Analysis: Apple's MobileMe Will Crush Microsoft and Google (If it Works)

By announcing and taking the wraps off MobileMe, Jobs and Apple did what Google and Microsoft have tried but have failed to do: Define the cloud, and turn it into a broad-based, software-as-a-service offering for anyone. It has potential to integrate work and life, documents and images, PCs and phones.

For $99 per user, Apple's MobileMe will provide everybody an organized Web home for all of their important stuff. Some initial descriptions of it suggest it's not much more than a next-generation .Mac. Yet it hits the market at a time (and from a product lineup that includes iPhones, iPods and Macs) that really make it much more than that.

MobileMe will integrate PCs with a Web space in applications that serve both platforms. It will act as a repository of documents and files that iPhones or PCs or Macs or even iPod touch devices can access. Combined with Apple's forthcoming integration between iPhone and Microsoft Exchange, Apple is on track to own the world's leading brand of edge devices (iPhones); fastest-growing brand of desktops and notebooks (the Mac); and a SaaS offering that provides pieces to the puzzle that are missing for both Microsoft and Google.

Not a bad trifecta.

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Both Google and Microsoft have invested dearly in the cloud platform, and both continue to depict it as vital. But Microsoft's Live suite of products is limited to Microsoft product platforms. And Google's is, at its core, essentially Web-only with only token PC integration.

System requirements provide a range of options for running MobileMe. Those include Mac OS X Leopard; Safari 3, Firefox 2 or later Web browser on the Mac; Windows Vista or Windows XP Home or Professional (SP2) with IE 7, Safari 3, Firefox 2 or later on the PC (with Outlook 2003 or later "recommended"); iPhone or iPod touch 2.0 software on those devices. Apple does get you with a requirement of iTunes, to glue it all together.

If there's a major shortcoming, it's that Apple doesn't have a business version. While that may be a drawback for a lot of people right now, many thought that iPhone's lack of Exchange integration would be a deal breaker for iPhone for business. One year after the iPhone's launch, Apple is, in fact, about to give the market Exchange integration.

Key items to focus on once MobileMe, with 20 GB of online storage per individual account, is available:

- Performance -- some Live apps have shown spotty performance, including Microsoft's online storage offering;

- Compatibility -- will it ever work on Linux?;

- Bugs -- Google Desktop Search, for example, had some horrendous bugs when it first launched. If it doesn't work right, Apple's MobileMe could turn into its biggest failure since the Newton.

By popping Microsoft's and Google's balloons, Apple is setting a very high bar for itself. But if it converts on the promise, like it has on the iPhone, MobileMe will outflank Microsoft and Google in an area many in the industry consider strategic and critical.