At Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco this week, CEO Steve Jobs unveiled, not new hardware, but a new service that could propel users into what he calls the “post-PC” era. Dubbed “iCloud,” it's Apple's spin on cloud computing.
The service is anchored by Apple's new 500,000 square foot data center in North Carolina. With the goal of moving “the digital hub, the center of your digital life, into the cloud,” Jobs said that iCloud's technology is an essential part of its operating systems across all of its hardware platforms. This includes the iOS for the iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad, as well as the Mac OS for Apple's laptop and desktop computers.
Why such a sweeping move? The point is to allow users to take advantage of iCloud seamlessly, regardless of the device they're using. So for example, a user could start a book on their iPad, and immediately pick up on the same page they left off on their iPhone. Best of all, with everything in the iCloud, synching between devices is no longer a concern, as it's done automatically. “Keeping those devices in sync is driving us crazy,” Jobs noted of the current situation. The iCloud service is supposed to solve this problem.
The service can handle music, photos, and documents, but at least certain aspects of it aren't free and have certain limits. For example, the iTunes Match part of it lets users access up to 20,000 songs they've previously ripped from CDs for $24.99 a year. Any songs purchased through iTunes going forward will be downloaded to all of the user's Apple devices automatically – and much more quickly than Amazon's and Google's music services can complete the same task.
There's also a new PhotoStream service that allows users to take a photo on an iPhone, upload it to iCloud, and download it to all of their Apple devices. If you're a big shutterbug, though, you're going to need another form of storage. The iCloud service will store photos for only 30 days. Devices will store the last 1,000 photos taken.
Perhaps the best parts of the iCloud service are the automatic synching and backup functions for all devices. Each user gets 5 GB of free storage on iCloud, which they can use for mail, documents and backup. If you're eager to try out the service, the iTunes part is already up and running; you'll just need to update iOS 4.3. The full spectrum of iCloud features will be available later this year, with the release of iOS 5.
Not everyone is convinced that iCloud is the wave of the future. Memories of the sub-par performance of Apple's first subscription-based cloud service, MobileMe, launched in 2008, still linger. And, as Adrian Hon observed in The Telegraph, “Seventy-five million users' passwords and personal data on Sony's Playstation Network were recently accessed by hackers, handily demonstrating that even the biggest companies don't have bulletproof security. If we are going to entrust all our data and work to a single company and a single point of failure, whether it's Apple or Google or Amazon, we need to be confident that we're safe.” He also pointed out that billions can be made from the data hidden in the cloud, targeting ads to our tastes and preferences.
But there's no question that this is the next logical move for Apple. With profits from its traditional computers declining, and those from its mobile devices increasing, Apple is no longer a computer company. It's a mobile device company, and the iCloud service positions it to reach users regardless of where they are or how they choose to access their data.
For more on this story, visit http://www.mercurynews.com/breaking-news/ci_18220937?nclick_check=1.
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