As the hype surrounding the god-like iPhone slowly, oh so slowly, fades, a problem emerges from the shadows…

Apple’s subscription email service .Mac was rebranded MobileMe to coincide with the iPhone 3G launch. Existing customers have been moved to the new platform, but for some (Apple claims 1%) it’s a disaster. They’ve been unable to use email for five days — not from their Macs, not from their iPhones, not via the web. And that’s not the only problem. As .Mac user Ed Dale said, “Not pleasant to log in and see four years of mail gone.”

Crikey’s First Dog on the Moon, also a MobileMe-er, says “it’s been crap”.

According to AppleInsider, a mail server crash and fiber-optic line faults have added to the problems. One subscriber told them he knew at least 10 people with MobileMe and all of them were affected.

“Now either it’s just a coincidence that everyone I know is in the 1%, or Apple is flat out lying,” he said.

Sydney businessman Mark Bowyer, presumably like many .Mac customers, subscribed years ago assuming that paying $139.95 per annum would deliver greater reliability than free services like Hotmail and Gmail, as well as features like shared calendars. Today, he’s angry. The only message from Apple has been “we’re working on it”.

“There is no phone [support] available for [MobileMe] in Australia,” he told Crikey.

“Despite the army of Apple personnel selling iPhones and other gadgetry, nobody here can answer any enquiries about the problem.”

Not that this would make any difference. Ultra-secretive Apple never provides information beyond its official statements.

Although, in a very unusual step, it has apologised to .Mac users, sending this email:

We have recently completed the transition from .Mac to MobileMe. Unfortunately, it was a lot rockier than we had hoped.

Although core services such as Mail, iDisk, Sync, Back to My Mac, and Gallery went relatively smoothly, the new MobileMe web applications had lots of problems initially. Fortunately we have worked through those problems and the web apps are now up and running.

Another snag we have run into is our use of the word “push” in describing everything under the MobileMe umbrella. While all email, contact or calendar changes on the iPhone and the web apps are immediately synced to and from the MobileMe “cloud,” changes made on a PC or Mac take up to 15 minutes to sync with the cloud and your other devices. So even though things are indeed instantly pushed to and from your iPhone and the web apps today, we are going to stop using the word “push” until it is near-instant on PCs and Macs, too.

We want to apologize to our loyal customers and express our appreciation for their patience by giving all current subscribers an automatic 30-day extension to their MobileMe subscription free of charge. Your extension will be reflected in your account settings within the next few weeks…

The Terms of Service say MobileMe “is designed for personal use and not intended to be used for commercial business purposes.” Bowyer, who does run his business email elsewhere, reckons that shouldn’t make a difference.

“I have become painfully aware of how I have entrusted so much of my life to Apple — banking, subscriptions — including my Crikey subscription — credit card statements, not to mention an international network of friends and contacts. Who’s to say I don’t value my personal life more than my business?”

This personal/business distinction also seems odd given that Apple markets MobileMe as “Exchange for the rest of us“, a reference to Microsoft’s corporate messaging server. Perhaps it’s irony, given Exchange’s notorious reputation for being difficult to manage.

Will this hurt Apple’s reputation and sales? Not one bit. It’d make Kim Jong-il proud to see the fields filled with happy iPhone-waving infoworkers smiling for Chairman Steve, oblivious to the obvious flaws around them.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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