Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The Future of .Mac - Free?

.Mac is the online services suite from Apple Computer.

It began as a free web services suite called iTools and then Steve Jobs changed the name to .Mac and started charging 99 bucks a year for it. But hey, it had email and web storage and syncing between Macs and virus software, as well as some other interesting things, so, fair enough.

However, since they started charging for it a few years ago, it hasn't really improved noticeably. To make matters worse, a whole host of free services from great companies like google and 37signals and flickr have popped up. This left many people wondering why they should pay for a bunch of services that they could sort of get for free elsewhere.

Well, Apple has quietly added a service to .Mac called "Groups". It's a place where you can share all of your info with people in your "group" and they can share it with you. Not too big a deal, though, since the people in your group really need a Mac and the .Mac service in order make the most of it. Without that, they can basically just read you info. Big Deal.

However, Apple is not finished. What would .Mac be if everyone that owned a Mac had .Mac for free, included with iLife? Well, I'll tell you what it would be. It would be the myspace of Macs and a whole lot more. Groups would be huge. All of your friends would be in your group, and when they had a calendar change, everyone would know about it. When you had new photos to share, every one of your friends would get them automatically via photocasting. All of your friends would have access to each others public files automatically. Your group of friends would have their own private message board. Sync all your contacts and bookmarks, not just between macs you own, but with friends of your choice as well.

You see, the smallest change can make a huge difference in something like this. Group sharing of stuff is all but useless unless everyone you cared about was in the group. Really, think about it. Who cares about sharing your calendar if only one or two out of 10 friends gets the update? Who cares about easy photocasting to two people if you still have to email the other 8. How will things change whenever you never have to email another photo, call around to change plans, or when you're online and you notice that 3 of your friends are chatting in a private room together.

Yes, I know we all have IM, but one friend has AOL, another has iChat, another uses MSN, another uses Yahoo! or whatever, so you can never get together unless you plan it and jump through a bunch of hoops. Example: Have you ever called someone to tell them to turn their IM on? What a joke.

Free .Mac for everyone. It's the loss leader that will have people buying Macs like never before.


J. Curtis said...

"You see, the smallest change can make a huge difference in something like this."

Let us never forget that while Apple from the exterior is soft, lickable, clever and innovative --it is a business. Time and again Apple has pointedly shown how shrewd it is at the practice of making money.

"Free .Mac for everyone. It's the loss leader that will have people buying Macs like never before."

This logic doesn't work. Nobody buys a Dell because AOL is installed. Also, during quarterly earnings reports (10Q) Apple has never pointed out how much .Mac earns --or doesn't. It's generally lumped into "Software, service and other sales".

Apple does state, however, that net sales of software, services rose $197m / 44% during the first 6 months of 2006 compared to the same time in 2005 (page 30 of the 10Q). That's pretty amazing by itself. But, the last line of that segment is telling, "This growth was primarily attributable to increased net sales of AppleCare Protection Plan (APP) extended service and support contracts, Mac OS X, Apple-branded and third-pary application software, and Internet services." If you take those in order of importance, meaning return on investment (ROI), .Mac certainly looks to be ready for a loss leader award ribbon.

While I share your sentiment that .Mac is cool and would be moreso if it were free, I just don't see it. But hey, opinions are like a**holes...everyone's got one.

Anonymous said...

They make a ton off of apple care because nobody would dare buy a mac without one. Macs break and they are expensive as hell to fix if they are not under warranty.

This is a great scam for them. Make fragile products and charge for the insurance.

rdas7 said...

Well, not to nitpick, but you don't need a .Mac account to share calendars, or photocasts, or any of the things you mentioned, as people without Macs or .Mac accounts can still access the stuff.

However, you do make a good point about making .Mac free. What I think is more likely however, is if they make certain features currently in .Mac free, and then add some features to justify keeping it a paid service.

