The End Of The Free Ride (7/17/02)

Proof that even Steve Jobs's infamous Reality Distortion Field has its limitations: was it just us, or was the whole room suffused with a deafening silence when His Mercurialness announced that iTools-- er, we mean .mac-- now suddenly costs $99 a year? And did you notice that the silence became, if anything, even more deafening when Steve told us that existing iTools members could sign up for "only $49" for the first year? Maybe, like us, everyone present kept waiting for Steve to say "Just kidding! Basic services are still free to all Mac users, as thanks for being our loyal customers, and you all also get free ponies!" Sadly, that announcement never came, and now anyone who wants to keep using their iDisks or their email addresses is going to have to fork over a yearly fee. Faithful viewer Jay Tuley has a point: for people who have made their email addresses their primary mail accounts, this smacks a little of ransom-- pay up, or the email address you've given out to everyone you've ever known for the past eighteen months sleeps with the fishes.

As far as we can make out, here's the scoop: more stuff's coming later, like the ability to publish iCal calendars, but right now .mac is just iTools as you knew it, but with more iDisk storage space (100 MB vs. 20 MB), a bigger email quota (15 MB vs. 5 MB), a free copy of Virex 7.1, and access to Apple's new Backup software (which only fully works if you have a current and valid .mac subscription). Unfortunately, that means that those of us who don't need bigger iDisks or inboxes and already own (or don't want) virus protection or backup software need to shell out the cash just to keep the status quo. The good news is that you've got 75 days in which to decide whether or not it's worth it; until then, your previous iTools account functions as a "trial" .mac subscription. So enjoy it while it lasts. (Quick note: at least Apple's playing fair. Faithful viewer Morgan Brown had purchased extra iDisk storage last year, and as a consequence, is getting a full year of .mac for free.)

Okay, granted, $99 a year isn't terribly much to ask for all you get. And it undoubtedly cost Apple some serious moolah to have provided all these Internet services and bandwidth to its customers free of charge, but we've always considered that to be an inalienable perk of buying a Macintosh. Many's the time we've made this pitch to Wintel users: "Sure, Macs may cost more at the outset, but look at all the great and tightly integrated Internet services you get for free!" Unfortunately, that formerly effective sales argument just crumbled to dust, and for our money it couldn't have come at a worse time; now that Apple's "Switch" campaign is in high gear, the sales folks at the retail stores need more ammo to convert the curious Wintellians who dare to venture within, not less.

Don't get us wrong-- we're realists (sometimes), and we understand that Apple wants to make money by providing a valuable service. We just can't help but wonder whether the company would realize more in increased Mac sales-- and more customer good will-- if Steve told Fred Anderson to tap into Apple's $4.3 billion piggy bank to keep .mac free to all Mac users. C'mon, since iTools/.mac is integrated so tightly into Mac OS X, at the very least we'd have thought the company would provide a free ".mac Lite" subscription which retains just the original iTools functionality, but noooooo. It'll be interesting to see whether the amount of email we get from accounts drops precipitously in about 75 days' time. If not, Apple stands to make a killing: 2.2 million iTools subscribers times $49 equals a substantial revenue boost for Q4...

SceneLink (3739)
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The above scene was taken from the 7/17/02 episode:

July 17, 2002: Another Stevenote has come and gone, and while this one didn't pack too many surprises, there were at least a few points worth chewing on. Meanwhile, the sudden shift from free iTools accounts to for-pay .mac subscriptions is sure to have at least some users crying foul, but the new 17-inch iMac represents a value too good for mere mortals to pass up...

Other scenes from that episode:

  • 3738: Debriefing Ruminations (7/17/02)   Ahhh... Pardon us while we bask in our traditional post-Stevenote glow. Granted, we didn't get to attend in person this time around, so we weren't subjected to the full, unfiltered force of a close-proximity unadulterated Reality Distortion Field, but it's surprising how much of a buzz still comes through from a QuickTime webcast piped through a Pismo's S-video port onto the living room TV set...

  • 3740: And Super-Size It, Please (7/17/02)   Okay, so today we found out that our formerly free iTools accounts have just turned into subscription-based .mac accounts. On top of that, we were also told that we're going to have to shell out a full $129 if we want to upgrade to Mac OS X 10.2 come August 24th; as faithful viewer Mike Harris notes, there's no special upgrade price, so the only way to upgrade your existing copies is to buy completely new full-price licenses...

Or view the entire episode as originally broadcast...

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