Apple: Why not set .Mac free?

Apple: Why not set .Mac free?

Summary: The Macworld Steve Jobs keynotes are a good way to start the year. Jobs tends to set the bar for what the user experience should be for computing devices, providing perspective on what others are doing to make the human-computer interface less one sided.


The Macworld Steve Jobs keynotes are a good way to start the year. Jobs tends to set the bar for what the user experience should be for computing devices, providing perspective on what others are doing to make the human-computer interface less one sided. Google and Yahoo could certainly take a lessons in how to make software that is really user friendly and works seamlessly together. Microsoft has been taking lessons for years.

But the Web portalists--led by AOL, Google, MSN, Yahoo--could teach Jobs a few thingsmac1.jpg about delivering Web services. Apple's Web portal, .Mac, has about 1 million members at $99.95 per year or using the Family Pack, which includes five members for $179.95, Jobs said during his keynote. That's a small percentage of the Mac user population, but a decent revenue stream. By comparison, Yahoo claims 450 million users, including more than 200 million registered users, and more than $5 billion in 2005 revenue.

The individual .Mac membership includes 1GB of storage and 10GB per month of data transfer. The Family Pack membership includes includes 1GB of storage and 10GB per month of data transfer for a master account and 250MB of storage with 3GB per month of data transfer for four sub-accounts. Apple also offers a free for 60 day test drive and the service is available  in English, French, German, and Japanese.

Of course, .Mac requires a Mac and promotes Apple's nicely appointed walled garden and has deep integration with iLife applications and the Mac OS. .Mac isn't an operating system neutral play other than for accessing files, standards-based data (MAPI, iCal, RSS, etc.) from a PC.

Nor is .Mac a Web portal with all the external content and Web services--a missed opportunity. It has many of the applications that users get for free on other services and with more storage capacity. Apple charges $99.95 for .Mac because it can, but millions of loyal, fanatic Mac users are not using .Mac Mail or iPhoto and instead have well Gmail, Yahoo Mail, Flickr etc. Why should they pay Apple for email and bunch of other ancillary services.

The other .Mac components--photocasting, Web page, podcasting and blog authoring (via iWeb and GarageBand) iDisk (file transfer), .Mac Backup (online storage), Mail, Groups and Sync, which keeps data such calendars, bookmarks, and mail, up to date--work nicely together, but don't offer a rich online experience compared to what Yahoo is doing with social media and tagging or companies like 37signals are doing with Web applications.  Of course, software not somehow tied into the Macintosh platform isn't of great interest to Apple.


It's probably against Jobs' aesthetic sensibility to litter pages with ads like the Web portals or to deliver on demand Web applications that don't have all the slick features he so rigorously champions. But the Web portals are soaking up billions of dollars and billions of users with mostly "free," ad-supported services. Even Microsoft is gearing up to compete for those ad dollars online and building applications (including downloaded applications, such as earth maps tied into local data) tied back into an ad engine.

Apple still has a boutique mentality, as represented by .Mac and the Apple stores. Business is booming now, the stock has soared, so why rock the boat with ad-supported software. Apple doesn't want to see ads for Dell or Victoria's Secret on .Mac.

Think of what .Mac could be if you take away the $100 barrier to entry, invest more in developing online applications and open it up to play better with the rest of the world. That doesn't mean Apple shouldn't charge a fee for some its services. The reality is that Apple could probably make more money by starting with a free service and then accrue monthly fees from tens of millions of users for additional storage for files, blogs, mail and photos and some advanced services.

Customers will buy the Mac because of the user experience (and fewer vulnerabilities), not for the .Mac experience, which seems more like an extra cost at the time of purchase, despite the 60-day free offer. It wouldn't take that much to turn .Mac and iLife into selling points for the Apple's systems, just as the iPods and iTunes for Windows have extended the brand, that attracts users beyond the converted.

Topic: Apple

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    I pay the $99.00, just the fact that I haven't received a single junk
    mail since I began using it, about a year ago, has been well worth
    the 99.00. I would paid ten times that, the time it has saved me
    cancelling previous junk e-mails from my x-earthlink account
    alone would easily of saved me the money. My wife still uses
    Microsoft Outlook through Comcast, she spends her first five
    minutes every day deleting that garbage. I think she is about ready
    to break down and spend the 99.00 to avoid the junk. You ought to
    give it a try, no more junk mail. Pretty Good Apple.
  • Great points!

    I'm with you on this one. Never saw any compelling reason to
    subscribe to .Mac. I've got plenty of e-mail addresses already,
    thank you.

    Actually, the one sore spot is that .Mac allows you to synch up
    multiple computers--for example, you can synch your calendar
    and address book on your laptop with your desktop
    automatically. I've had to learn to do this by hand, which is a bit
    more annoying, but it would be nice to have this work
    automatically. Not worth $99 a year though.

