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.”