iCloud - MobileMe Not.

Back in 2008, Steve’s software guys had dropped the ball on Apple’s cloud storage service. MobileMe was supposed to allow people to upload their email, contacts, calendars, bookmarks, pics and video to the internet ether so it could be plucked from the cloud and synced with all their devices. It failed with flying colours.
For US$100/year, Steve’s customers paid for the joy of losing their emails for days on end, or losing them entirely to MobileMe’s black hole. This mistake was not just another amusing train-wreck like the G4 Cube, MobileMe was actually ruining people’s daily digital lives. At the very least, it exposed how people were willing to trust their lifestyles to Apple. Two of Steve’s most influential pet journos, Walt Mossberg[1] of Wall Street Journal and David Pogue[2] of New York Times, each broke from their dog-collars and served up a steaming bowl of vitriol to MobileMe on the same day.
"Mossberg, our friend, is no longer writing good things about us," intoned Steve to the gathering of crestfallen employees at his Cupertino ‘Town Hall’. "You've tarnished Apple's reputation. You should hate each other for having let each other down."[3] Where did that curious line come from – “You should hate each other”? Did Steve want his workers to join in on his self-loathing?
The ass-kissing began with a free month of storage for disgruntled customers – and there were many of them. Nothing changed. MobileMe maintained its MobileMess and customers continued to send irate mail to every publication – on and offline. By August, Steve was offering three months free subscription.
Then Dropbox entered the cloud storage market. They offered the same price for twice the space, none of the glitches, and a two gigabyte ‘freemium’ for tightwads who don’t want to pay anything. Dropbox is available on both iPhone and Android. The unholy cross-platform marriage of Dropbox was considered the better option for those wanting to dump their stuff in the cloud. Google stepped into the ring a few months later with their own calendar/contacts sync service. It paired with their Gmail storage service which had been around a few years more than MobileMe. Google offers a seven-gigabyte freemium in exchange for perhaps monetizing your personal information. Is that a small sacrifice? Even The Unofficial Apple Website asked the question – what’s the point of MobileMe?[4]
ArsTechnica.com’s ‘Infinite Loop’ section exposed an internal email from Steve to his employees regarding the MobileMe cockup.

The launch of MobileMe was not our finest hour.  There are several things we could have done better:

– MobileMe was simply not up to Apple's standards – it clearly needed more time and testing.

– Rather than launch MobileMe as a monolithic service, we could have launched over-the-air syncing with iPhone to begin with, followed by the web applications one by one – Mail first, followed 30 days later (if things went well with Mail) by Calendar, then 30 days later by Contacts.

– It was a mistake to launch MobileMe at the same time as iPhone 3G, iPhone 2.0 software and the App Store.  We all had more than enough to do, and MobileMe could have been delayed without consequence.

We are taking many steps to learn from this experience so that we can grow MobileMe into a service that our customers will love.  One step that I can share with you today is that the MobileMe team will now report to Eddy Cue, who will lead all of our internet services – iTunes, the App Store and, starting today, MobileMe.  Eddy's new title will be Vice President, Internet Services and he will now report directly to me.

The MobileMe launch clearly demonstrates that we have more to learn about Internet services.  And learn we will.  The vision of MobileMe is both exciting and ambitious, and we will press on to make it a service we are all proud of by the end of this year.

That never happened. For the next three years, the cloud became more important to the end-user who had begun to buy anorexic tablets stingy on storage space. MobileMe remained a much-maligned mess. Many wondered if perhaps Apple should give up on software and stick to what they know best - making pretty objects.
Steve embarked upon a mission to redeem himself. He needed to launch a program without the distraction of shiny hardware launches. He would do this at the risk of disappointing fan-boys who, since they habitually molest their iPad/Phones, only seem to love new Apple products they can fondle.
As the dawn broke on June 6th, 2011, a crowd 5,200+ developers and media choked the Moscone Center at Apple’s WorldWide Developer’s Conference. A thousand of them wouldn’t fit into the 4000 seat hall. Apple tradition, of course, is to oversell and undersupply. Each punter had paid US$1600 a ticket to see what’s next. The event had sold out in ten hours. The worst kept secret in Silicon Valley was that Steve was going to do some cloud busting.
Fortune Magazine writer and fellow Steve-Watcher, Phillip Elmer-Hewitt, reported on the scene,
Holding pride of place at the head of the line is a portly developer who says he got there at 1:30 a.m., eight and a half hours early. He has bad knees, he explains, and might not make it to the hall at all if he doestn't get a good head start.[6]

For those waiting in the foyer, the overhead speakers played, "Hey, You, Get Offa My Cloud" by The Stones, and "[I've Looked At Clouds from] Both Sides Now" by Joni Mitchell. Young Guardian journo Jemima Kiss begged, “Something more recent (please)?” [7]
Steve took to the stage and received the usual standing ovation as every live blogger tapped furiously on their devices detailing that Steve was “looking disturbingly gaunt, while the audience shouts ‘we love you’.” He wore a roomy black jumper this time, sans the turtleneck. His faded jeans seem to be getting looser on his hips with each new presentation.  His sleeves kept falling over his thin forearms, and he habitually pulled them back up again.

