themselves and pay for the privilege to do so.
    Apple apparently has phanboys, what does google have gBoys?

  • Steve H

    I have a dot Mac account but hardly use it except for the email. I switched over from a PC to Mac last Christmas and my problem is that all my friends and family still have PC’s and so things like iChat are redundant except for use with my USA friends. I will move over to dot ME and continue but I can see both sides of the argument here. It is not about fixing things, it is about the company who can be the first to absorb all the apps into a single push platform and put out a ‘first’ that would blow everyone away! I think that day will come but in the future as all this amazing techno stuff continues to evolve!

  • Goobi

    I find mobileme really refreshing. The interface itself is breathtaking. Something without any ads or distractions. Something that is so seamless (if it works as advertised) between all my devices. I don’t have to install anything new, or have to deal with opening multiple tabs to check all of my stuff. I hope, it just works.

  • Doug

    Love .Mac, totally diggin’ Mobile Me, I run everything in the Apple environment and have very few problems. Hopefully this just pulls (or pushes….heh) a lot more people on board. Pure and simple, Apple just does it right and for the most part, worry free. For my digital life, that’s for me!

  • Jaye

    you seem to be making some possibly bad assumptions here.

    1. that apple has no plans to do just what you said, in the future. one must crawl before walking before running
    2. that apple didn’t approach some of these other folks with the idea and was told ‘no thanks’
    3. that apple is trying to reach everyone at this point and not perhaps focusing on those that don’t have such geeked out digital worlds with 50 different online toys going on.

  • fernando

    There is a compelling need, as you state, for popular web2.0 synchronization of what become popular (flickr, facebook, etc.). Yet, why put the onus on Apple? True, they are the best at the “product skin” end of things, but hardly one can levy upon them the need to fulfill someone’s (whatever the percentage of hardcore web 2.0 users) needs.

    Yes, the feudal approach to Apple products, and yet “open” flavor when convenient can be annoying.

    However, solving everything for everyone sounds a bit more like Microsoft. As you point out, « What Apple doesn’t grasp is that the real opportunity for the company isn’t in becoming a web services also-ran. » is exactly what I see the problem with Microsoft, and your call for this integration role from Apple is just as fraught with problems as being an also-ran within their domain.

    From the flavor of the article, I would say that you have business plan in the works to create a company to do as you wish to be solved. The question is if in you pursuing this business plan, will you find out that the web2.0 fan-boys that require such integration can provide enough of a profitable to make it alluring for Sand Hill Rd. people. If you do not find it as compelling of a business plan… should Apple? Microsoft? IBM?

  • imajoebob

    I was considering getting .mac when I finally replace my PowerBook Ti. And it’s going to happen soon, out of necessity. It’s sort of like the Rolling Stones; it’s got got no business still working, but damn if it doesn’t still do a great job.

    I don’t have a problem with it’s proprietary aspects. Jobs always decides that he knows best and rolls the dice. If he can convince enough people, they beat a path to his door. If Google thinks his mobileMe has enough (valuable) users, they’ll make it work with Gmail. And Steve also believes one of his users is worth many multiples of others’ users. And the demographics prove it. Remember when CBS was ratings king with programs like “Murde r She Wrote” and “Diagnosis Murder?” NBC cleaned their clock in ad revenues with smaller but much more desirable audiences. I think Job’s is counting on that.

    What I do have a problem with is that STUPID name! It’s either for 12 year old girls or it’s Microsoft’s “Millenium Edition” back from the dead. It’s Zombie software! Run away! Run away! I know that’s a lousy reason to not use it, but would you want a Porsche Pinto?

    I might go for it, but only because I’d use my (free trial) email@mac.com address.

  • Steve

    I am a current .Mac user and I like what I have seen of MobileMe. I use Gcal for my personal and family calendaring (that will change with MobileMe) but you would think that because they use icaldev, I should easily be able to sync, with ical for free (I purchased Busysync). I am not sure why you like Flicker, because Picasa offers better iPhoto syncing which is free, but for me they both pale in comparison to web gallery (I don’t have to worry about pictures of my kids showing up in advertising campaigns without permission). It’s not like Facebook is open either, so that argument is a non-starter.

    I am not sure why you think Apple should be open when so many other companies are not (it’s not like you can have Google Talk and speak with someone on Yahoo! Messenger). It is not Apple’s job to open up the world that’s what the open source community it there for. Apple is there to make money, by producing products that work great with other Apple products; availability on other machines is a bonus.

