I have had a Mac.com email address ever since I had a Mac that could send email. iTools, the predecessor of .Mac and MobileMe, has been part of my online identity since the summer of 2001. I remember when the only way to access my iTools’ IMAP email was through Outlook Express. When sending files to iDisk’s 5MBs of storage required AppleShare. When one of the perks of owning a Mac was the ability to send tasteful electronic greeting cards with Apple’s branding all over them. Before 2002 Apple’s online offerings were less about features and more about exclusivity. iTools was free, but only if you owned a Mac.
iTools was replaced with .Mac in the summer of 2002. Suddenly my mac.com email address cost something, my online storage size got a little larger, and my iCard electronic greeting cards? Well they stayed the same.
I started paying for .Mac because I saw the value in developing the online identity I started under iTools. Additional services like Apple’s miserable Backup application, and McAfee’s unwarranted virus protection never enticed me. .Mac’s early appeal was always its email address, and how it set me apart from the subscribers of Hotmail, Yahoo!, Comcast, and Earthlink. On the Internet your email address is your identity. It is the one account that connects you with all of the services the web has to offer. You can’t experience most of the web’s opportunities unless you have an email address. By purchasing my .Mac email address I was securing my online presence in a way only a professional email address could provide.
Over the next few years .Mac’s value would grow to include services like webmail, dynamic DNS, and the ability to sync data between Apple’s computers. In 2008 .Mac was replaced with MobileMe and iCards were a thing of the past. In their place were online galleries, 20GBs of storage, and the ability to sync email, contacts, calendars to an iPhone without a corporate Exchange account. I continued to pay for Apple’s online service for the freedom it provided. Instead of being tied to a business account, or a Internet service provider’s email address I could take my MobileMe email, contacts, calendars, and storage with me wherever I went.
Apple’s online services have always faced more affordable competition. From Microsoft’s free Hotmail to Google’s powerful web applications, MobileMe has never been considered inexpensive, or feature-rich. But if you lived inside Apple’s ecosystem and used all of the services MobileMe provided, the $69 discounted annual fee was not unreasonable. The difference between MobileMe and the competition is the respect Apple gives paying customers.
Google recently lost one of its best customers for undisclosed reasons. They canceled his account without telling him why. Google took 7 years of correspondence, over 4,800 photographs and videos, his Google Voice phone number and voicemail, all of his saved reading lists, bookmarks, contacts calendars, and more. He lost his online identity. He lost his blog. He lost his ability to be contacted by the outside world during a time that he needed his established methods of communication most.
Until you pay for your Google, you are not its customer, and even then Google’s primary responsibility is to its advertisers who spend millions of more dollars than you do. When you trust your online identity to free services like Google, you are trusting Google to make the right choices for its customers the advertisers. I would rather pay Apple, a company that makes products and services for people like me, then base my online identity on the profitability of ads.
Today MobileMe is now iCloud, and is free to all of Apple’s customers. As long as Apple is putting its customers first, I will continue to trust iCloud with my online identity. Apple is positioning iCloud as a feature that comes with Apple hardware. The price of new Macs, iPhones and iPads, will secure iCloud’s future. Nothing is certain in web services, but as long as iCloud remains part of the purchase price of Apple products, I can rest assured my online identity is safe.