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Why Apple’s New .Mac—or MobileMe—Will Be More Important Than the 3G iPhone

There has been a lot of talk around the web about .Mac’s successor and it’s rumored appearance at WWDC on Monday. It started with the 10.5.3 update changing all .Mac references to a localizable string—%@—as opposed to a hard-coded name, possibly implying that Apple could change the name of .Mac in the OS with a small update.

The rumor grew as references to “MobileMe” were found in Apple patents and iPhone SDK beta strings. Then Apple was discovered to have purchased “me.com” as well as a variety of new top-level .me domains such as apple.me, ipod.me, and itunes.me.

Something is happening with .Mac—everybody knows that. The question remains as to what Apple will do to their web-based software as a service suite. I believe that if Apple plays their cards right, the new .Mac—or MobileMe—will be far bigger, and more important than the 3G iPhone announcement.

The Master Plan

Apple has always wanted full control of the hardware and the software of any device they’ve manufactured. They want you to have the best experience on your Mac, your iPod, and your iPhone. Apple, and more specifically, Steve Jobs, want to be in control of the experience you have with your Apple products.

While your Mac and your iPhone might function and integrate perfectly, there is something missing that connects them. Currently, the only “integration” between the Mac and the iPhone is a two-foot, USB cable that may occasionally get plugged in. That’s not the seamless integration and design that defines the Apple experience.

Apple’s goal—and the reason for their existence—is to integrate and control your experience across all your devices. And while Apple has succeeded at creating a stunning Mac and iPhone experience, there has always been an area that Apple has had little to no control in—the Cloud.

Cloud Computing

Cloud Computing is nothing new—I’ve written about it’s pros and cons before. Apple has a chance to completely revolutionize the cloud computing space. They have the advantage over any other company (Adobe, Google, Microsoft, etc.) because they already control the hardware and software. Combine this seamless online experience with your desktop, laptop, and iPhone, and you’ll never have to leave the cohesiveness of the Apple environment.

Apple can begin to change the way people use the Internet even with existing .Mac technologies. Kyle Baxter—author of TightWind, one of my favourite new blogs—beat me to publishing a brilliant piece on the integration of .Mac with the iPhone:

I can imagine Apple enabling iDisk on the iPhone so you are never “disconnected” from it — it connects more or less invisibly to your iPhone. No FTP login, password, and directory data to input, no UI even necessarily needed to login and connect — it does it itself.

Placing a file on your iPhone would not require the annoying steps of mounting it on your desktop, dropping it into your phone, and dismounting it. Instead, you would just drop the file in your iDisk, and suddenly that file is available to all of your devices, seamlessly. Forgot to print out a homework assignment or paper? No big deal; just access your iDisk on your iPhone and email it.

Effectively, your iPhone and your Mac would be tied together at all times by shared storage, whether they are physically connected or not.

This is just the beginning of the power that a connected experience will bring to the iPhone. Forget about an Internet connection simply meaning the ability to surf the web. The Internet will begin to be associated with the term “connected”. When connected to Apple’s online “Me” service, all of your devices will sync up—contacts, calendars, emails, passwords, and notes.

But imagine the possibilities beyond that. Imagine if Apple positions this “Me” service along with it’s mobile division rumored to be called “MobileMe”, as a consumer’s identity management. This service will know the podcasts and RSS feeds you subscribe to. It will know your user names and passwords for all the popular social networking sites. It will know the IP addresses of all your devices at any time, and will be able to access any file, located on any device at a moments notice. It will know precisely where you are via GPS or triangulation. Yes, it may sound terrifying that one company has all this power—but imagine the potential.

No one company has ever been able to successfully pull off a move this big, because they simply do not have the leverage that Apple does. They did not have control of both the hardware and the software. And that is what cloud computing is truly about.

The Apple Way

.Mac is not going to be overhauled. It’s going to be entirely revamped from the bottom up. And if Apple does this right, they can become the first company with a complete 360° solution. In order for this to catch on though, they need to do a couple things:

  1. Give it away: In order to do this right, Apple has to make it free. Free as in Google free. Make the online services accessible to everyone. Make it so that you get a free access to “Apple Online Services” with the purchase of an iPhone or Mac. Make it so that pro users can pay a minimal annual fee to upgrade their features.
  2. Ensure that it’s more reliable than Twitter: If I’m going to be sending you all my private information, I want to be sure that I can access it at any time. And having it work 24/7 would be a bonus as well. .Mac isn’t really known for it’s reliability and stability—hopefully Apple will work to improve this before launch.
  3. Don’t duplicate services already in place: I love making .Mac Web Galleries. They’re beautiful, dead-simple to make, and integrate perfectly with the iApps and Aperture. But I’d much rather use Flickr with an established community. Don’t try to replace Facebook or Google or Flickr or Twitter. Make the new .Mac’s goal simple: To integrate all Apple devices with services on the Internet. Integrate the Apple experience with other online services (i.e. Flickr and YouTube upload from the iPhone)

Apple has the opportunity to do something game-changing with .Mac. Something that can, potentially, be bigger than the 3G iPhone. Brett Peters says it best: “Faster bandwidth allows me to do the same things I already do, only … faster. It’s equivalent to an incremental increase in storage capacity or processor speed. That’s just not sexy.”

Steve Jobs is not going to go on stage, come Monday, and announce a 3G iPhone that everybody knows about, without telling us the super-cool Star Trek-like things that we will be able to do because of this 3G technology. RIM, Nokia, Samsung—better watch closely.