  • carl

    One thing I’ve come to see about Apple (and I have two Macs) is that just b/c Apple makes a product doesn’t mean that the product is all that good (Mail and iCal and Time Machine, for example) and the benefits of Apple’s integration are often exaggerated. Re: the latter point, there are many third-party vendors that make excellent products that easily work with OSX and outperform Apple’s offering (e.g. SuperDuper is a much better backup than Time Machine)and, just as importantly, don’t bind you to the Apple ecosystem. As someone who is trying out .mac (two months in) and trying to figure out what’s so exciting about MobileMe, I can see that the more one integrates via Apple the greater one’s risk of being locked in — and we all know what happens when you’re locked into a company (e.g., cable TV service circa 1995).

  • jbilgihan

    I am a .mac user since 2001. Used for email, pictures, etc. I don’t think apple is targeting people who are already sync-savy or have significant digital footprints already. They are selling an easy to use service that intergrates most of the devices and apps that people buy when they get a new system at the apple store.

    If you are using GCal, Facebook, twitter, et. al. mobile me is not going to help you (unless you already use .mac and have a .mac email).

    James

  • leigh

    Great post, Pete and super insightful. Web-services aggregation and integration is where it’s at for a company like Apple.

    RIM’s dominate play has been how they enable device integration with external services. Apple had an opportunity to significantly LEAP FROG their dominate competition, by aggregating the services of OUR choice rather than attempting to provision services of their choosing.

    Instead they’re an also ran.

  • Ritchie

    Well, does anybody here managed to correctly sync their Address Book with Gmail ??

    Nope ! It’s impossible to be dual-sided, specially if you want to have a sort order of “Last Name, First Name”, you’ll double the size of your Mac Address Book and loose one day (or more) to clean it up.

    The only sync that works (with limits) is Plaxo, where you can also sync your iCal (but it’s startign to fail for me !!!)

    All this to tell you that I’m starting to be fed up with plenty of services that don’t work perfectly, and I’ll seriously test MobileMe when it comes out and maybe move over !

    Another thing that got me annoyed is the fact that Gmail sends you spam, when it gets an email where the address is very close to yours, it sends it to you if it doesn’t find the address in its list. Exemple:

    You are named John Smith, you created jsmith@gmail.com

    If Gmail receives a mail for a j.smith@gmail.com and there are no such address in it’s list, you’ll get it !!! More spam !!!

    Don’t get me wrong, I love Google Mail, Google Calendar, Google Docs, Google Notebook, and specially the easy sharing, BUT details are starting to itch me, and I’m looking for a better service even if I have to pay for it !!! Geez, Google Notebook doesn’t even work with Safari, it’s not like its new !!! And what about all those Beta labels, I mean its been some years already !!!!

    So I’ll test MobileMe, and I’m pretty sure I’ll move over from Google to MobileMe, because of all those details.

    Cheers,

    Richard
    PS: I don’t have any relation whatsoever with a John Smith …

  • Stuart

    I think Apple suspects there’s a great deal of us out there who have absolutely no interest in social networking sites or how they can help us add more people we barely know to them.

  • Christian Messer

    Has anyone read about what Mobile Me was built with??? It’s called SproutCore. It’s n open source, platform-independent, Cocoa-inspired JavaScript framework for creating web applications that look and feel like Desktop applications.

    Yeah – so I think that with that, remind yourself of what Apple is doing with the iPhone app store – and you can clearly see that something is up with the bigger picture.

    Oh wait – I see someone has already posted my thoughts:

    “you seem to be making some possibly bad assumptions here.

    1. that apple has no plans to do just what you said, in the future. one must crawl before walking before running
    2. that apple didn’t approach some of these other folks with the idea and was told ‘no thanks’
    3. that apple is trying to reach everyone at this point and not perhaps focusing on those that don’t have such geeked out digital worlds with 50 different online toys going on.

    Jaye, on June 16th, 2008 at 7:06 am”

    Nuff said.

  • Christian Messer

    I forgot to mention that part of my knowledge on this comes from Apple Insider’s article, to quote:

    “Apple didn’t just use SproutCore, it also contributed major performance updates and added lots of new functionality. Apple’s contributions have helped make SproutCore the ideal way to build web applications that work like desktop Cocoa apps, as noted in the article Cocoa for Windows + Flash Killer = SproutCore.”