Rebel tech blogger, Gizmodo were barred from these Apple events since “The lost iPhone prototype” (read the whole story in a previous post on this blog). Guardian journos at the event reported that Gizmodo were caught live blogging onsite and Steve’s heavies escorted them to the “naughty step”.[8]

Steve was only there to talk about his baby in the cloud. He let his other lackeys chat about the lesser stuff. Steve’s money-quote had a biblical ring to it: “Some people think the cloud is just a hard disk in the sky (the crowd laughs)… We think it's way more than that and we call it iCloud”
“Now… you might ask, ‘why should I believe them? They’re the ones who brought me MobileMe” There was an explosion of laughter, which felt more like an emotional release of end-user frustration. He then repeated what he said in that staff email from three years ago. “It wasn’t our finest hour.”
Apple is the last of the major tech companies to enter the cloud market with earnest. This allowed Steve to watch the other players show their hand before he crafted a more tasty product. One could only imagine Steve’s inner monologue:  

“These pricks with their Androids want everything free, eh? I’ll give them free. I’ll give everything for free. But there’s another price: Everything you own must be made by me.”

Steve’s five-Gig free cloud locker stores everything: Contacts, calendar, mail, apps, data, books, documents, (bookmarks, settings?) photos, music, and video. A file change on one gadget is automatically reflected on your other gadgets - so long as that gadget is made by Apple, or it’s a PC loaded with iTunes.

“Keeping these devices in sync is driving us crazy” When the audience cheers, he takes the opportunity to cough discreetly. Thank you, Steve. He must be watching this author and his girlfriend argue over who wants to tackle the simple task dragging photos from a PC to an iPad. This is normally a simple job for an Android/PC jockey; but a royal pain for those who decided to take the “switch of faith”. 

However, what if you don’t want automatic synchronicity of every move you make, and every breath you take (apologies, Sting)? Will there be a yes/no dialogue box before each individual sync? What if you are nervous about Steve having everything of yours in his cloud?

Songs are the most interesting issue in the iCloud proposition. Music not purchased via iTunes must be synced via iTunes Match for US$25 a-year. Steve enjoyed pointing out that his price is half the price of Amazon’s similar service. Nevertheless, it could be argued that you are paying to access songs you’ve already purchased, just for the convenience of not using your own drive space. However, that is not a problem for those who haven’t paid a dime for the music on their hard drives. All of their low-quality pirated songs will be recognized by iTunes Match and laundered into a lossless legal copies from the iTunes library - that’s’ twenty-five bucks well spent. Thanks again, Steve.

On the other hand, what if you’re into Dollshead? What if you enjoy listening to Closed On Account Of Rabies – the poems of Edgar Alan Poe? Neither of those are in the iTunes library. It seems that Steve’s eighteen million tracks may not be nearly enough to iMatch everything.

To set up the music end of iCloud, Steve sealed a deal with the big four record labels for the second time since iTunes. This is the ace card his rivals in the cloud DON’T hold in their sweaty hands. Once again, the Big Four find themselves at Steve’s door, hats in their hands, needing Steve’s help to rescue their floundering business - but they weren’t doing it free. Steve paid them US$100-150 million each. Steve gets his usual 30% cut.[9]

“If you don’t think we’re serious about this, you’re wrong,” Steve intones with gravitas. He is immediately dwarfed on stage by a gigantic image of his latest one billion-dollar, half-million square, data warehouse.[10] The humming digital database in the desert looks like the foreboding corridors of The Death Star. One begins to suspect that this dog and pony show is just a taste of what he has planned. Steve doesn’t want us to let the cloud, nor his iCloud, be the centre of our digital lives. He wants Apple to be our centre. His mission is to pull us like a tractor beam from the Microsoft orbit. Microsoft beat Apple in the PC war, so Steve’s payback is to kill the PC.

