The road to Apple’s hardware success is littered with the detritus of dead software and services.
Hypercard. AppleWorks. iDVD. iWeb. iDisk. Safari for Windows. MobileMe.
I could go on.
This stuff runs the gamut from lauded to maligned, but they all have one thing in common: people depended on them and Apple unceremoniously killed them.
It’s enough to leave a long-time Mac user like me wondering: Can we really depend on Apple to remain committed to any software or service?
Apple seems to change its Internet service offerings as often as Lady Gaga swaps outfits.
First there was eWorld. More recently there’s been .Mac (pronounced “dot Mac”), then MobileMe, and now iCloud.
Through all of these changes, we customers have been forced to endure the loss of critical Internet services like online backups, web-based photo galleries, websites, and online data storage.
Conversely, we’ve had to accumulate confusingly redundant email addresses. Thanks to Apple, I have both “mac.com” and “me.com” email addresses. And rumour has it that Apple is soon to force a new “icloud.com” one on me.
Apple’s inconsistency with online services is no laughing matter (other than for competitors). In fact, it’s becoming a source of stress for many customers.
Take my mom, for example.
A few years back, I convinced her to publish her travel journals to Apple’s online environment, MobileMe, using Apple’s desktop publishing tool, iWeb.
She quickly became dependent on it and published thousands of photos and text updates.
And iWeb was easy to use and MobileMe was easy to publish to. It was a well-designed, comprehensive system.
Then Apple killed it.
And all of a sudden, my mom found herself on a dead-end street without even a detour to a new neighbourhood offered.
Of course, I helped her migrate her website to another platform. But that process was one that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. My mom certainly could never have managed it on her own.
But hers is just one example. I know people that built entire online businesses using MobileMe and iWeb.
On the desktop, Apple’s track record is equally spotty.
Apple used to offer an advanced office suite called AppleWorks.
It included tools that rivalled the crap in Microsoft Office. But after spending a decade building a dependent and dedicated customer base, Apple just killed AppleWorks.
Yet now, with what seems like cruel irony, Apple is recreating many of these applications and services.
Of course, iCloud is the company’s current Internet service.
And iWeb seems to have found a new home tucked inside iPhoto for iOS.
And Pages, Numbers, and Keynote represent a modern iteration of AppleWorks.
Here’s the question, though: How long until Apple pulls the rug from under the feet of people using these new products?
Apple seems unable or unwilling to commit to a long-term software and services strategy.
Microsoft, Google, Dropbox and Adobe would never get away with a cavalier attitude like Apple’s. (Well, OK, Google has its fair share of software missteps, but to the company’s credit, everything is labeled “beta” anyway.)
But that’s because they don’t have a booming hardware business to fall back on. Software and services for Apple are in many ways just hobbies.
Personally, I’m at the point now where I don’t feel like I can depend on Apple for this stuff anymore.
Sure, iCloud sounds great, but I don’t trust that it’ll be around in three years.
And, honestly, I won’t be surprised when Apple kills Pages and Numbers and stops supporting their file formats.
That’s too bad because iCloud is a great idea.
And the software that Apple publishes is generally far superior to its competition’s. Pages and Numbers wipe the floor with Word and Excel.
Once upon a time, I was a strong advocate of the software that Apple published and the Internet services it provided. But I’ve been burned too many times now to continue in that role.
I’m starting to look at alternatives to what Apple offers.
In closing, though, there’s one bright spot in the long history of Apple’s software efforts: Filemaker Pro. Arguably the best desktop database software available, Apple pushed Filemaker out of its stable years ago to be managed by a subsidiary company.
Perhaps that’s what Apple should consider doing with the rest of its software and services. A subsidiary that depends on their success may be the only way to establish consistency and longevity. Apple itself seems to lack the commitment required.
Andrew Robulack is a writer and consultant specializing in technology and the Internet. Read his blog at www.geeklife.ca.