Apple 2.0

Covering the business that Steve Jobs built

Who is to blame for MobileMe?

July 25, 2008: 11:52 AM ET

Steve Jobs is not a manager who suffers fools, gladly or otherwise. In the early days of Apple, he was famous for categorizing employees by their "bozo bit," set at either 0 or 1, and for flipping his assessment from one to the other in the space of an elevator ride.

So what's he going to do about whoever is in charge of MobileMe?

For readers who haven't been losing e-mail, screwing up syncs, tracking the MobileMe discussion boards (96,000 messages as of Friday morning, more than 340,000 views) or reading the reviews (Walt Mossberg at the Wall Street Journal gave it a rare "can't recommend," David Pogue at the New York Times escalated it to "the real problem is how Apple is responding"), suffice it to say that MobileMe, which went more or less live on July 10, is Apple's worst product launch in the 10 years since Jobs returned from exile.

In Apple's defense, MobileMe is an ambitious project -- promising cloud computing and enterprise-quality syncing of e-mail, contacts and calendar appointments to millions of users for $99 a year. After a sputtering start (accompanied by a formal apology and a 30-day free subscription extension) parts of it are working moderately well. MacWorld, in the most exhaustive review yet, gave it three and half mice out of five.

But the five or six hours I lost e-mail contact with the world this week were bad enough; I can't imagine what it's been like for the estimated 20,000 loyal Apple customers who paid their $99 (or $149 for a family pack) and haven't had e-mail service for more than a week.

Apple (AAPL) has not said which of its managers was in charge of the development of MobileMe, who chose that unfortunate name, or who decided to launch it at the same time the rest of the company was busy trying to get iPhone 2.0, the App Store, and the iPhone 3G out the door.

At the World Wide Developers Conference in June, it was Phil Schiller, Apple's senior vice president for product marketing, who demoed it, leaving the strong impression that MobileMe would "push" contact and calendar changes nearly instantaneously from Mac to iPhone to PC and back -- an impression that Apple was forced to correct last week. And it was Steve Jobs himself who called it "Exchange for the rest of us," as if MobileMe could match the performance of Microsoft's (MSFT) competing product. The company's retail sales staff has since been instructed to stop using that phrase.

It's more than likely heads will roll over this botched roll-out -- if they haven't already. But given Jobs' well-documented propensity for micromanagement, it's also possible that he was warned that the product wasn't ready for primetime and wouldn't take "no" for an answer.

If that's the case, the blame for MobileMe may be his.

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About This Author
Philip Elmer-Dewitt
Philip Elmer-DeWitt
Editor, Apple 2.0, Fortune

Philip Elmer-DeWitt has been following Apple since 1982, first for Time Magazine, and now on the Web for Fortune.com.

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