“The PC will be the most visible casualty of the cloud revolution,” stated a former engineer, Steve Perlman. “Apple knows it.” The 25 million iPads sold so far have eaten away at PC sales. Both Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard disappointed investors with their earnings last quarter.[11]

The cloud idea was brought up fifteen years ago by Steve’s best friend, Larry Ellison who runs Oracle, who incidentally make cloud servers. He touched upon the subject in the documentary, Trumph of The Nerds, while Steve was still chasing his tail with the NeXT Cube. The doco’s script said, 

Larry believes the PC will be replaced with a cheap device he calls an information appliance. It will be a glorified television which will access information and computing simply by connecting to giant computers via the Internet. Just like turning on a tap - and the PC will go the way of the well and the bucket.

Larry Ellison: ”I hate the PC with a passion. Me going down to the store and buying Windows 95, I've got to get into my car drive down to a store buy a cardboard box full of bits you know encoded on a piece of plastic CDROM and you bring it home and read a manual install this thing - you must be kidding you know, put the stuff on the net - it's bits, don't put bits in cardboard, cardboard in trucks, trucks to stores, me go to the store, you know, pick the stuff out, it's insane. OK I love the Internet - I want information you know it flows across the wire.”

So who supplied the servers to apple’s server farm? Was it Larry?

As usual, the most clever readers’ commentary came from The Guardian:

“Now that there has been an admission that it sucks, can I please have my MobileMe subscriptions back?”

“Can't be having anything with the cloud - I am sorry to say. Until these services are reliably running for some years, have a history of no hacking, aren't going to have the FBI knocking on my door asking about my blueprints for mass mind control ... my stuff stays on my laptop.”

“I live in Africa - a 4GB download will take about a month on my present dodgy connection and cost about 200 quid in airtime alone assuming the connection stays up for that long and does not have to be restarted.”

“All that automatic uploading and downloading seems to assume all you can eat data accounts which seem to be disappearing.”

“Only snag I can see with this service is that you have use that steaming pile of monkey shit (iTunes) to use it.”

“Hey nerds - cheer the truck up. Who cares? We all know you'll buy it anyway despite moaning about it!”

“It isn't an Apple announcement until there's an oleaginous quote from Stephen Fry attached.”

“is it just me, or is the bite out of the Apple logo behind Steves head getting bigger?”

[1] Mossberg, W. (2008, July 24) Apple's MobileMe Is Far Too Flawed To Be Reliable. Wall Street Journal.

[2] Pogue, D. (2008, July 24) Apple’s MobileMess [blog]. Pogue’s Posts. From New York Times. Retrieved from : http://pogue.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/07/24/apples-mobilemess/

[3]Lashinsky , A. (2011, May 23) How Apple works: Inside the world's biggest startup. Fortune Magazine.

[4] Hirsch, L. (2010, June 15) Enter Gmail syncing and Dropbox; Exit MobileMe? From tuaw.com. Retrieved from: http://www.tuaw.com/2010/06/15/enter-gmail-contact-syncing-and-dropbox-exit-mobileme/

[5] Cheng, J. (2008, August 5) Steve Jobs on MobileMe: the full e-mail.arstechnica.com.

[6] Elmer-DeWitt, P. (2011, June 6) Live from San Francisco: Steve Jobs unveils the iCloud [Blog]. From Apple 2.0. In money.cnn.com. Retrieved from: http://tech.fortune.cnn.com/2011/06/06/live-from-san-fancisco-steve-jobs-unveils-the-icloud/#comments

[7] Arthur, C. & Kiss, Jemima (2011, June 6) WWDC 2011: Steve Jobs on iCloud, iOS5, Lion – live [blog]. Technology Blog. From The Guardian. Retrieved from: http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/blog/2011/jun/06/apple-wwdc-liveblog-steve-jobs-icloud  

[8][8] Arthur, C. & Kiss, Jemima (2011, June 6) WWDC 2011: Steve Jobs on iCloud, iOS5, Lion – live [blog]. Technology Blog. From The Guardian. Retrieved from: http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/blog/2011/jun/06/apple-wwdc-liveblog-steve-jobs-icloud  

[9] Sandoval, G. & Sowensohn, J (2011, June 3) Apple signs Universal Music to iCloud? Rom zdnet.com.au. Retrieved from: http://www.zdnet.com.au/apple-signs-universal-music-to-icloud_print-339316168.htm

[10] Arthur, C. (2011, June 5) Apple pins its hopes on the iCloud as users drift away from computers. From The Guardian.

[11] Satariano, A. & Burrows, P. (2011, June 8) Steve Jobs Uses ICloud to Pick Apart Industry He Helped Form. Bloomberg. Retrieved from: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-06-07/apple-s-jobs-using-icloud-to-dismantle-the-pc-industry-he-helped-build.html


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