Apple .Mac: Grading the Service, What to Add Next.

With the rumors of a revamped .Mac perhaps coming out with iPhone 2.0, it’s worth talking about what I think of the service and what I’d like to see in terms of improvements.

First, I got .Mac for $69 at the same time I bought my iMac last August, so I’ve got about 10 months of use under my belt. Here is what i think of it right now:

Price – At $69 for a year it’s OK, but I also had to kick in another $10 each to get two other email accounts. Bad.

eMail – While I used the email account initially, my primary account was Yahoo! and had been for five years. Their push to the iPhone was supposed to be a huge benefit. Unfortunately, for me (and others) Yahoo! screwed that up, so I’m pocketing my $20/year for their Plus email and switched exclusively to .Mac. Meanwhile, the “push” email rumored is exactly what’s needed. Never understood why Apple let Yahoo! do this and didn’t implement it in .Mac in the first place. Since Yahoo! screwed it up, maybe it’s not so easy? Hopefully Apple will get it right. I want push .Mac email pretty badly.

Web Hosting – I ran this site off of .Mac (using iWeb 2.0) and was quite happy with it for a while. Still, it began to show cracks beneath the surface and ultimately I moved to WordPress. Performance was atrocious, though to be fair I think a lot of that is likely the fault of iWeb and its code.

Backup – I initially used the backup program available with .Mac and was quite happy with the scheduled nightly backups. Of course, once I moved to Leopard I switched to Time Machine so I no longer use the backup program.

Web Galleries – I like these a lot, and have numerous albums from iPhoto (and now Aperture) as well as several movies from iMovie hosted. I also like the slick way it interfaces with the iPhone. Performance is slow, though.

10GB Storage – This was just implemented as I joined. The reality is 10GB is enough for most people. Still, with some email accounts offering “unlimited” it appears a bit skimpy.

Sync – The “crown jewel” of .Mac, in my opinion. I love this. I sync everything from the iMac. When I got a MacBook a few months later, the ease with which I brought over calendar items, bookmarks, preferences, even dock items, was incredible. Now the MacBook syncs most of those items regularly, and both machines are in sync effortlessly. I even have the other accounts on the MacBook syncing calendar and contact events so that all cals and addresses are in sync across the family. It works just as you would expect it to, and just as easily. Sync, all by itself, could almost be worth the yearly price.

There are some other features of .Mac that I have yet to try, so I cannot yet comment:

iDisk – I just haven’t seen any real need yet to put documents, etc. on the web. Even with the MacBook I share stuff locally, and since I don’t travel much iDisk doesn’t make sense. I could see how it would be nice for those who travel a lot or otherwise work remotely, though.

Back to my Mac – Same as above. Could be incredible for those who have machines in different places, but my MacBook’s “traveling” is usually limited to the house. Mind you, I use Leopard’s screen sharing on my two machines very frequently. It’s a great feature. But I distinguish this from Back to my Mac in terms of requiring .Mac to pull it of.

Based on all the above, I’d give .Mac a grade of C+ (because Sync is so worthwhile). In short, it’s nice but hardly innovative or distinguished, and it’s expensive.

OK, so if we’re getting a revamp, what do I want? Let’s go though the same categories above:

  • Price – I’ve heard some say it should be free to Mac buyers. Frankly, I want a price on this if for no other reason than a “bozo filter” so Apple can manage space and performance and not deal with people loading huge files simply because they can. Despite what seems to be current thinking in a lot of quarters, I don’t think every service everywhere should be free. Still, $99 for what you get is simply too much. Even Amazon’s asking price of $75 is too much. I would say $49 give or take $10 makes more sense, and this assumes it includes the improvements described below.
  • eMail – It’s ridiculous that I only get one email account and have to pay $10 for each additional. So a family of 4 has to pay $129 ($99 + $30)? Or I can buy a “Family Pack” with four extra emails accounts (and another 10GB of storage) for $179? Ouch! I should get those five accounts in the base price, and don’t worry about providing extra space.
  • Web Hosting – Again, I think my issues with .Mac hosting stemmed as much from the code created by iWeb. I can’t really recommend any .Mac-based improvements here except throughput, but I think iWeb needs some major work.
  • Backup – It’s an OK app for basic backups, but with Time Machine on the rise I think Apple can just keep it the way it is. Good for non-Leopard users, but no sense in improving it further. On the other hand, if a subset of backups in Time Machine could be programmed to use iDisk, that might be useful. It would provide off-site backup for critical docs, though obviously limited by the storage available on iDisk.
  • Web Galleries – As I mentioned, I really like these. Biggest request would be to work on performance. Don’t know if this is a throughput thing with the system — or maybe the web galleries are written by iWeb :-).
  • Storage – I don’t necessarily think Apple has to go “unlimited”. It’s a great marketing thing but the fact is there would be some limit anyway. Still, I think they need to bump it up quite a bit, say to 25GB. More could be purchased. Most people would never approach it, but it’s just good business to have a large figure available at the base price, especially since .Mac is seen as a premium service anyway.
  • Sync – The rumored OTA syncing with the iPhone is just what’s needed.

