Opinion - Five Things for a Great Apple-branded ISP/Portal
by: Anthony Frausto-Robledo ([email protected])

Is an Apple-branded ISP/Portal for Us?

Recent news reports that Apple may be entering the Internet Service Provider business have prompted me to think about what that would mean for me personally and professionally. While other PC manufactures have already entered this new business arena, Apple has not -- although many of you may remember Apple's ill-fated e-World online service that resembled and competed with America Online.

Thinking back to e-World makes me think doubly hard about why an Apple-branded ISP service would be a good thing. After all, I eventually dumped e-World for America Online only to dump them eventually for just the pure Internet stuff. What really bothered me about the earlier America Online is how un-Macintosh it really was. Getting logged on and surfing the Internet was a real chore, as they preferred (and probably still do) to run you past all of their private network stuff first. I haven't used the America Online service lately so I don't know if they have improved that experience or not -- or have done so but just added other "non-Mac-like" features that would frustrate Mac users anyway, just differently. The bottom line is I dumped something made by Apple before just to get something that offered more only to find how un-Mac-like the experience really was.

What's the Lesson Here?

The lesson is that if Apple wants to get my dollar for ISP services they need to make sure they can fully compete with the offerings of other ISP's (even AOL) where Mac users presently reside while making sure the experience is as Mac-like as possible. I don't mean Mac-like in the sense that it looks like the Mac OS (Apple's site doesn't look like the Mac OS), but rather that it acts like it -- simple, elegant, easy, powerful, and transparent. To do that Apple would need to think hard and long about what Web technologies to utilize and how to implement them within an interface design that is as powerful and easy as the Mac OS itself. It doesn't really matter to me if Apple made an ISP / Portal experience resemble the look and feel of the Mac OS (as an extension of the Mac OS); what does matter is how it would quickly get out of the way so I can do whatever I want on the Web.

"Education is where Apple first made its name. It's a trusted brand -- Apple has been brilliant in the past with education, and the Internet is the greatest educational tool of all."


Five Things for a Great Apple ISP!

What are the five most important items an Apple ISP would need to truly help "my Web" experience really go?

  1. Speed. As far as Mac users are concerned, we are familiar with having the fastest machines in the universe. This has been one of the nice benefits of being a Mac user, especially since the G3 chip. But Internet access is a different story. The latest internal modems built-in the PowerBook G3's, iMacs and some other machines are really poor. I've switched ISP's three times in order to get better connections to my Wallstreet PowerBook, and I'm not alone in this. It's frustrating! An Apple-branded ISP needs to offer cable, ISDN and DSL services as standard -- offered everywhere -- and at low cost. To do that Apple could partner with Bell Atlantic, MediaOne and other companies who have the infrastructure in place. They could also sell the cable modems with the machines via the Apple Store at discount prices.
  2. Technical Support. How many times have you waited an eternity to get help from an ISP? How many times have you struggled to find the information you need to upload the Web pages you've designed to your free 5MB of Web space? ISP's provide some of the worst technical support on Earth. Apple's own technical support has seen better days, but they are working hard on it. And it is getting better! I think technical support for an Apple-branded ISP could be built-in to the Help features in the Mac OS itself. I think it is hilarious to find loads of technical help online about "What to do if you can't get online". What good is that information if you can't even get connected? An Apple ISP needs first class, call in, technical support on all issues related to surfing, email and web hosting. And everything you could possibly want to know about the Apple ISP should be already present in the Help files in the Mac OS and on a free CD-ROM.
  3. Great Email. If my next ISP's domain is going to be "apple.net" I want great email features for small business, SOHO and family's with multiple machines. This is exactly where Apple, Dell, Microsoft, HP, and Gateway want to take us anyway: the "home LAN". With the low cost of CPU's and new home networking products (from Farallon, Asante, and Macsense) the next move is better OS support for multiple email accounts and recipients and free or low cost support for the same. I would like an email account for every member of my family -- all for one low price. And Apple needs to build the next Mac OS with this in mind so it is not necessary to buy business class email software just to distribute and manage five to ten email accounts in a home LAN environment.
  4. Great Content. Any good portal is going to allow you to customize your own "onramp page" (Internet startup page). What I mean by great content is the ability to know where to go to find great content on the Net. Apple's doing a pretty good job right now in regards to QuickTime 4 content on the Net. What would be great is if that could expand to include many more items across a number of subjects. There could be QuickTime educational items (more on that in a second) as well as the usual QuickTime video, animation and music entertainment. And don't forget Games! Games! Games! Apple needs them bad to really grow and Internet gaming is hot and only going to get hotter!
  5. Education. Apple could really shine here. Think about it. What if Apple provided free education to both children and adults via an Apple-branded ISP. I mean what's the great big information highway really all about? It's learning. Apple could partner up with PBS, Disney, the History Channel, the Smithsonian Institute, universities, and others to provide free learning through QuickTime 4 streamed content. Even Apple's own seminars and online seminars could belong to this area of content. Apple could be the worldwide leader in providing "information age" education to the masses via its Apple-branded ISP service and portal. You wouldn't even need to own a Mac to access free online education across an almost infinite number of subjects. Let's face it. The world's going to be all digital in the future and millions and millions of people -- in our country and others -- are going to need to get up to speed if they expect to have equal opportunities and fully participate in a global, digital-based world economy. Apple, with its trusted name in education and current technologies, is more prepared than probably any other company in the world to deliver such a service. And the payoff in the long haul could be huge, bigger than we can possibly imagine. Apple's brand could become synonymous in the next century with "information-age" education just as John Deere's brand became synonymous in this century with mechanized farming.
"Apple's brand could become synonymous in the next century with "information-age" education just as John Deere's brand became synonymous in this century with mechanized farming."


Quick Summary

Looking back, the first two items are all about "access" and the last three about "learning" Yes, even email is essentially about education, the sharing of information. It makes sense. If Apple was to leverage its strengths it would do so by looking to education. Education is where Apple first made its name. It's a trusted brand -- Apple has been brilliant in the past with education, and the Internet is the greatest educational tool of all.

Apple also has three great educational technologies already in its possession: WebObjects, Sherlock and the Mac OS. And you could easily add QuickTime 4 as a forth great educational technology. Those four technologies combined may be the single best set of educational technologies anywhere in the world. If Apple does come out with an ISP/Portal, hopefully education will be a big part of it. And if the other four items are there -- sign me up! And hurry, please!


Anthony Frausto-Robledo, B.Arch.
Founder & Editor, Architosh

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