There will be tons written about the impact of Apple's iTunes business model vs. Amazon's and Google's media-sharing business models over the coming days and weeks. I'd prefer to step back and think not just about accessing music and movies but also about the IDEAL cloud service. That way, I'll have a better way to evaluate Apple's offering. And, as someone who has just gone through the considerable pain of migrating my iTunes library from one MacBook to another one (which I wasn't able to do without help from Apple's tech support!), I understand why it's necessary for Apple to offer a network-based service for storing, downloading, and streaming content (movies, music, audio, information). In fact, it's really amazing to me that Apple is so late to this party. I've been able to store every digital book I ever bought on Amazon for several years. I can download and read them anytime I want. It's about time that Apple caught up!
So here's my starting list of the characteristics that I want from Apple's iCloud (or from any competing offering). I hope you'll all chime in and add to this wish list. Then, when Apple announces on Monday, we can see what wonderful thing(s) they came up with that we didn't anticipate, and what they may have missed or gotten wrong:
1. Local/Mobile/Offline Usage. I want any application and all content I use to be able to be accessible and usable on an offline mobile device (e.g., when there is no Internet or communications signal). When I travelled to Africa with my WiFi-only iPad, I was really happy to be able to watch the movies I had pre-downloaded in bed in my hut out in the bush, or once in a crowded bus bumping down a dirt road in the middle of the night! I was also able to write in my journal, read digital books, and use a mind mapping program—all completely off the grid. That's important. We're not always online.
3. Secure, Encrypted Synching, Backup and Storage—Both Local and in the Cloud. I have private information I want to keep private. I'd really like to know that nobody but me can access that information, whether it's on a mobile device or backed up in the cloud. I want it encrypted as I upload it as well as wherever it's stored. I want to be able to maintain (and remember) a secure password that's not easy for others to hack. I want to be able to use BOTH local physical storage and remote online storage for back-up. In fact, I'd really like to be able to automagically create local back-up copies of things in multiple physical locations (e.g., create and maintain back-up hard drives in two different homes, for example, or home and office).
4. I Want To Know Where My Information Is Stored and Whose Jurisdiction It's In. The nice thing about digital services in the cloud is that they can be hosted anywhere in the world. But that's also a problem if the country in which the server resides has laws that restrict what information can be hosted there. For example, copyrights are national. If I buy a digital book with an American copyright, or download an Australian movie, or stream music from Korea, where am I legally allowed to store and access that information? I know that if I have customer information on my computer, I'm not allowed to take it into another country. What if my German customer information winds up on a server in India? That's a big problem!
5. Ease of Application Development, Deployment, and Cross-Platform Interoperability. Some of the applications and digital services I use the most work wonderfully across multiple platforms. For example, Gmail and Google Calendar, Evernote, Twitter/Tweetdeck, Facebook, Flickr, Kindle, YouTube, NetFlix. These are all applications/digital services that I can use both in the Apple ecosystem, on Windows PCs, and on my RIM Blackberry. I realize that Apple prefers the walled garden approach so that it can ensure a high quality customer experience, but all of these providers have been able to deliver great applications that work and synch up seamlessly across platforms. This IS a customer requirement, IMHO. Apple makes developers jump through more quality control and acceptance testing hoops than other platforms, like the Android, for example. The important thing is not to make it too onerous or time-consuming for developers to get their applications "accepted" to run in the Apple ecosystem. We want to encourage innovation, not create more barriers.
6. Shared Spaces for Private Projects. If we’re using cloud storage, synching and back-up, most of us also have the need to have private shared file spaces. We might be planning a wedding, working with colleagues on a project, organizing and documenting a family vacation or reunion, or working on a class project. Ideally, any cloud ecosystem should allow us to post and share files and content that we create and own, or to which we have the rights to share.
7. I Want to Buy and Own or Rent and Consume Media on Any Device. Once I've bought a book or a movie or a piece of music, I own it. I should be able to enjoy it on any device, back it up in any cloud (Amazon's or Apple's or DropBox, etc.) and re-download it if I lost it or inadvertently deleted it. Amazon's model works really well that way. If I just want to listen once, or watch a movie once, I like the option of being able to rent and download, or pay per view and stream it (if the streaming quality is good enough). All-you-can-eat subscriptions are fine too. I don't feel the need to share copyrighted material with others, but I do like to be able to move what I own or have paid for freely across my own (and my family's) devices. I have purchased the rights to enjoy that intellectual property. I don't want to be limited in how or where I consume it, other than to adhere to the license terms—I either own it outright and can consume it at will, or I own it for a period of time or a number of plays and then it evaporates. I agree that it's not fair for me to give it away to someone else who hasn't paid for that use.
8. Easy, Secure, and Flexible Quick Payment Options. I'm already a devotee of Amazon's One-Click and Apple's iTunes payment options. You provide one payment mechanism, login and password, and then you can pay as you consume digital media. It's easy and seductive. I would also like a bit more flexibility. Sometimes I want to switch payment mechanisms—use a different credit card, or charge direct to my bank account, or switch between business and personal accounts. These automated services don't make it as easy as it might be to make those changes. With Amazon, you can change your one-click payment settings any time (to a different payment mechanism you already have on file with Amazon), but then you have to remember to change them back. With Apple, it's currently a bigger deal. You just have one payment option for your iTunes account. If you change it, you're changing it for good. I'd also like to be able to set a weekly or monthly limit. That way, I could consume with impunity, but I'd be warned if I'm going over my allotted budget, so I wouldn't be surprised by the size of the bill at the end of the month.
9. Attractive Ecosystem for Content Providers and Publishers. I'd like to know that content providers (including myself as a content provider) are well-compensated in the ecosystem. They should retain the lion's share of the revenues for their intellectual property—75 percent seems to me to be the minimum that a content owner should receive. It should also be easy and cost-effective for content providers to supply content into the ecosystem. If it's too costly or time-consuming to produce materials for the Apple (or any other) ecosystem, then the smaller, more focused players —the valuable long tail—will be shut out.
10. Low Bandwidth Consumption and Low Energy Consumption. I'd like my devices and my digital services to be optimized so that only the minimum of data has to be transmitted. I want a rich interactive experience, but I'd like that richness and interactivity to be supported by the intelligence in my devices, not the servers across the world in the cloud. Keep the data streams that have to go back and forth skinny. Limit the number of roundtrips required over the communications line and back. When I'm in a part of the world where all I have is a cellular modem, it takes a long time to access and interact with Facebook or to browse the Web. I'd like to be able to download movies and music in the background at times of day where there isn't a lot of traffic. I'd like to limit live video streaming to really important events or times when I'd really like to enjoy something special that I don't have handy. But I expect to pay extra to do so because I know that, if I'm enjoying a streaming video, my neighbor may have trouble surfing the Web. I'd like both my devices and the distributed data centers that house the clouds I use to be as energy-efficient as possible. I don't want to create a huge carbon footprint by consuming digital services.
11. Kid-Friendly Ecosystem. I'd like the next generation of digital services to be well-designed for kids. To me that means parental controls, no porn, lots of interaction, and great learning opportunities. I see how much time kids spend IM'ing their friends and playing on their portable game devices. I'd feel better if I knew that these interactions were actually helping them develop skills and competencies that are useful both online and offline.
12. Senior-Friendly Ecosystem. The baby boom is upon us. Many of the people in the world with the most time on their hands are in their 60s through 90s. Let's design services and tools that are easy to access, easy to use, easy to read, and easy to support. Ideally, they should come with apps that keep our minds alert and well-tuned.