I was pleased that Apple’s iCloud met 10 out of 12 of the customer-critical requirements we listed before the announcement! The combination of Apple’s iCloud, iMusic, Lion (the next gen OS for the Mac available next month), and iOS 5 (the next gen OS for the iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch—available “this Fall”) is a HUGE innovation in ubiquitous computing. It’s invisible computing. With this next generation Apple experience, YOU are truly the center of your universe. The devices you use are interchangeable (as long as they run iOS!), and ALL YOUR INFORMATION—from digital assets to contact lists to work in progress—are automagically synched, behind the scenes, to the Apple iCloud. Apple has done this without requiring you to DO anything. It’s the default. And, as Steve Jobs puts it, “It just works!”
iCloud Provides Seamless Synching of All Your Work and Assets. Whenever your devices are Internet-connected (via broadband, WiFi, or mobile communications) they will automatically synch everything you do on each device to the iCloud and back to all your other i-devices. This is HUGE! We’ve had applications that synched magically before: Lotus Notes, Blackberry mail, all the Google apps (calendar, email, etc.), Evernote, and many, many more. But we’ve never had ALL our apps and ALL our files and ALL our music and ALL our photos synched up immediately. And you don’t need to own a Mac (or a PC) or any computer to have this capability. This is the Post-PC, multiple-device, use it, and don’t worry if you lose it, era!
Keeps Every Version of Your Work in Progress. Lion and iOS 5—the next versions of the Apple OS—also handle automatic version control. You don’t have to save your work in progress. Everything is saved and versioned automagically. You can continue to work exactly where you left off, using any application, and you can revert to an earlier version, or retrieve something from an earlier version. You don’t have to re-set up your work environment either. All of your open menus, the position of your cursor, etc., will be exactly the way you left them. The first applications to make use of this capability will be Pages, Numbers, and Keynote—the Apple suite of office apps. But, soon, any application that is ported to run on Lion will have that automatic versioning capability built in.
Smart Use of Local Storage and Bandwidth. The other aspect of the architecture that I like is that all of this synching and storage won’t clog our Internet pipes. This is not streaming audio or video. Instead, Apple is encouraging us to keep LOCAL storage of all our critical assets. The iCloud will synch up our last 1,000 photos, for example, but we’re expected to STORE those photos on our local hard disks and servers. The same with our work in progress. The iCloud will synchronize our work, but the multiple versions (and the audit trail of changes) will be saved on our local devices. That way, even if the Internet is unavailable, we’ll always have our assets at our fingertips.
iTunes in the iCloud. As expected, Apple is finally moving iTunes into the cloud so that your music library (and your TV shows, and your videos, and your Apps—all of which are purchased and managed via iTunes), are automatically stored in the cloud and will be synched automatically with any and all your devices. You DO have control over WHICH songs, videos, etc. you want to carry around on each device, but the MASTER file of all of them lives in the iCloud.
iTunes and Match. The most controversial part of the Apple announcement was Steve Jobs’ “One More Thing…” He began by saying, “what about the songs you’ve ripped?” In other words, any music you already have in iTunes, that you have copied from a CD, or downloaded from a music site, or gotten from a friend (legally or illegally). You can also have those non-iTunes-purchased songs backed up for you in the cloud by using Apple’s new “iTunes Match” service. It will scan your local iTunes library and if it finds a song or CD that it recognizes (e.g., it already exists in the iTunes library), instead of copying that file (which you presumably already own and paid for—or not) and uploading it into the iCloud, (which takes a while), Match just flips a switch to give you instant access to the DRM-free 256kbps AAC file for that song in iCloud. If the song(s) you have are not in the iTunes library, iTunes will upload and store it for you. You can upload up to 25,000 songs for the $25/year Apple charges for this service.
Amazon vs. Apple: The Beginning of Unraveling the “who owns the rights to do what” Era. Amazon offers a competing music locker service that will store for free all the music you purchased from Amazon for you to download and enjoy any time. And, for a fee, Amazon will also store any music, photos, etc., you upload to it. Amazon’s legal position is that if you already have it on your hard disk, you can store it on their virtual disk. To do so, you DO have to upload those non-purchased from Amazon music files. I predict that Amazon will match Apple’s $25/year price tag. I also predict that there will be much ado over issues of IP ownership, copyright protection in each country, and other thorny issues.
What Didn’t Apple Announce That We Wanted?
Ten out of twelve is pretty good! You can’t have everything. The two things on my wish list that Apple didn’t announce anything to address were:
- Shared Spaces for Private Projects. I suspect there’s a way to do this in the Apple ecosystem. Today, we use Basecamp for sharing work in progress. Other people use MS Sharepoint. I look forward to seeing what collaborative apps take advantage of this next generation Apple environment to support secure group work.
- Support for Cross-Platform Development. Apple is focused on making it easy for developers to develop on its platforms. Application developers can DO multi-platform versions of their apps (as have companies like Evernote, Amazon—Kindle), and many more. But it’s still too hard for companies to develop apps that will straddle multiple platforms. Now Apple has raised the bar once again. Since its OS now provides automatic synching and version control, apps written to run on other OSs will be missing those features. Of course, that’s the point! The Apple experience is better.
What Did Apple Announce that We Didn’t Expect and that Was Better Than We Could Have Imagined?
The new Apple user interface experience is dazzling. The versioning and synching are part of the magic. But the new browser, email, and desktop management user experience are just stunning! Apple really gets that we all want to have LOTS of applications and files and browser tabs open and that we change states a lot—moving back and forth among these multi-faceted projects. Now the UI for Lion lets you glide seamlessly from one collection of files, documents, images, browser tabs to another with the flick of your finger. The state of everything is maintained. It’s truly glorious! I can’t wait. And the upgrade is so inexpensive, it’s a no brainer!