If .Mac is down, could .Me be far behind?

June 3, 2008, 3:21 PM UTC

Apple’s mail service was offline for about five and a half hours Monday night, and a lot of people got very excited.

“.Mac mail down, speculations abound” read the headline on The Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW).

“.Mac outage sparks fresh re-brand rumour” echoed 9to5Mac.

Why the excitement? Because everybody who follows Apple believes that an overhaul of the company’s aging Internet services bundle is imminent. And indeed, one regular at Investor Village reported later that night that a “buddy at Apple” told him that the outage was related to “major server work” and not the irritatingly regular scheduled maintenance.

It’s been more than a year since Steve Jobs, gently rebuked at D5 by the Wall Street Journal’s Walt Mossberg for how little Apple (AAPL) has done to develop its $99/year .Mac Internet bundle — especially compared with what Google (GOOG), Yahoo (YHOO) and Microsoft (MSFT) now offer for free — promised to do something about it real soon.

“I couldn’t agree with you more,” Jobs replied at the time. “And I think we’ll make up for lost time in the near future.”

A few months later, Apple did increase tenfold (to 10 GB) the amount of storage you get for $99, but the rest of the .Mac services — Mail, Backup, Sync, iDisk, etc. — were basically unchanged and growing increasingly long in the tooth.

So with less than a week left before Apple’s annual World Wide Developers Conference and the keynote speech at which everybody expects Jobs to unveil the new iPhone, at least one Apple watcher thinks his surprise “one more thing” this year might be the successor to .Mac, re-branded for the age of iPhones as .Me.

Why .Me? Saul Hansel at the New York Times’ Bits blog does a good job tracing the genealogy of this particular meme, from .Mac to %@ to Mobile Me to .Me.

Suffice it to say that this may be Apple’s best chance to prove that it really does understand today’s World Wide Web, and that it can do for social networking, cloud computing and online services what it has done in the past for PCs, portable music players and cell phones: put the focus on the user’s experience and make complex technology seem utterly and delightfully transparent.