Just in time for my annual $99 hit, details are starting to leak out of Cupertino about an improved version of Apple’s MobileMe due this summer(ish). The good news is I have a new Apple product to sweat for the next 4-6 months, but the bad news I’m still going to blow a C-note just to be able to screen share – the very definition of throwing money away.
So why should you care, especially if you’re not a fully vested Apple fanboi? The answer is equal parts simple and cross-platform – your iTunes library streamed anywhere you want music. Yep, theoretically there will be no more creating playlists to manage how many songs can fit on your iPod, iPad or iPhone, or having to plug devices into a single computer. That certainly resonates for those of us who split time between a desktop and laptop computer – and maybe most importantly, will drop a huge iTunes buying barrier: which computer you’re working on. It’s not like iTunes purchasing needs to be more impulse driven, but I know many people who only buy stuff from at home because that’s where their iTunes library lives. Sometimes you just gotta have that Kanye album while sitting at Starbucks, and your iTunes library is bigger than your laptop’s hard drive.
But beyond just streaming iTunes out of a monster data center in North Carolina, some of the new details bouncing around start to get even more interesting. The new MobileMe supposedly sports an entire social layer including the long-rumored iGroups functionality that delivers your own summary page detailing location info and any other geo-specific actions you open up to friends (like pics or videos).
And we’re not talking about some crappy check-in app that requires six more user tasks and another set of useless badges. Hinging together the GPS capabilities of your phone, the data from Apple Maps (including real-time traffic) and user-generated content from any geo-enabled app on your phone could make for one hell of a background social graph. And at least you know Apple would be a bit more focused on privacy than the Facebook guys.
At the same time, the rumors of Ustream-type functionality starts to make sense of the iPhone’s must underutilized feature: FaceTime. In essence, everyone already has a video server in their pocket that’s backed-up by a 1GhZ processor and 720p video – it just lives a hobbled iPhone-to-iPhone, WiFi-only existence. Imagine if that were set free in some kind of one-to-many broadcasting scenario that would take lifestreaming to its infinite conclusion – the potential could be equal parts astonishing and terrifying.
But let’s be clear, Apple’s gotten off to a slow start in the social space with Ping so I’m not holding out hope for some location nirvana. And as my super-geek friend Stephen Fleming points out: “If this involves ANY legacy code from iDisk, it will stink on ice.” There’s no doubt the current file syncing (iDisk) is about as reliable as a carrier pigeon in a hailstorm, and anyone with any sense has already migrated to Dropbox. So clearly Apple has some self-induced potholes to steer around.
So will Apple slam-dunk MobileMe like they did the iPad? Probably not, but they’ve got enough hard data from my iPhone and they clearly understand UI design as well as anyone in the world. It’s not hard to believe Cupertino could bring something crazy data rich and drop-dead gorgeous to the location game. Will it be a Foursquare or Facebook Places killer? I hope not given I expect much more from Apple than the average software company. I’d contend today’s location services will end up being the training wheels for new tools and functionality that deliver more way personal value. I, for one, can’t wait…