It is now more than 84 hours since I got my hands on the iPhone 3g. The bottom line is that the phone itself is a masterpiece — really great. As expected, there are many applications available in the "app store" and many thousands more to come. That is the good news. The bad news is that apple.com is failing big time.
The activation and iTunes problems are well documented in the media but I am surprised that there is not more coverage of the MobileMe issues. MobileMe is a key part of Apple’s strategy. It is basically a "cloud computing" offering that enables you to put all your email, contacts, calendar items, and data files at me.com which is Apple’s name for their cloud. Once in the cloud, you can then synchronize everything with Outlook. If you make a change in Outlook it goes to the cloud and then down to your iPhone. If you make a change on your iPhone it goes up to the cloud and down to Outlook. If you go to a kiosk at the airport or use a computer at a friend’s house and make a change, both your iPhone and Outlook are updated automatically.
I took the bait — hook, line, and sinker. After installing the MobileMe software on both my iPhone and PC, I synchronized with iTunes. This resulted in all my contacts and calendar items being removed from the iPhone — they would now be replaced by an update from the cloud. One big assumption — the cloud (Apple servers) has to be working — and it wasn’t. This is the problem I anticipated in the last post. Apple does not have their act together in maintaining their cloud. I called support today and they said "MobileMe is not working — all the servers are down". Not good. The great thing about clouds is that you do not have to worry about Windows, your varivous PC issues, etc., but the bad news is that you become totally dependent on the cloud provider — in this case, Apple — and they are not a proven player. At this point, all my data is in the cloud and none of it is on my iPhone.
This all reminds me of the Fall of 1995 when we were preparing ibm.com to host the Olympic Games of 1996. It turned out to be the largest web site ever built. We had 54 outstanding engineers working on it and it turned out to be successful. Fortunately, we were able to convince the company to make a large investment in the infrastructure. I remember saying that "we don’t how many people will come to the web site, we don’t know when they will come, nor do we know what they will do when they get there". Dave Grossman, of our team, called it "trial by fire". That was 13 years ago. The lessons learned in 1995 served IBM well and it is now the largest web hosting company in the world. Apple has a lot to learn.