    To me this says Apple did play well with others – on this account.

  • zahadum

    yep, Christian Messier is right about the signifigance of sproutcore, the cocoa-inspired, apple-enhanced version of javascript used to create the mobileme user experience.

    cf the brilliant analysis at http://www.roughlydrafted.com/

    the real issue is apple’s platform strategy with cloud services: they now have a front-end that will (nearly) finish off their tool-chain for the cloud … webobjects is their middleware, and the itunes data centre(s) is their infrastructure (now all they need is a serious commitment to postgress/SQL3 and some OIL+DAML and they would have their back-end story completed as well!).

    apple’s goal here — beyond making a first step towards wsdl which is actually designed to integrate/orchestrate/choreograph the web experience — is to create for the web the same sorts of useful & useable /ABSTRACTIONS/ that it has created for the desktop experience and the mobile experience.

    to complain that mobileme does not do x or y in its /first/ substantive iteration is to miss the point about what apple’s platform-scale ambitions for web2.0 are.

    yes, mobileme is underwhelming (for $100) and it should integrate more (non-apple) stuff — but those are not powerful insights into the significance of apple’s approach to the cloud as a platform.

    (however these will become compelling criticisms if apple orphans its cloud platform when the next shiny thing comes along – eg a chance to enter the console marketplace etc etc …. we all recall how apple abandoned the ‘digital hub’ strategy of the 90’s when it got over-stretched delivering os/x … a logistics problem caused by the chronic under-staffing that has plagued apple since Jobs returned & gutted the engineering department in half).

  • theguycalledtom

    Yeah that would be awesome if they let other people add apps to MobileMe through an App Store specifically for it.

  • Ralph

    I can’t think of a more narrow analysis.

    Funny you don’t mention how displeased you are that flickr and web picasa don’t work with each other.

  • C

    I hate the name MobileMe. Will there be a reduced feature version called MobileMiniMe for $49?

    I am trying to close my .Mac account and get a prorated amount back just because MobileMe sounds like Micro$oft crap.

    Going to Google.

  • Joshua

    It’s kinda weird that Apple advertised mail syncing, because if you have one email account, you’ll be able to access that email account from anywhere and read the same mail.

    Just a random comment =D

  • Chip Warren

    I’ve read a few of these MobileMe vs Gmail debates because I’m an avid Gmail user, but I’m also a fan of the Cloud system that Mac has launched and will undoubtedly be improving over months to come. I don’t think it has to be an either/or debate. Read on:

    I have several Gmail accounts: one personal, one for online accounts, and others for my different shades of professional endeavor. The latter may sound like excess, but I manage these fluidly with filters and forwarding.

    So why would I give this up just to take advantage of Push technology? I’m also a huge fan of 43 Folders and Merlin Mann’s Inbox Zero, so adding another domain to my Gmail system initially reeked as clutter.

    But then I realized, do I really want to manage all of my Gmail from my iPhone, via push technology? Or could the iPhone contribute to my Inbox Zero email management? The answers, respectively, NO! and ABSOLUTELY!

    The solution I’m about to describe (which I believe to be quite elegant) might not work for everyone — but I think it’s the bee’s knees.

    Simply by setting up filters in my Gmail account, I can forward the most important email, the most likely email to need immediate response (which isn’t much), or email from close friends and family to my MobileMe account. It’s simple to let those “inner circle” contacts know what’s up with the @me.com address, if they notice at all.

    Then when I am back at my computer, I know which email—the most important email—I’ve already read or replied to. This makes it much easier to scan whatever else is waiting for me, that second tier of email.

    This filter system works great for me, and it’s organic. It can grow as my needs or wants change, and IT’S NOT all or nothing. It allows my iPhone and MobileMe to become an effective part of my email management. It also gives me the peace of mind that if my iPhone indicates a new mail message, I’m not going to open it up and find that forwarded joke from Aunt Millie or a solicitation or a distant hello from a former colleague.

    ALSO: You can mask your email outgoing from your iPhone to appear to be sent from Gmail. Check David Berube’s Blog for details.

    Hope this helps a few folks seeking to avoid the bipartisan Gmail vs MobileMe debate!

    Best,

    GLW, Jr