Why the MobileMe Disaster isn’t as Bad as you Think

by Chris Seibold Jul 31, 2008

MobileMe, so far, has been a train wreck. People can't get email, can't sync properly and couldn't activate their 3G iPhones. Worst of all, there is no sign that Apple is going to do something about the name. On the bright side (every cloud has a silver lining), Apple has been responsive in admitting the error and compensating users. The company has even tasked some poor soul with writing a blog about the ongoing process.

The high profile failure of MobileMe has some opining that Apple is the next Microsoft, that the company has grown so large and has so many products that there is no way Apple can keep pushing out a beautiful polished stuff at the current pace. Someday that will be true. Companies do have trouble innovating once they reach a certain size but that day isn't today. How can you tell? Because when MobileMe works, it actually works pretty well and is a huge improvement over .Mac. Apple is pushing something better but they pushed it a little too soon. This is nothing new.

Here's the news you need to know, here's the thing that everyone is forgetting: Apple screws up all the time. Not just minor gaffes, the company screws up big time on a fairly regular basis. Apple screwed up when Steve was there, when Steve was gone and kept screwing up when Steve returned. Without examples this is all just mindless raving so here is a quick list:

Apple ///

The Apple /// was the worst computer Apple ever made. Not only did the clock chip function improperly (yes, the Apple /// couldn't keep time) the chips kept popping out as the machine over heated (thanks to the fanless design insisted on by Steve Jobs).

G4 Launch

Everyone knew the G4 was coming and and the faithful were salivating at the prospect of a Mac powered by the new chip. The machine was revealed and people went nuts. Before the things could actually ship Apple dropped the speed of the G4 50 Hertz across the line.

Running out of iMacs

The iMac has been Apple's go to computer since the original bondi Mac first shipped way back in 1998. It is the machine for the masses but Apple managed to actually run out of the things the summer before the G5 iMac was introduced. Oops.

Apple TV

Once you tweak it the Apple TV is great. But buying a product you have to tweak is too much work for the target audience.

iMac with DVD drives

Here's the situation: University servers are being hammered by people swapping music. The record industry is up in arms. Armed with that knowledge Apple decides to ship iMacs with DVD drives so people could watch movies on their machines instead of with CD-R drives so people can burn all the music they're swapping. Everyone has an iPod now so it doesn't seem like it should've been a big deal but this happened before there were iPods and the music was essentially stuck on the computer. The move killed the iMacs momentum and stopped Apple's market share surge.

Obviously, Apple is no stranger to big mistakes. Given that, if the MobileMe deal is just more of the same old, same old why all the outrage? There are two substantial differences between the MobileMe morass and the other mistakes. The first is timing, the mobile mess is happening right now so it seems like a bigger deal and the second, more important difference, is that the other mistakes happened when no one cared. Sure, shipping iMacs with DVD drives made a huge dent in Apple's Market share and bottom line but since there were only a few thousand people interested it didn't get the attention. Everyone (seemingly) wants and iPhone so the MobileMe cluster is a big deal to everyone. Welcome to the city of over reaction.

Since MobileMe has been such a wreck people want revenge. What programmer, what product manager screwed this up so badly? If history is any guide the way the deal went down was like this:

Steve Jobs: You guys ready to roll?

Programmers: Nope.

Steve Jobs: You have the IQ of an onion! I've given you plenty of time.

Programmers: I don't think you understand. The ones and zeroes just aren't there yet. We've worked really hard...

Steve jobs: Launch the project! (pushes button, pets cat)

At least that is how it went if history is any guide. When the first Mac was scheduled to ship (already behind schedule) the software folks pleaded for Steve to delay the launch. Steve explained that it was going out no matter what and that they had had enough time. Programmers versus Steve Jobs is a battle even Vegas wouldn't put a line on and the Mac shipped despite the fact that the software wasn't what everyone wanted it to be. The same thing likely happened with MobileME, the software guys were aware of the issues but were under orders to launch the product anyway. Nothing speeds up development like massive public embarrassment.

Okay, okay. You've got the scapegoat but the remaining question hasn't been answered: How can you be sure that Apple hasn't nuked the fridge? How can you be certain that Apple isn't becoming Microsoft? The answer lies in the response. Consider Microsoft's blunder of the ages: Vista. People hate Vista with a passion* for a lot of reasons. Microsoft's response? Switch the coffee at the restaurant:

Oops, that isn't quite right. Microsoft is flogging the Mojave Experiment (and the question isn't "if you were stuck in the desert would you use Vista to e-mail for help?") which is essentially the same thing as the Folger's commercial. Microsoft isn't saying the company messed up, the company isn't saying they'll make it better, all it is saying is that you are too stupid to know what you don't want.

If Apple ever comes out and spins the MobileME catastrophe as a way to save iPhone battery life then you'll know that Apple has become Microsoft. Until then, don't worry, everything is going as expected in Apple land.

*Our screw up, your passionTM


  • Certainly have gotten a lot of advertisement from the mess up. In a couple of years I doubt many will remember. smile

    Neil Anderson had this to say on Jul 31, 2008 Posts: 23
  • Knock on wood, MobileMe has been working perfectly for me. I must be one of the lucky 99%.


    DD had this to say on Jul 31, 2008 Posts: 2
  • It’s strange how some people have no problems and others seem to be cursed. But I’ve seen that over the years with a lot of Apple’s products.
    I’ve rarely ever had issues. Luck of the draw?

    LorD1776 had this to say on Jul 31, 2008 Posts: 19
  • @LorD1776 - I’m right there with ya - no problems on my end for any of my Apple experiences - except once, with an iMac.

    MobileMe has worked like a dream for me - my only issue is my iCal isn’t syncing fully with my iPhone and MobileMe. Otherwise I had a wonderful iPhone 3G experience. It was was if I had someone watching over me - compared to the horror stories I’ve been reading about.

    Christian_Messer had this to say on Jul 31, 2008 Posts: 1
  • Christian,

    I’m glad for you. I believe there are a lot more people like us than the other way around. If not, Apple wouldn’t be on the rise as they are.

    LorD1776 had this to say on Jul 31, 2008 Posts: 19
  • The first day I had some problems but it now works flawlessly as far as I can see, if a bit slow. However, is it really worth the money?

    TonstantWeader had this to say on Aug 01, 2008 Posts: 3
  • The only thing I cared about with Mobile Me is whether it changed anything I use.  Since Apple doesn’t want me as an iPhone customer, all of the iPhone parts don’t matter.  But I am a .Mac user and I haven’t had to change anything yet, so I guess I’m happy. 

    I will have more disk space (which would happen anyway).  I use Firefox, not Safari, so as far as I’m concerned - nothing happened.

    Howard Brazee had this to say on Aug 01, 2008 Posts: 54
  • Mobile Me has worked perfectly since day one. I don’t have an iPhone, and I probably won’t ever buy one, but I think that Mobile Me is a major upgrade from the great Dot Mac service that it replaced. I now can sync my Safari bookmarks directly to my laptop PC version of Safari. And, the web based iCal, Mail, etc. have worked wonderfully on my PC using Safari. My employer supplies me with the laptop and I use the Mobile Me service to keep updated when I am at the office or on the road. Unfortunately, my company’s intranet only works using IE 6.0.

    I think that Mobile Me is worth every cent that Apple charges.

    flyboy had this to say on Aug 02, 2008 Posts: 30
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