    Given all the new iLife applications, I think making the
    photocasting and iWeb stuff accessible to everybody would aid
    in gaining marketshare. Otherwise they're pretty much useless
    to most of us.
    tic swayback
  • It Once Was Free

    When first offered and for years afterward it WAS free. If I recall
    correctly it was only when it turned to a pay service that it got
    rebranded ".Mac". And back then most of us thought it was a
    mistake to begin charging for it. I agree with you Dan 100%.
    Steve Jobs has spent literally HOURS of Keynote time
    demonstrating the seamless integration of .Mac with iLife--but
    all of this gets wasted on the vast majority of people who simply
    aren't subscribers. Imagine the impact on people using the web
    if ALL Mac owners were .Mac members: ALL the creative Mac
    users would be using their .Mac accounts to do the cool things
    you can do with it--and they'd be free advertising all over the
    Net. As it is now, most of the creative types instead use their
    Macs to blog elsewhere, host their sites elsewhere. Imagine if
    every Mac owner used a email address. Talk about
    viral marketing! If every Mac owner had .Mac accounts it would
    seem like the Mac, like iPods, were everywhere! And I think the
    advertising problem could be kept to an "elegant" minimum if
    they simply got into the search business--go ahead, Steve, call
    it "Spotlight"--and then provided google-esque text links only.
    They could make such links an option in Mail. These links would
    actually be able to fetch higher rates 'cause they'd be in the Mail
    of people who WANT the links and thus are 1000% more likely to
    use them. I've used the links in my gmail account, I don't find
    them a bother but an always present possible boon! I'd turn the
    option on in Mail if it were there. Roll back time a few days,
    Steve--you forgot one more "one more thing": set .Mac free!!
    Ken Peters
  • Should be free

    I agree that it should be free. I've long complained about the same thing. I own a Mac, have friends that own Macs and I don't know one person who has a .Mac account. And it's not that it's not good, but it's hard to convince people - outside of the fanatics - that it's worth paying for most of what you can already get for free (and most of the time with more space).

    The big selling point is how seamlessly they work together and that's true. I've used the trial and like the software, but just not enough to pay $99 a year. Especially when you consider that Apple asks you to pay almost yearly for OS upgrades, iLife upgrades, iWork upgrades, etc.

    Steve, you've convinced us to spend more for your computers over PCs. Now be nice and kick in .Mac for free.

    And, by the way, with my Gmail account (in the words of Mr. Dvorak) I GET NO SPAM. It's my default account, I get hundreds of messages a day, and use it for numerous subscriptions. I don't get any on my Yahoo account either, but in fairness I don't use that one much. Yahoo and Gmail have improved their filters greatly. Oh, and they have more space than .Mac.
  • Apple: Why not set .Mac free?

    I think you are missing the point. If you want free there are all
    sorts of alternatives, many of which you mentioned. I subscribe
    to it and feel it is well worth the money. (Incidentally, there are a
    number of ways to get it much cheaper than $99 and I would
    have expected you to know that).

    It also gives me disposable email addresses and a very
    convenient way to manage them. I can access my address book,
    bookmarks, calendars and other features from any browser that
    can connect to the internet. And there are other features too
    numerous to mention here.

    Remember, Steve Jobs has shown many times that he doesn't
    care to be the biggest provider of something on the planet. He
    would much rather try to be the best. It is very hard to find a
    company that cares about more than just the bottom line.

    So if you want free go with the aforementioned services and quit
    complaining because Steve Jobs doesn't happen to agree with
    you. Remember, in a Democracy you have the freedom to

  • I agree, to some extent...

    Free isn't necessarily the best option. You get a lot of people
    opening multiple account to share pirated software, spam and
    other annoyances. But why does it have to cost 100 bucks? I
    think that a .mac account further bonds the mac community
    members together. I would get an account myself if it was 29.95
    and so would probably 3-4 million others (which would make up
    for the price drop). But as it is now, I have my own domain
    (which I can't have under .mac), I run script, upload as much as I
    please and have as much traffic as needed, for that I pay 3.95 a
    month. In a nutshell, at least my type of nutshell, lower the
    prices, let all macusers get a chance to experience a good
    service and bond further... and don't be stingy with the
    bandwidth and storage.
  • Why *should* it be free?

    Mr. Farber falls into the usual trap of thinking that everything should be free or ad supported, or that Apple needs to do business like everyone else. Well, he is dead wrong.

    Look at the numbers. One million subscribers at $99 each. That's nearly $100 million in revenue. How many ad supported web sites, or ad supported sites with a paid subscription option are able to claim $100 million in revenue? Not that many. Obviously Apple is doing something right here.

    More to the point, $99 for the .Mac service is an outstanding value for the money, from what I can tell. Although I have never used .Mac and do not own a Macintosh, I have seen a number of people use it, and from what they say, what I have seen, and what I have read, it offers amazingly well done integration and functions on its own just as well. Just for the .Mac email, to get the equivalent functionality on a Windows PC, I would need to purchase Outlook and have it running against an Exchange server. I don't know of any free, ad supported websites that work that well with my desktop email application, let alone integrated suites like .Mac is.

    .Mac also is a good deal based on the fact that it all works together, and quite well. Take a good look at what Mr. Wainewright wrote a few days ago about a major barrier that SaaS vendors face ( It seems to me like .Mac has overcome this barrier.

