It's all about syncing to the cloud - Apple's MobileMe was the most interesting part of the iPhone 3G WWDC keynote
Okay, so the iPhone got better - so what? To me, the new iPhone 3G was NOT the most interesting part of yesterday's Steve Jobs keynote at the Apple WWDC event. Sure, the blogosphere (and mainstream media) is buzzing like crazy about it (and we discussed it at length on yesterday's Squawk Box). Sure, it's great that the iPhone costs a lot less (at least, up front), is available in more countries (but still not in Vermont!), has GPS and now will work over 3G networks. Sure, all that is great.
<Donning flame-proof clothing> But at the end of the day, it's still just a mobile phone! Sure, it's an incredibly sexy one and yes now that I live in New Hampshire I admittedly am considering getting one. But it's... still... just... a... phone. (And yes, I realize such a statement is heretical in defiance of the Cult of Apple (of which I am increasingly becoming a member).)
To me what was far more intriguing was Apple's launch of "MobileMe" at me.com. Why?
Apple is getting into the "cloud" in a major way.
Let's take a look at what Apple is offering (watch the Guided Tour to see it in video):
- Push Email
- Push Contacts
- Push Calendar
- Synchronization between iPhone, Web interface, Apple desktop and PC desktop
- MobileMe Gallery - taking on Flickr, etc.
- 20GB of online storage - with file sharing
No need to dock iPhone to computer. In fact, no real need to use an iPhone - it will work perfectly fine with regular Macs and PCs, although obviously the iPhone adds the Mobile component. All for the price of $99/year... or $8.25/month. (And with the cute domain of me.com replacing the .mac.com domain.)
IT'S ALL ABOUT THE SYNC
At a base level, MobileMe is all about synchronization, a.k.a. "sync". Now synchronization is not overly sexy. It's not overly exciting. You don't necessarily see people out there drooling over "sync" (the way they do over, say, the iPhone). However...
As we move more and more of our life into the "cloud", sync is critical.
So with MobileMe, you can now sync your email, contacts and calendar between your various devices - and also the cloud. My information lives in the "cloud" and is accessible and visible - and modifiable - through the various devices. Consider the ways in which I can access and modify the data:
- On an iPhone
- On a Mac using the Mac OS X applications Mail, Calendar and Address Book
- On a PC using Outlook 2003/2007
- On a Mac or a PC - and potentially any other device - using a web browser
As the guided tour demo shows, you can add or modify a contact on one device and it appears on all others. The sync to local desktop applications is very cool (and very smart) in that users can continue to use their regular old applications. Outlook users can continue to use Outlook. Mac users can use the Mac OS X suite. Nothing changes.
My last bullet point above is particularly of interest to me. From the demonstrations the web interface to the information looks like the typical AJAX-y kind of interface we see with GMail, YahooMail or any of the other online mail services we have available today. The key question is this:
Will it only work in certain browsers?
Or will it work in all browsers? Could I, for instance, access the information using Firefox on a Linux desktop? Could I even see it using the mobile browser on my Blackberry 8830? Conceivably I could... we'll have to see. Current "supported browser list" is Safari 3 or Firefox 2 for the Mac and Safari 3, Firefox 2, or Internet Explorer 7 for Windows.
In the end, if you buy into using Apple for sync - both literally in paying for the service but also in using your MobileMe account as your online identity - and if you trust Apple with your data and with being available, it looks to be a powerful way to live with your data up in the online cloud.
And so Apple joins the other giants in the playground... Microsoft gets the whole concept of sync with FeedSync and LiveMesh... Google has been all about applications in the cloud, but they've gotten into sync as well with Outlook Calendar sync and Blackberry sync plus IMAP email to use your email wherever (and mobile email apps)... Yahoo's had various forms of sync around... now Apple joins the battle, too.
IT'S ABOUT PICTURES, TOO
As part of MobileMe, Apple also rolled out MobileMe Gallery which lets you easily create and share online photo albums. Think Flickr only with synchronization with all your devices (and without the community that is at Flickr). MobileMe Gallery can also be viewed on AppleTV in addition to your other devices. This capability has been here in a limited form with DotMac, but now seems to be expanded.
IT'S ALSO ABOUT REALLY BIG FILES
MobileMe also gives you a 20 GB online file storage area to "store your files in the cloud". Most interesting to me was the file sharing capability. I'm a podcaster and I work with very large audio files. Sending 20MB or 50MB files (or larger) to someone else such as another producer is a serious pain-in-the-neck.
Now Apple joins that realm as well... upload a file from any of the devices and simply click a Share button - and then share the link out or send email to people who can share. Set a password... restrict the number of downloads...
A key point here, too, is that to a Mac user your "disk in the cloud" appears simply as any other folder in your Finder. To a PC user it's simply another drive to map.
The online file storage has the same user experience as regular disk file storage.
No web pages to go to. No other applications to install. Simple. Easy. (Provided you've bought the service.)
IT'S ABOUT THE PRICE
Strangely, a good chunk of the commentary I've seen thus far about MobileMe has been about the fact that Apple is charging $99/year for a service that others like Google provide for essentially free. Sure, others are offering the service for "free"... although if you think about services like Google's (which I use) are free as long as you are okay seeing advertisements.
But I mean... is $99/year really too much? That works out to be $8.25 per month. Too much? That's what.... a couple of coffees at Starbucks or a six-pack of cheap beer?
Now I am personally already a .Mac user... so I'm already paying the $99/year. I do so in part because I want to try the services and also because I am personally willing to pay for service because I know it does cost money. Having said that I also like free services and use them a great amount as well. We'll see how Apple does... if they succeed in making the experience simple and painless they just may find people willing to pay that $99/year.
IT'S ABOUT THE CLOUD
In the end, the reality is that an ever-increasing number of us are moving more and more of our data, our applications and indeed our lives into the online "cloud". While some of us may already be sick of seeing marketing pieces about "cloud computing", the truth is we're only going to see more and more on the topic as we move more and more into the cloud.
Apple's MobileMe is their entry into this grand story we're all participating in writing. The service isn't available yet, so we can't really judge it yet... and yes, I have all sorts of questions about it myself, like:
- How secure will the online storage be? What will prevent others from seeing my data? Can I really trust Apple?
- How available will my data be? What kind of Service Level Agreement (SLA) will I enter into with Apple as a paying customer? If I'm going to trust Apple with my data I want to also be sure that I can get my data when I want it? What kind of infrastructure will they have in place to ensure this?
- What kind of APIs will be available? Apple's history is of walled gardens and proprietary lock-in... will this be more of the same? Will I be able to get to my online data through means other than Apple applications?
And so on... we'll have to see. Still, it looks to be an interesting entrant in the space from Apple.
OK, YEAH, IT'S ABOUT THE PHONE
All joking aside, yes, I do realize that yesterday's WWDC event was all about the iPhone 3G.... and the potential that it has to turn millions more users into endpoints of the giant interconnected clouds we're building... we certainly do live in interesting times!
What do you think about MobileMe? How successful do you see it being? More walled garden or maybe something better?
P.S. Want to be notified when Apple actually releases MobileMe? You can now signup to receive email notification.
Here are some other views of the iPhone 3G and the WWDC keynote from other VoIP bloggers: