Who Will Win the Cloud War? Apple vs. Google vs. Microsoft

The cloud and its promises of web-based software, near limitless storage, and streaming media services, has long been predicted as the next arena for the tech industry’s heavyweights to do battle. While Google and Microsoft have been offering cloud services for years, each company has focused more on advanced or enterprise users. Then, in June, Apple unveiled iCloud, which, when it launches this fall, will attempt to do what the competition has failed to do: make the cloud ubiquitous without being intimidating.

So what is the cloud in 2011? What do these companies stand to gain by winning over the most users? And who is in the best position to win?

Defining the Cloud

Although the cloud and the various services it supports have been around for quite some time, tech companies have done a fairly poor job of explaining exactly what the cloud is. “When you say cloud services, it’s pretty broad,” explained Michael Gartenberg, research director with the technology research firm Gartner. “Are you talking about digital lockers? Are you talking about cloud-based applications? Streaming music services? Cloud sort of becomes one of those catch-all phrases that becomes hard to define.”

In truth, the cloud is a nebulous term to describe the Internet and the various ways it can be leveraged by users.

For example, cloud storage allows users to upload and access their data via the web, much like an Internet-connected hard drive. When you upload a document or photo to Dropbox, you are storing it on the company’s servers, which allows you to access your files from any computer. Playing a game on Facebook? That also uses the cloud as a backbone.

Cloud-based applications, such as Google’s Docs productivity suite and online music services such as Grooveshark and Pandora, give users access to programs that they previously would have had to install on their PC. Such services save precious resources on users’ computers. However, most of these cloud apps require an active Internet connection. If you’re offline, for the most part you’re out of luck.

The Stakes

Unlike the desktop software of the past, which usually generated revenue through one-time purchases, the cloud carries with it the prospect of yearly subscription fees based on the types of services users sign up for. According to industry analyst Danielle Levitas of IDC, the cloud offers companies the chance to lock in users for a previously unprecedented amount of time.

“What everybody in the Internet space hopes for is getting some sort of annuity,” Levitas said. “There is a distinct advantage to getting people to sync and store to your cloud service, because it’s a major pain to move from one platform to another.” The hassle of moving to a different service, Levitas said, helps to ensure that users will stick with one company for a fairly long amount of time. The notion that users will stay with one service over another to avoid the hassle of moving all of their files to new service could have a huge impact on Apple, Google, and Microsoft’s overall mobile strategies.

Each company either currently offers or is working on integration of their cloud services with their mobile operating systems, with a majority of those services being made available free of charge. Apple, for instance, is deeply integrating iCloud with iOS 5 and OS X Lion, which will make transfering files between your Mac, iOS device, and iCloud fairly simple. Apple, however, has no plans to release an iCloud app for Android or Windows Phone 7 devices, meaning that if you rely heavily on iCloud and want to be able to access the service on the go, you’re going to opt for an iOS 5 device.

Microsoft is banking on a similar strategy with its Windows Phone 7 and Windows Live integration, which allows users to upload photos, songs, and documents from their phones directly to their Windows Live Skydrive accounts. Without a Windows Phone 7 device, uploading your data from your mobile device is out of the question.

Google, meanwhile, ensures that most Android devices ship with a slew of shortcuts to the company’s various cloud services. By doing this, Google gives users incentive to purchase an Android device. Of course, you could always access something like Gmail through your mobile device’s web browser, but having the service fully integrated into your device makes the process much quicker.

Taking all of this into account, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to say that the cloud wars could help determine who wins the mobile platform wars. With so much at stake, it behooves tech companies to offer users exciting and worthwhile services to keep them coming back for more. So how exactly are Apple, Google, and Microsoft trying to accomplish this?

War of the Cloud Services

Daniel P. Howley
Daniel P. Howley
A newspaper man at heart, Dan Howley wrote for Greater Media Newspapers before joining Laptopmag.com. He also served as a news editor with ALM Media’s Law Technology News, and he holds a B.A. in English from The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey.
Daniel P. Howley on
Twitter Google+
Email* (will not be published)
*Indicates required field
Submit Comments

  1. Alberto Says:

    You don’t have understood the real fundamental conceptual difference between Apple and Google “cloud”.

    1) with Apple the could is a transparent syncing tools, where all your documents are copied on all you iDevices and Macs. But you don’t depend of an internet connection to use your data. You use full native Apps, syncing is done transparently when you happen to be online.

    2) with Google all your software AND data are in the cloud. You need a FAST internet connection 100% of the time and the Apps are substandard (non-native) Web-Apps.

    Of course I much prefer the first approach.
    Don’t know about Microsoft and don’t care.

