June 6, 2011
Of the many announcements made during Apple's WWDC keynote session, iCloud is perhaps the most interesting (and potentially revolutionary) of the bunch. We learned a lot about what the service is, and -- while there are still many unanswered questions -- the introductory features are both bountiful and exciting. Described on Apple's just-posted landing page,
iCloud is so much more than a hard drive in the sky. It’s the effortless way to access just about everything on all your devices. iCloud stores your content so it’s always accessible from your iPad, iPhone, iPod touch, Mac, or PC.* It gives you instant access to your music, apps, latest photos, and more. And it keeps your email, contacts, and calendars up to date across all your devices. No syncing required. No management required. In fact, no anything required. iCloud does it all for youThat's really about the gist of what we heard in San Francisco this morning. For specifics, though, there is much to consider.
iCloud For DataFirst, to answer consumers' most obvious question, iCloud is, in fact, a totally free service (and developers will enjoy full API access to its functions). Most of us weren't expecting that, and it's a very happy surprise. With your gratis account, you'll get a .me account and 5 GB of storage for all kinds of device-shared data. However, music, apps, and books don't count against that capacity. Explains the website:
That leaves your mail, documents, Camera Roll, account information, settings, and other app data. And since those things don’t use as much space, you’ll find that 5GB goes a long way.So, as far as getting you to the cloud, iCloud looks to make the process as effortless as possible. App Store and iBooks synching, which allow you to see your purchases across all iDevices (and re-download them for free as many times as you like), will certainly make Apple's buying experience quite a bit better. Documents saved to iCloud are also dynamically updated and viewable across platforms. Once-daily system backups will save all your settings, pictures, videos, and app data; and up to 10 simultaneous devices are supported. Another new feature, called Photo Stream, deals specifically with photo storage across multiple iDevices. Essentially, any photo taken by any iDevice is automatically saved to iCloud, where it is then dealt to all other connected devices. The service, included in the free package, stores up to 1000 of your latest images, ready to be saved in perpetuity to the system of your choice.
iCloud for iTunesiTunes on iCloud is a big deal. Curiously, the deals worked out with music publishers don't seem to be for the streaming service we all thought was coming. Rather, the ability to pay once and download forever played a major role in those agreements. Steve tells us,
This is the first time we've seen this in the music industry. No charge for different downloads in different devices. In the future, every song I bought in the iTunes store, everytime I buy a song it's pushed to all my devices.Incurring the rest of that expense is another industry-first: iTunes Match. This service allows users who have their own ripped song libraries to download iTunes' 256-bit AAC versions for distribution via iCloud. This is the only service that comes with a fee, though it isn't all that substantial: just $25 per year. Simply put, Steve says that, "If you have a bunch of music you didn't buy from iTunes, you'll get it online for just that." It appears, however, that the limit is 5,000 songs, so some people are going to be out of luck here. For Apple, iCloud is the culmination of a decade of effort and represents a big step forward. Says Steve,
A lot of us have been working for 10 years to get rid of the file system. ....The piece we want to be finished with is how we move things around. Documents in the cloud saves things to iFile, and it updates automatically.As a side note, some people want to know where all this new tech leaves MobileMe. Take it from the man himself: "MobileMe ceases to exist, and these [iCloud] apps are now free." All you need is an internet connection and a decent ISP to make Apple's future your future, too. Update: Apple's website indicates there is a 25,000 song limit for its iTunes Match service, although it is not clear if that increase comes with an extra $25 dollar annual fee.