I’ve been known to be called an Apple fanboy before… mostly by those in my family (three of whom then purchased MacBooks in the last year). That’s OK; I am a big fan of Apple. While a Mac was not my first computer (that honor goes to the VIC-20 followed by a series of Apple II machines), the Mac certainly unleashed some creative energies. And, it codified a set of expectations I now have of an operating system’s power and reach. In many ways, it breaks down to a simple tenet:
a computer’s software should break down the obstacles and bureaucracy that prevent efficiency in the real world and disguise how onerous the task may actually be.
As such, I end 2007 with my hopes for Apple in 2008; I write this not only as a fan, but also as a shareholder. (Steve, now that you’re an avid reader, here’s to hoping we see even some of this next year.)
Many of my friends remember me hyping up the .Mac service for the past several years. The promise has always been great. Among other things, sync your files seamlessly (nee, Mac-like) between multiple Macs to have the same Address Book, Safari Bookmarks, Mail settings, application preferences, etc., everywhere you go… and always available “in the cloud” (up on the .Mac site). And indeed, it’s worked relatively well that way for years.
Unfortunately, the Web has grown at a clip that has far outpaced Apple in terms of updating the service. Matter of fact, Leopard and other Apple products are releasing base features that cannibalize the service’s utility: see the awesome Yahoo! Address Book sync between your iPhone, your OS X Address Book, and Yahoo! Mail/Messenger for but one example. .Mac users are getting upset, and it seems like high time to make some significant upgrades to the service.
I see a couple areas I’d particularly recommend for growth in the .Mac area:
- iPhone Sync
Why did I invest .Mac’s promise of keeping my data “in the cloud” if their first truly portable, always-connected device can’t take advantage of the features? To get my iPhone in sync with very light data (Address Book updates, such as 10-digit phone numbers and 10k avatar images, and iCal events, such as 100-character meeting invites), I must plug my iPhone into my Mac and sync the two. I’ve never been in the habit of tethering my phone to my laptop or desktop, and have thus come to not rely on the iPhone for its Calendar and Address Book applications (both of which have data, believe it or not, which are updated multiple times each day). It would rock to have the iPhone syncing this data on-the-go, just as it does with my IMAP Mail account. (And, no, I shouldn’t have to shell out $400 for an updated iPhone just for this capability when the 3G version of the phone supports this feature.)
- Backup of iTunes purchases
Apple clearly wants me to back up my iTunes purchases. I am solicited every so often in iTunes to use its internal backup feature (or the .Mac-supplied Backup application) to keep additional copies of my purchases. Why not automatically stockpile these tracks/videos/whatever in a Purchases folder on my iDisk? Storage is cheap; ask Yahoo!, Google, Microsoft, and all the other players offering ridiculously large amounts of storage for free to their users. You have them one-upped in a different area… your users already paid for the privilege of this particular content. Why not archive it for them automatically (and preferably not count this storage against their meager 10GB limit)?
If not for altruistic, value-added, help-the-user reasons, then consider it for reducing customer support costs.
I began to cover this already, but it needs clarification. Everyone gripes about this. So maybe there’s a ring of truth to the fact that its a tad bit shameful to so excitedly hype 10GB of storage, when that’s freely offered from so many other services. Man up; we’re paying $100/year… try not to make us feel like chumps.
20GB sound reasonable? I’d, of course, prefer 50GB, but I don’t want to sound greedy.
- Instant Gratification
Apple has product marketing down like a science. Walk into an Apple store, and you want to touch and grab all the products displayed around you. The tiny software boxes beckon, and suggest the beauty of the objects inside. Interestingly, though, .Mac software boxes contain not much more than a generic manual and a unique product code. (AppleCare boxes share a similar issue; their boxes contain one additional item: a TechTool Deluxe DVD that can also be downloaded for easy burning later.)
This isn’t too big a deal (although it seems strange that there isn’t a disc in the box, even if its just filled with demo versions of 3rd-party software) for the physical store… people came in to pick up a ‘thing.’ What’s odd, though, is that the online store sells the same physical product. This means if a user buys the product tonight from the online store, they will need to pay for shipping, wait several days, and then get a couple sheets of paper when it arrives. Aside from the environmental impact of packaging and delivery, it strikes me as odd that Apple (who pioneered digital downloads with iTunes) has to send a box.
But wait… if a user simply clicks ‘Join Now’ on the .Mac homepage, they can get started using the service this minute. So it isn’t a requirement that a box be shipped; you just might think so, as the digital, far more convenient download option isn’t presented.
I have two recommendations:
- At the online Apple Store, only sell the digital delivery of .Mac (or at least make the packaged version something the user has to take an additional step to select)
- At physical Apple Store locations, deliver the .Mac activation code as a print-out on a user’s receipt… kind of like the way gas stations do for carwashes
Both solutions reduce the waste, and get the user directly to the goods. And aside that, there’s a little less disappointment this way than in opening a box (that holds discs and packaging for other Apple products, like iWork and iLife) to find a lonely sheet of paper.
.Mac still has considerable value to me for the data synchronization alone, but it would be great to see some of these issues resolved soon. Open-source alternatives to .Mac are appearing, and others are suggesting replicating most of .Mac’s offering with free alternatives. Time to stave off the antsy masses.
(Ed. note: This is the first of a several part series. Stay tuned for posts re: Address Book, Customer Lifecycle, Apple.com User Profiles, and iPhone/iPod/iTunes.)