Since its launch in July 2002, Apple’s .Mac service has attracted criticism for offering too little at too high a price. It hasn’t helped that many companies offer aspects of the .Mac solution – web mail, online photograph hosting and file storage – for free. In order to make an impact in today’s online marketplace, Apple really needed to offer something more. Has Apple met the competition head on with this latest update, or is it likely to fall by the web 2.0 wayside?
The .Mac update offers two much needed boosts – more storage, and better image and movie sharing. Previously, uploading a collection of photographs from iPhoto to a .Mac subscriber’s website took a number of steps and a lot of uploading time. Thankfully, photo uploading is now a one step process. The bad news is that the freedom of choice offered by iWeb templates has gone. Gallery customization options have been replaced by a one-size-fits-all template. Instead, the people viewing your photographs get the chance to customise the gallery, plus some other handy features.
Uploading an album collection of images from iPhoto involves creating an album and then clicking on the Web Gallery icon in the iPhoto menu. You are then able to choose whether you want your photographs to be viewable by everyone, only you, or by people with access to a user name and password. It is also possible to define whether visitors to your photo site can download the images and upload their own images.
The page of images takes some time to upload when you visit the website. Patience is rewarded though – in true web 2.0 style, it is the visitor to your site that gets to choose how the Web Gallery looks. Images appear on a black background by default, but this can be changed to white, light grey, or dark grey. Even more impressive is the ability for your visitor to view images in four different formats: Grid, Mosaic, Carousel and Slideshow. We were particularly stunned by the Carousel view that lets the user flick through images as they slide across the screen zooming in and out as they reach the centre.
Visitors to your Web Gallery can do so much more than change the way they view your images though. If you’ve heard talk of web 2.0 and wondered what it’s all about, it’s the next generation of the internet that aims to facilitate collaboration and sharing. If you have used Facebook or MySpace, or Wikipedia, then you are already a web 2.0 user.
The way that .Mac addresses this new web technology is by letting visitors to your site download, and upload their own images. Visitors can download a file containing high-res versions of all the images, or, if they are on a Mac, Subscribe and sync their own iPhoto library with your album. They can also click on the Upload tab and an upload box will appear allowing them to pick a file to upload straight to the album. Visitors can also upload images by selecting Send to Album. This tab shows them an email address to which they can email images that then appear on the site.
While these features are very impressive, we were slightly concerned about how easy it is for visitors to upload pictures without you approving them.
It’s not just photos that are easily uploaded to your Web Gallery. Sharing iMovies online is also a simple process – as long as you have iMovie ‘08, and you will only be able to run that if you have a G5 or an Intel Mac. It is a shame that Apple hasn’t enhanced iMovie ’06 so that users of that application can upload movies too.
The ability to simply store all this extra content via .Mac is made possible by the other major enhancement to .Mac – increased storage. .Mac now offers 10GB of storage – 10 times more than the previous version. The measly 1GB of storage offered before was barely enough to accommodate a couple of active email accounts, let alone images and iDisk file sharing. It did little to sell .Mac in a market where 1GB of storage was offered by the likes of Gmail for free. With 10GB of storage Apple has finally got a product worthy of attention, but can it justify the price of £70 a year?
The price can be justified to a point by the usability of the service, and the fact that it is packed with so many features, from web mail to website hosting. However, if you’re looking for a way to share high-quality photographs with friends and family then the .Mac service is great, but you could just use Facebook or Flickr. If you want somewhere to host documents online then iDisk’s integration with the Mac OS X operating system is a bonus, but there are free services that are easier for PC users to access.
What .Mac offers that no other service offers is integration with iLife. If you have invested in iLife then the extra investment in .Mac may be worth it. But it‘s still a high price to pay for something that you can get for free.