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

The Cloud According to Apple

With the unveiling of its iCloud in June and its ability to galvanize the marketplace, Apple has almost single-handedly turned mainstream consumers’ collective gaze toward the cloud. “Apple’s iCloud got everybody refocused,” Levitas said. “And frankly, because of what they do so well in terms of their marketing, I think that will go a long way in helping to educate end users—specifically consumers—on what to expect from the cloud.”

Unlike a traditional cloud service, where users manually upload and download their data, Apple’s approach takes the work out of the equation. Accessing the service, for example, is as simple as downloading iOS 5 or buying a device with the software pre-installed. Many aspects of the service are attached to already-existing programs, such as iTunes, and take place behind the scenes.

For instance, when a user purchases content through the iTunes store, whether it is a song, movie, or television show, iCloud will automatically download the content onto each iOS 5-equipped device that person owns. The service will also tell users what items they have purchased but have yet to download on a particular device.

Apple is also rolling out Scan and Match, a feature that will scan your music library for songs and upgrade them to 256 Kbps AAC DRM-free version files, even if they were not originally purchased through iTunes. The service is expected to cost $24.99.

Cupertino is taking a similar approach to photo sharing. With iCloud, photos that users capture with an iOS 5 device are automatically pushed to their other iOS 5 mobile devices. Photos will be stored for up to 30 days on Apple’s servers, while each mobile device will store the 1,000 most recent photos. Mac OS X Lion users will be able to store as many photos as their hard drives can handle.

In addition to multimedia features, iCloud includes document back-up and sharing. Documents edited in iWork and saved on an iOS 5 device or Mac running OS X Lion are automatically updated across every iCloud-equipped Apple device. Currently, the service only works with iWork, but Apple says it is working with third-party app developers to give users more of a choice in what software they use. Because the majority of the service‘s features require users to have iOS 5 or OS X Lion, PC users won’t be able to access all aspects of iCloud.

iCloud will also be taking the place of MobileMe, Apple’s previous cloud-based offering that cost $99 per year. Like MobileMe, iCloud will store users’ calendar events, contacts, and e-mail online, but unlike MobileMe, iCloud will be offered to users free of charge. When users make a new contact on their iPhone, the information will be stored in the cloud and automatically pushed to their other iOS 5 devices. Apple’s Calendar works the same way it did in MobileMe, but it now allows for easier sharing of calendars across devices. E-mail is also included with iCloud and will not have advertisements.

In addition to automatically syncing users’ information across multiple devices, iCloud will offer users up to 5GB of free online storage that can be used to store e-mail, documents, account information, and app settings. Purchased music, apps, and eBooks—as well as users’ photo streams—do not count against the 5GB cap.

For all that it offers, iCloud does have potential drawbacks. In particular, Levitas pointed to the fact that many of iCloud’s automatic syncing features require Apple hardware, specifically devices using iOS 5. More tech-savvy users may also find iCloud’s lack of customization options to be a hindrance.

“For people that are using Sugarsync and Dropbox and Box.net, they will pooh-pooh certain aspects of [iCloud] because, for instance, it is only making 1,000 of your most recent pictures available,” Levitas said. But for the mass market that is not using these services, iCloud is going to make it seem compelling and easy to use.”

But don’t be surprised if Apple announces additional functions for iCloud down the line. “Apple has certainly unveiled publicly part of what they are doing,” said Gartenberg. “But, as is typical Apple fashion, it’s likely they probably haven’t revealed every detail about the service and how the entire service is going to work. So we are probably going to have to wait a little bit to fully evaluate it.”

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.
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  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.

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