As for the features I don’t use:

  • iDisk – Integrate this into Time Machine with a subset of docs and even non-travelers like myself might use it.
  • Back to my Mac – I really can’t comment on improvements here because I don’t know how well it’s working in practice. I’ve seen some complaints, so maybe there are some stability issues to work out?

One other important thing: It’s time to bring Windows users into the fold. Add sync for Outlook cals and addresses, Safari bookmarks, etc., and make this OTA with the iPhone as well.

One could argue that only OTA syncing and Windows usage are major updates. However, cumulatively all the above they would take .Mac a huge step forward, from a C+ to a solid A in my book (assuming of course it all just works).

For others using .Mac, I’m interested in comments on what you think of it, will you continue to use it, and what improvements you’d like to see.

8 thoughts on “Apple .Mac: Grading the Service, What to Add Next.

  1. A year of .mac came bundled free with my MacBook, so I’ve been using it, although I never would have bought it on my own because the features I do use are available free via gmail, mozy, etc. If I had more than one Mac, it might be worth it for the synching features, although you can argue those should be part of the OS. Still, it does have that Apple ease of use, and I’d probably buy it if it was part of another bundle (i.e. at no additional charge) with AppleCare, iLife, and/or the next major (paid) OSX update. Then once Apple has you hooked into using the email address etc, I bet most people would keep renewing by buying subsequent OS or iLife updates, resulting in greater long-term apple revenue. Like your idea of folding Backup’s iDisk functions into Time Machine.

  2. Syncing is the feature that kicks butt. If you manage a slew of Macs or even buy every few years, it sure is nice to dump from Apple’s servers and be done setting up in minutes rather than hours. If this isn’t worth $70 / year, I don’t know what is. Everything else is just a bonus.

    Backup is a neat little App as well. It backs up some rather strange items that most people would forget. Keychains, preferences, account settings, address book, various libraries, playlists, purchases, and all kinds of settings, automatically. And it works a little like Time Machine in that you have access to multiple backups if you wish.

    iDisk is excellent for sharing huge files.

    iLife integration. I don’t use this much, but they are neat features. Someone could literally use some of your iPhoto pics as their desktop. How cool is that?

    To me, it’s worth the discount. I agree that it’s priced out of most people’s comfort zone for what they’d use. $49 would be awesome, with the changes that you’ve indicated.

  3. I got an account just for the easy way to use iChat. i posted some photo to .mac but I think photobucket is better. I probably wasted $99.

  4. Partners,

    You bring up a good point, and I suspect that Apple’s view of someone using ALL of .Mac’s features makes the price a good deal. But, realistically, most people won’t use all the features, so they’d be paying an exorbitant amount for email.

    This leaves Apple with two choices, in my opinion:

    – A la carte pricing. I didn’t bring this up because it could get too confusing. Apple could set it up so you buy only those features you want. However, the additional security necessary, and confusion in the market place (inevitably they’d need to offer bundled pricing, etc.) would make this a nightmare.

    – One price. This is what they do now; I just think they’ve set it too high. It may be a decent value for someone using all of it (though performance is an issue). I use a lot of the features, yet performance drove me from .Mac hosting so even I think the price is too high. Apple needs to cut the price in half and realize that most people are likely just going to use email and one or two other features anyway.

  5. I’m guessing Apple will add more features to .Mac while keeping the price the same. I agree it should be $49 with 25GB space and five email address included.

    A stand-alone feature like Back to my PC costs around $180, so maybe Apple’s .Mac pricing is not too far out to lunch. There’s an article in the New York Times about a woman using Back to My Mac to catch her Mac laptop’s thief … so apparently the price of .Mac was a steal for her.

  6. My guess is Apple will add more .Mac features but leave the price the same. I agree it should be around $49 with 25GB space and five email addresses included.

    A stand-alone Back to my PC feature runs around $180, so .Mac may not be so overpriced. There’s a story on the New York Times about a woman using Back to My Mac to identify her Mac laptop’s thief … guess the price of admission was worth it to her. 🙂

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