Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference is underway and with that comes Steve Jobs famous keynote address and Apple’s lastest tech. This year saw Jobs announce iOS 5, MacOS Lion, but more importantly Apple’s MobileMe replacement, iCloud.
iCloud is Apple’s offering into the cloud computing infrastructure that Google and Amazon have dominated over the past few years. Instead of offering processing infrastructure, iCloud is positioned as a service that backups your contacts, apps, documents, photos, everything you can imagine sharing between your iOS devices. So what’s new? Nothing really!
Google has provided these features for the past 3 years through services such as Docs, Contacts, Calendar, Sync, Picasa and Mail. Their Android platform consumes these services into a seamless experience for your phone out of the box. Apple for once is playing catchup.
Don’t get me wrong, I like Apple’s products. I’ve been using a Mac since the LCII was released in 1992 but today for me iCloud was nothing special. Apple’s marketing department have been hard at work again making features that Apple’s competitors already have seem like something new and great. They have taken existing cloud based technologies and wrapped it up in some glossy interfaces, in my opinion what Apple does best, and made it “just work” for the ordinary user. Brilliant. I’m all for user experience! Just don’t pretend though that this new and the best thing since sliced bread.
One thing that really bothers me is that iCloud seems locked down only for iOS users. True they will sync your photos to Windows but you need an iDevice to get the full experience. I understand that running a data center is expensive and that Apple was always going to augment the Mac experience with iCloud but give other platforms access to at least some of the data. If I upload my data to the cloud on my iDevice, I want to have access to it with all my Android devices. Having 2 sets of contacts of 2 different clouds is not an option. Even Google gave iOS users a way of syncing contacts and calendars to other mobile devices.
The other worry I have with iCloud is the cell networks. When the iPhone was released the cell networks in the UK gave unlimited data plans which were redacted due to capacity issues. A new iPhone today will typically come with 500MB of data per month. With iCloud uploading your photos to the cloud in full 5 mega-pixel glory, iPhones will put extra strain on these networks and customers wallets. Especially in countries like South Africa and Australia where data transfer is expensive. iCloud is an excuse for the networks to charge a higher premium to iPhone users.
To be fair though, iTunes Match is a stroke if genius on Apples part. No longer will you need to upload your own ‘ripped’ music from your machine to the cloud to listen to your music. For $24.95 (USD) a year you can have access to all your music at any time from either you iPod, iPhone, iPad or Web. This is due to Apple’s existing relationship with the music labels which blows both Amazon’s and Google’s services out of the water. Add to that iMessage and the new Notification center, the iPhone is now an attractive option as my everyday phone, solving all the issues I had with the device when opting for my Android device.
We will have to wait and see what iCloud brings and how the networks cope with the extra strain of data being upload to Apple’s new data center. With the release of iCloud and Google’s Chromebooks later this month, 2011 will be the year that users will start living there digital life in the cloud away from their home entertainment hub.
(iCloud icon © Apple 2011, Cloud Background: CC SixRevisions)