  2. Marvin Price Says:

    This question reminds me of the old days when people talked about the big three automakers and how powerful they were. Then one day OPEC showed the world who really had all the power; The folks who own the oil.

    In the same way, Apple, Google, and Microsoft are going to have their asses handed to them by a new bandwidth cartel. Time Warner, COMCAST, AT&T, and VERIZON will win the cloud wars, they own the cloud. And with morons claiming that Net Neutrality is “evil government regulation” nothing stands in their way.

  3. VanstrAlen Says:

    For an article about the different approaches to cloud storage and computing between Google, Apple and Microsoft, I would have expected to see Steve Balmer in the accompanying illustration. But I’m pretty sure that one of them looks suspiciously like Jim Balsillie….

  4. Joel Says:

    I really like the way Apple is paving the way in the computer market, there was a time when Microsoft was dominating the computer market and we had to put up with the awful Windows XP and internet explorer 6+7. Since Apple has become a thread with the advent of Snow Leopard taking bites out of Microsoft’s market share, Windows was forced to react by catching up and being innovative again (something Microsoft wasn’t able to do since Windows 3.1).

    I like where Apple is heading with iCloud, it’s almost fate that Microsoft will follow suite with something of their own, perhaps an improved SkyDrive or an entirely new service altogether. And how knows maybe a cloud dependant OS may even make up for revenue lost through persistent piracy.

  5. Sade Vallecillo Says:

    They do allow access as a network drive from Amazon I have my backup drive mounted on my PC as a drive letter. Works just fine. And the Amazon drive is a WebDAV exposure, which is an industry standard.

  6. Agatha Varghese Says:

    How long is it unlimited for? Is there a guarantee for 1 year just in case there is a policy change?

  7. Gwendolyn Zurheide Says:

    Could you gives us a review based on Mowbe and not liverdrive, please.

  8. Otha Inhulsen Says:

    Hi Jasmine! I like the live chat support feature of omni. It makes them accessible to the customers anytime and anywhere.

  9. Cyndy Belchior Says:

    Nice round up of cloud update in the region.. Tks

  10. Danial Bozelle Says:

    I got so sick and tired of lugging around bulky, expensive “laptop cases” the other day, so I got on Amazon looking for a more manageable solution. Amazon recommended this, and I love it! It snuggly cradles my Dell Inspiron 6000, and has plenty of padding.

  11. Jonell Eliezrie Says:

    Hi… i use skydrive..and gmail using an app to use gmail 7 GB space as backup

  12. H Somers Says:

    The winner is the most open system which seems to me to be Amazon/RIMM combination. Amazon is already there with a simple ubiquitous cloud and RIMM’s BB QNX/BB10 already syncs everything in v 2.0. The build out of their data centers to hold more than just cache BB cloud and integrate that with Amazon and of course Android apps due to the structure of QNX and you have the winner. Probably Harman Int’l will find its way into the mix as well with their understanding of QNX, audio, streaming, etc. You have to think out of the box and not just round up the usual suspects.
    Thanks for the article it really clarified my thinking.

All Product Types Accessories Cars Digital Camcorders Digital Cameras eReaders GPS Laptops MP3 & Video Players Projectors Smartphones Software Storage Tablets / MIDs VoIP Wi-Fi
All Subcategories
All Subcategories All-Purpose Budget Business Desktop Replacement Gaming Multimedia Netbook Nettop Rugged Student Tablet PCs Ultraportable
Acer Alienware Apple Archos ASUS Averatec BenQ CTL Corp. Dell Digital Storm eMachines Emtec Everex Fujitsu GammaTech Gateway General Dynamics Getac Gigabyte Hercules HP HTC iBuyPower Intel Lenovo MSI Nokia Nvidia OCZ OLPC OQO Origin Panasonic Sager Samsung Sony Sylvania Systemax TabletKiosk Toshiba Verizon Viewsonic Viliv VooDoo Workhorse PC ZT Systems
Minimum Rating
Any Rating 4.5 Stars 4.0 Stars 3.5 Stars 3.0 Stars
Screen Size
10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 20 4 5 6 7 8 9
1024x576 1024x600 1024x768 1200X800 1280 x 720 1280x1024 1280x768 1280x800 1366x678 1366x768 1440x1050 1440x900 1600x768 1600x900 1680x1050 1680x945 1920x1080 1920x1200 800x400 800x480
Weight Range
10.1 - 12.0 pounds 12.1 - 14.0 pounds 14.1 - 16.0 pounds 2 lbs 2 pounds and under 2+ lbs 2.1 - 4.0 pounds 4.1 - 6.0 pounds 6.1 - 8.0 pounds 8.1 - 10.0 pounds Over 16 pounds Under 2 pounds
more options