More and more I find myself using web-based email. The availability of computers and wireless access "everywhere" means that I tend to leave my machine at home more times these days. I also use mobile devices to check email and to do web searches. I am not alone. I meet more people who are abandoning desktop email tools in favor of web-based ones and this trend will continue as the quality of web-based communication tools available from companies such as Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft get even more compelling. Here are some things that I think Apple has to do to keep .mac viable.
1. Give users a free level and a for-cost pro level
I have set-up several users with new Macs lately and find it frustrating that they cannot get a free .mac account to get them quickly started with Mail and iChat. Apple makes this too difficult. Why not be more competitive with Yahoo and Google and give users a free, ad-supported level in addition to a paid-for pro-level that includes more storage and other services.
- free level - email, Address Book, iChat, iCal, manual "synch", 1GB storage, ad-supported
- pro level adds - iSynch, Blogs, Groups, Photo Albums, iDisk, Backup, domain name hosting, 2GB storage, $99 per year
2. Give users a simple, stable, and meaningful URL
The .mac URL is too complicated. It is difficult to share what you cannot remember. I meet people at parties who want to see my photos but I can't remember the URL to tell them. Why not simplify this? And while you are at this can you please host our domain names as part of the for-pay pro level?
- mylogin.mac.com for the free level (example: mysite.mac.com)
- domain name hosting such as www.mysite.com for the pro level
3. URLs to calenders should simpler and be integrated into .mac interface
When you synch iCal the URL to the on-line version is something I have never been able to remember. It is not even integrated into my .mac site. This sucks. Why not simplify this?
- mylogin.mac.com/calender for the free level
- my domain name/calender for the pro level
4. Integrate AJAX into the user interface
It is time to catch-up with the state-of-the-art in web applications. My .mac web email, contacts, calender, and groups applications need a more interactive user interface. AJAX?
5. Better search, threaded discussions, and tags
It is very difficult to find my .mac email messages on the web! On my desktop Spotlight rocks! But on the web I can only search by the subject and to/from lines. Threaded discussions, popularized by GMail, make it so much easier to follow a discussion and find related messages. To use these two features I forward my email to GMail. Tags would be a nice addition, allowing further categorization of email.
6. Mobile access
I have tried to access my .mac account from a Blackberry and a Treo. I needed to search my Address Book for a phone number that was not in the mobile phone. The user interface was slow and frustrating. The interface has many irrelevant large images and frames/tables that get in the way of a tiny screen. This is fast becoming an important use case.
Many people I know would love to get .mac accounts but cannot justify the cost given that similar services available from Google, Yahoo, and MSN are free. The larger user-base generated by the free users may create an ecosystem that can be taken advantage of by Apple and Macintosh application developers to:
- sell new services
- create gaming networks
- enhance communications - chat, talk, video
- add more communications and network services into their application
My friend Brian feels differently. He says:
All I have to say is UGH! My e-mail isn't broken! Jesus, do the people who make these applications live and work in the real world? Where the F#$k is the business case for an AJAX e-mail client? If these people worked on something useful like recognizing the fact that someone has just asked me to join them on a phone call at xx:xx and placed that as a "tentative" meeting in my calendar I'd be in nirvana. But instead of working on this problem, they decide to go and write another stupid e-mail client using the latest hyped up technology. Shame on them.
Spell checking in an e-mail client is also one feature that is lacking in a lot of apps. This, in my little world, is essential since I suck at psellig. Drag and Drop! Who F#$ing cares! I want to see an e-mail/calendar client that shows me collisions in my schedule when someone proposes a meeting time. I also want it to seamlessly integrate with my wireless devices (read cell phone) so I can make sure that I can bring my schedule with me. How come with all the freaking "technology" we have, I still don't see a place to put a location into my calendar in terms of street address? And, why can't my calendar link to a traffic report to suggest a departure time? I'm sick of technology for its own sake. Let's make the web and all the freaking information out there USEFUL! People like Zimbra should be shot down early in the VC funding stages. I don't understand how people like them get $$. So they come from Weblogic? I can't believe someone would invest in their marketing hype when Weblogic is getting killed by JBoss and others.
Alright, enough of my banter and short tirade. Someone needs to produce an app that has the features I discuss above. The app needs to ALREADY EXIST. Forget making another e-mail client. Clients aren't broken, people are ;)
Think about information enrichment instead of making yet another clone of something that is already out there and maybe we'll see some freaking innovation again.