    Remember, Office went from zero sales to being a monopoly, not because any of its individual components were better or cheaper than their competitors, but because using Office *as a whole* worked a lot better than using WordPerfect, Quattro, etc. simultaneously. .Mac does the same thing.

    Justin James
  • No Ads!! +.Mac is SO MUCH MORE!

    If you can't afford or don't want to pay a about $.25 a day for email, virtiual hard drive representation storage (mounts just like a HDD - I can see where I'm dragging files to and from), worldwide access to my synced bookmarks & addresses ... plus a bunch of other features + free software every few months and now even more web integration but if it's not what you need, want or can afford - DON'T BUY IT. IT'S NOT FOR YOU. For the rest os us, we enjoy what is really an seamless integrated that ONLY Apple can deliver. There are lots of choices that offer like-choices if you go a bunch of websites and log in 20 times but they all have ads or idiotic choices (who wants an email address ending in unless you're 14 years old?).


    .MAC is great as it is and getting better. Is it perfect. No. Of course, cheaper is better but if you actually look into what's you're getting instead of just thinking we're the "dillies" for paying $99 for just storage - you'll see also.

    But again, NOT for everyone.
  • Loss of business

    Apple is losing the chance to convert the success of the IPOD into online customers, to be a web giant and and to compete with the Google, MSN and Yahoo. Think big be big...
  • Portals aren't the future

    I think .Mac makes sense because it operates as an extension to
    your computing experience. I think portals are something most
    users eventually outgrow. They are nice when you don't really
    know the Internet, but eventually you learn your way around and
    you don't need to Ad sponsored hand holding provided by
    Yahoo and MSN, etc.

    Once Internet protocols are fully baked into the desktop
    experience the portal will only be something I need when I'm
    away from my workstation. And when I'm away, I want my portal
    to reflect my computing experience of my workstation....kind of
    like .Mac with the access to your calendars, address book, and
  • Not free -- but MUCH cheaper

    When you have services like Text America, Webshots, and other
    online services charging only $10-$30 a year for their services,
    this is VERY reasonable -- but $99 for even what .mac offers is
    way too expensive.

    For me, after buying my powermac for home then 6 months later
    my ibook for on the road, the last thing I want to do is shell out
    another $99 to share data between the two. Granted it'd be a
    nice feature to have, but I'd not pay $99 for it -- maybe $20-
    $30, but not $99.

    Apple says they have 1 million subscribers, but isn't it better to
    have 4 million paying $25/month then 1 million paying $99/
    month? Apple is always trying to give folks a reason to switch,
    and though I think OSX can stand on its own in this argument,
    but a cheap to free .Mac account would be a NICE incentive.


    • Bad math

      No, it is much WORSE to have 4 million users at $25 each than 1 million users at $99 each. Think about it. If it costs, say $5 to support each user (bandwidth, storage space, help desk, etc.), then you are making less money per customer. In other words, by going from 1 million users at $99 to 4 million users at $25, you have performed a revenue neutral change that has savaged profits by 20%. No, I think Apple knows what they are doing here.

      Justin James
  • A different view, set iLife free

    I have a .Mac account that I am more than happy with but don't you
    think Apple might have given the iLife upgrade to those of us with
    existing .Mac accounts and original iLife licences? After all the
    majority of the upgrades to my .Mac account require me to
    purchase the new iLife to get any use from them.
    • perfect idea!

      Give away a free iLife upgrade with each .Mac renewal. Then I
      would not mind paying for .Mac as much. But in all honesty, it's is a
      decent service for the money. I use it to sync multiple Macs.
      Though the keychain sync does not work!!

  • Why Make it Free?

    Why make a service free when one million Apple Corps will pay for it?

    Apple knows they have a bunch of sheep who will bow down before the mighty Jobs and open their wallets.
  • Yea, he's got the 'right' idea!

    I love reading media types telling successful corporations how to run their business.

    So, I propose that ole Dan just walk right into the Chairman of Ziff-Davis and TELL him that Z-D should stop placing ads in all their publications.

    It's just not fair to waste all that space with ads. Look how much more important content Z-D could distribute!!!!

    Let's see how much value his opinion really is worth.
  • .Mac and iLife

    • Converse

  • No ads.

    I like my .mac account for the very reason that it is not Yahoo or
    Google. Adding more features would be nice as long as they are
    integrated with the OS. The second I see an advertisement on .mac
    I will cancel my subscription.
  • .mac has trapped me in a vice

    My .mac membership is due this week (tomorrow I think) and at
    $179 Australian it is an expensive service if not used to its full
    potential. I enjoy the use of a quality pop3 account with an
    integrated webmail service that syncs my address book and iCal
    with ease. What I don't like is the negative effect that cancelling
    my subscription would have on the 1000's of people that have
    my address that I would not be able to forward onto a new
    address. Many clients, friends and colleagues whom I rarely
    hear from would lose the ability to contact me overnight. I think
    the .mac membership should at least include a permanent email
    address that remains the property of the user as long as the
    account remains active (such as the way Hotmail culls unused
    accounts after 3 months)- or alternatively for a one-off fee the
    account remains open. If only used for email, .mac clearly
    represents poor value at $179 AUD but the damage is done and
    I'm with them now.
    Rob Charles