I'm not sure the economics work for Apple to make things like 1GB email accounts free. Remember, companies like Google and Microsoft have resources to offer these services as benefits to its core business. Apple's core business is making boxes, not serving webpages or websites - so it would be a cost to them to maintain the facilities (as it currently is, but we currently pay for it!). J.Curtis covers this in his comment, above. dotMac is a value-added to the overall Mac experience.

I believe .Mac will remain a paid suite, however it's likely that the services within it will change, to make it more worthwhile to join in. No doubt, Apple have to address the Mail, Photo and storage situation in the current climate, however features such as Sync, Hosting, etc. remain superb services (if somewhat expensive and understaffed).

Mark Wheeler said...

I think the arrival of Microsoft's various Live services could definitely push Apple over this. Live.com & Windows Live Mail are shaping up surprisingly nicely, if MS follows this through with the rest of an integrated suite then I can't see that Apple would be able to justify charging for much of .Mac.

Maybe 'free' and 'premium' accounts would appear. The free service could lack services such as sync and have lower restrictions on storage space. This system seems to be working well for Flickr.

Peter said...

Face it, it will never be a good thing when one company or service has all people as members. It just won't work that way. People choose different services and still they want to connect to and share with another.
The solution is not to push everybody to the same service like .mac but to make all services integrated so one can share a .mac calendar with a windows live calendar user. That's using the strength of the web. And THAT is web 2.0.

Anonymous said...

$1399 for a free message service doesn't sound so free!!!

however as you pointed out myspace on the other hand is!!!

Dan Nugent said...

None of my friends use Macs.

And I sure as hell wouldn't put my data in El Jobs' proprietary hands.

I mean, sure I love the GUI and user experience and everything, and the crunchy Unix core, but I'll keep my data with people I actually trust to let me move it elsewhere thank you very much.

Anonymous said...

Apple likes to think they are a hardware company so they play the game like a hardware company. Their latest line of Intel Mac makes their hardware even more commodity. The only thing that differentiates them now is thier software. They need to grow up and act like a software company and start playing outside of their own little sandbox. Hardware is commodity Apple, let someone else build the boxes, you supply the software. The only flaw is that to do this they would really need to go after the Enterprise space in a big way to drive software sales. Jobs has no interest in the Enterprise space because it would curtail Apple's "innovation". So Apple will keep their 2% marketshare...

Anonymous said...

Everyone's looking way too deep into this and looking for a problem. That's just not the case. This is a sound idea. If .mac was free, and the groups were what they could be as far as sharing goes, it would be 100x better than MySpace (although any website is better than MySpace nowadays)

Chris said...

I don't believe all or nothing is the way they will go. .Mac is a product as a result it should be tiered like the other products. I feel Apple should have a free service that is just a limited web space say 200megs or something Enough for a simple webpage. Next is the Prosumer level $99 close to what iti is now but with an increase in web storage to at least a 2gigs. Lastly the Pro service with all sorts of bells and whistles like better blogging with more layout control, the ability to sell media and stuff, integration with Appeture, Final Cut and other Pro apps.

This just makes sense as the one size fits all thing is really silly.

Shihei said...

"Hardware is commodity Apple, let someone else build the boxes, you supply the software."

I don't think you 'get' how Apple truly works. As an integration specialist Apple controls the entire development of their products. Building the HW themselves allows them to design better software because they can control every facet of how the HW communicates.

From the SW standpoint, software written to take full advantage of custom HW is typically more stable and better appreciated by your end users.

Try working out your thoughts in the real world by paying attention to examples from the past, and obvious notes from around the industry before telling a successful mega corporation like Apple or Microsoft what to do. These companies ARE successful. They both have BILLIONS of dollars in CASH ready to use if they need it, and Apple is debt free after paying off the close to $300 million it had a few years ago. A company that is successful deserves your respect. If you don't like the product, don't buy it. Don't like the company, don't invest in it.

Have a nice day.

Anonymous said...

