Apple announced at WWDC that its new iCloud service will be launching this Fall along side iOS 5. First of all, iCloud, which I just added to my Firefox dictionary, will accomplish a number of massively needed things for the Apple ecosystem. Many of the new features of iOS 5 and some of OS X Lion will rely on the new iCloud service for over the air backups, apps, music, books, photos, email, contacts, calendars and documents. Apple is killing its paid MobileMe offering and launching iCloud services for free. Lets have a quick glance over a couple of key features!
Over The Air Activation and Backups
I believe this is the key feature that iCloud brings to the ecosystem. Sure, having your libraries available to you among the ether is nice, its not going to be the deciding factor when it comes to sales. What will be; however, is the fact that the “Post-PC” catchphrase is no longer entirely disingenuous. While there will be the need for a personal computer for some functions for the foreseeable future, those in the netbook or internet browsing device market have been set free. Starting this Fall buy or update your iPod Touch, iPhone, or iPad and be greeted with a big Welcome and Activate followed by daily WiFi backups and over the air iOS updates. No PC required, just don’t lose those cables for charging (until hopefully iPhone 5 and iPad 3 drop down the charge mats and go full on wireless, but that’s for another article.)
I say iTunes music because that is all that was addressed, even though Apple continued to refer to it as iTunes in the cloud. A very nice start and I will be interested in seeing what will be done with TV and Movies down the road. I will say that I believe Google Music may have met its match. iTunes is already the most popular media store in the world with something on the order of 15 billion song purchases. I did not see much from the ‘streaming’ end of this service, which it does not look like we will get with this iteration, but is offered by competing services from Google and Rdio. iTunes in the cloud is more like your receipt locker for music purchases, buy once and get them over and over on up to 10 devices… basically keeping your device storage low until you want to download the songs… not entirely ideal. You can configure your other devices (iPod Touch, iPad, etc.) to auto download as well, making it easy to sync music device to device. Additionally, Music Match at $25/yr will scan your library and upgrade what matches in the existing store to high quality 256k AAC audio and upload everything else that it doesn’t match. If you’re already an iOS 4.3.x user, pop over to the iTunes app and check it out… beta is live now without having to update.
Another announced feature is Documents for iCloud. This could be Apple’s stripped down shot at DropBox, integrated into the iWork suite of applications. An answer to the iOS file system? Maybe… as they have announced APIs will be made available for multiple platforms including Mac and PC (perhaps we’ll see other mobile iterations as well.) As with iTunes, I’m not sure how much iCloud is doing with STORAGE which is concerning to me.
Quick Example: DropBox is cloud storage + synchronization. I have a DropBox app on my PC at home and Work, as well as my iPhone and iPad. DropBox online storage + PC + Work all synchronize and store everything in all locations while the iPhone and iPad basically ‘stream’ the information back from the cloud storage and only store locally what I open or cache locally. Hopefully I’m wrong but it seems from what I see in the announcement as though iCloud Documents only stores the file long enough to push to all of the iOS devices (or those with API). This would be a problem if an iPad were your only computer AND you didn’t have a full backup live on iCloud or needed to access a file from another computer, like you can with the DropBox web interface or Google Docs for that matter. Seems like it will be difficult to have complete or even delta backups for multiple devices along with email service with only 5GB and store all of your documents.
What does this fix for Apple?
It fixes the lackluster performance of MobileMe. It delivers key features to allow these devices to stand on their own and compete against a fast growing market. Most importantly… it’s definitely not sitting still.