Apple’s first, ambitious try at delivering a real, cloud-computing solution to the market was as bold as it was imaginative.
It also stunk.
MobileMe, when it launched in 2008, was practically crippled out of the gate. A suite of online-based productivity and communication offerings, MobileMe was launched into the marketplace to provide e-mail, calendaring, online storage and more. It would work with the iPhone, which had potential to make it immediately useful to millions.
Apple had pre-announced MobileMe months earlier, and demand was off-the-charts. In fact, demand was so strong that Apple simply didn’t have enough capacity to keep up with everybody signing in and once, and the service was simply unavailable to tens of thousands of paying customers for days. In addition, it was buggy. Over-the-air synchronization that was supposed to make life easier didn’t work. Managing the storage service was kludgy and not very intuitive.
It was so bad, Apple had to give away free months of service as “make goods” to those who signed up.
But then Apple did what Apple does best: it learned. The company announced it would build a new data center, add capacity and make its Apple cloud-based offering more reliable. It worked. Synchronization aspects of MobileMe started working, too. Online storage became just a bit easier, but became easier to work across its lineup of Macs, iPhones, iPod Touches and iPads.
Saving a Word Document that you create on a Mac and saving to your MobileMe iDisk is as simple and intuitive as saving it to a regular file folder on the PC itself.
MobileMe is now hardly ever down and its e-mail has been rock solid.
So, as Apple tantalizes the market today by saying CEO Steve Jobs -- back from medical leave, if even for a day -- will announce Apple’s new “iCloud” service next week, a look back over the company’s experience with the cloud could be helpful.
Cloud computing, if nothing else, is about reducing cost and complexity. Apple has shown with MobileMe that it can make integrating desktops, notebooks, tablets and smart phones over the cloud less expensive and dead simple. That shows that Apple has clearly learned from its early mistakes. iCloud could become a testament to all the work Apple has done since its early, forgettable days of MobileMe.
Apple just needs to make sure that upon iCloud’s launch, it keeps enough server capacity on terra firma. Additionally, it would be helpful if Jobs could make a bold statement about security. This would also offset other concerns that have emerged, for example, regarding Apple security in other platforms. It would also be nice to see Apple’s two carrier partners for its iPhone and iPad platforms -- Verizon and AT&T -- provide statements of support regarding ability to deliver enough bandwidth to make iCloud worth it.
It’s welcome news, in and of itself, that Jobs will be making the announcement next week himself, in person. But over the long haul, the headlines could wind up focusing more on what Apple has learned from its early, painful days in the cloud.