Sounds great, but there's only one problem ... I'd have to use a Mac.

Bryan said...

This is an interesting take on groups. I had almost forgotten about the service, primarily because I'm the only one of my friends or family that uses a Mac. If they were to pursue the avenue you're talking about, things could get very interesting. I think it's a great idea, but I wonder if they would actually make .Mac free. I could see them lowering the price of the service, so that they at least break even, like they do with the iTMS, but I don't know if they would go so far as to lose money on the deal. Still, this would be a potentially game changing idea, assuming they could pull it off correctly.

Anonymous said...

At this point there's nothing that will drive people to use a Mac. Nothing.

haydesigner in SD said...

At this point there's nothing that will drive people to use a Mac. Nothing.

Yeah, because obviously no one uses them anymore, and even less than no one buys a new Mac.
Why are anonymous posters always such Einsteins?

More on topic, you can use .Mac for free on a trial basis to back up your Safari bookmarks and Address Book. I've been doing that for about 3 years now. =;-)

Scott said...

When .Mac goes free, do I get reimbursed 300-400 dollars for all the money I've spent on it since it was introduced? Keep it a pay service, but throw in all OS upgrades with the subscription.

Jimzip said...

Interesting. I just read another article on .Mac a day or two ago, and it was stressing that people began jumping ship in droves once .mac became a paid-for service. A free .mac would undoubtedly be a big winner. I just hope Apple thinks the same way..

Jimzip :D

Richard Tallent said...

Love the idea of free .Mac, and you make a good argument that Apple may be heading that way. Google's impending "Platypus" platform is one more reason for Apple to drop the fees.

But I think some of the points I made awhile back on another blog post are still valid. Freedom to publish will never be free, and the only "server" we all can call "my space" is our own box. More:


(My site might be down right now, DNS change propogating...)

Richard Tallent said...

Sorry, found my own post in Google and they botched the URL. The real URL on my blog:


cain11 said...

I hope you are right, but I would tend to believe that Apple might include a years membership in .Mac with a mac purchase. This way, they hook you, get you using the service, and still make money eventually.

I have a .Mac account, but only because my work pays for it. For personal stuff I use Gmail, Google Calendar, and other free services. I would rather use .Mac because of the tight and seamless integration into OS X, but it's not worth $99 to me. Webmail plust some web space is all it really is.

djp72 said...

free .mac is a brilliant idea.
they need to totally overhaul it anyway

Elliot said...

This reminds me of some news I heard a few days ago: AOL is planning to make their service totally free for everyone (who brings a broadband connection). They'll make money from ads (eyeballs) instead, which they make a lot more money from, anyway. The dial-up business is not very profitable anymore, apparently, so they might just drop that all together (or at least try to make people move to broadband).

Anonymous said...

Didn't apple buy some big colocation facility not too long ago? If they do roll out free services they're gonna need more servers.

Yong Hwee said...

It would be good for .Mac to be free as there are other services which provide moe features but cost alot lesser.

Anonymous said...

How very true. I just learned that you can import pictures to iphoto from your flickr-friends by rss-feed. Apple should hurry and make .mac a free community for all mac users.

Anonymous said...

It's just 99 bucks people! Get a life! That's less than 50 cents a day! I spend more at Starbucks just to walk in! Not only that, Amazon.com and Buy.com sell .Mac for even less! The day I have to worry about a c-note for a year subscription to anything is the day I shoot myself!
I've had an account for almost a year and won't be looking back! Having iCal on the web is a great convenience to my co-workers, Groups keep my family in touch around the country, and syncing my at work Mac with my home Mac is worth the price alone!
'Nuff said... I'm off for another Chai tea latte...

Anonymous said...

I'll believe it when I see it. Then I'll subscribe to it.

John Koetsier said...

Odd that you posted on this just recently. This morning I did some thinking on what it would take in terms of AdSense revenue to replace the subscription revenue that Apple is currently getting from .Mac:


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