Today, Apple inched closer to ubiquitous computing, the elusive dream all technology enthusiasts share. During their Worldwide Developer Conference today, Steve Jobs unveiled Apple’s consumer cloud service unimaginatively named iCloud. A few years back Apple came out with a paid email service with online storage called MobileMe, the service also had Calendar & contacts sync between Apple’s devices. Being a subscriber, I can tell you it offered no value for the money. Back in 2009, news about iWork for the cloud came out. iWork for the cloud was the second part of Apple’s cloud puzzle. Rumors about iTunes in the cloud have been around for a while, which is now the third part of Apple’s cloud service.
Clubbing all of these together and adding three more, we have iCloud:
- iTunes in the cloud
- Contacts, Calendar, Mail (MobileMe is no more a brand)
- Apps, Books, Documents
- Device backup
iTunes in the Cloud
The service has two parts to it:
- Syncing your purchased music across all Apple devices
- A subscription service to access your music library on Apple devices
Once you purchase a song, you will be able to download and access it from any device. Let’s say you bought a song on your Mac, your iPod Touch will show “Purchased” for that song in the marketplace. You can then download that song on the device without paying anything extra.
Now, the subscription service is a bit tricky. Google Music, Amazon, Grooveshark and the likes, let you upload your music to the cloud. Obviously the labels will have a problem with these big names storing potentially pirated/ripped content. Apple decided to tackle this problem in a way where the labels would be happy & the consumer will be tricked into paying $30 a year to access music he already purchased.
Let’s say you’re one of those guys who has ripped CDs you purchased into iTunes. To access these songs on any iDevice, you need to pay Apple $30 a year and iTunes will match your library against its database. This would mean that:
- You already paid for the CD
- You pay Apple again to access songs you’ve already paid for.
What happens in case iTunes is not able to match your library? Well, you get to upload those songs. iCloud has 5 GB of free storage space which is shared between services. The split up is detailed at the end of the post.
Having said that, the service is interesting and if it works seamlessly, I think paying $30 a year wouldn’t be so bad to have all your music with you, anywhere.
Contacts, Mail and Calendar
The brand MobileMe has been phased out and nothing has changed in these three services. Syncing of Contacts, email and calendar entries between devices and the same account will be how it was in MobileMe.
The feature called Photo Stream lets you click a picture and Apple will sync it across all devices. Take a photo with your iPhone and it will be sent to iCloud. Now Photostream has a fine print:
- iCloud will store new pictures for 30 days
- Master library will be on the PC
- iCloud will sync the latest 1,000 pictures across all devices
The use case behind this is that when you take a new picture with an iPhone you will have access to it via iCloud, now within 30 days you should sync your iPhone to a PC so that the picture is stored in the master library. Since pictures are large in size, having all of them on the phone or cloud is not economical. iCloud will have the latest 1,000 pictures available to you in the Photo Stream album on your iDevices.
Apps, Books and Documents
If you live in the Apple world you probably have an iPad and iPhone or iPod Touch, managing apps we have purchased is difficult. With iCloud Apple will sync all apps you purchase and you push them on all your devices. Like music, a purchase history will let you download apps to your other devices.
This functionality expands to iBooks and documents. Changes made to the documents will be automatically synced over the cloud.
As a user backing up data and setting new devices is a tedious task. However, with iCloud is making it as simple as it can get. As a technology enthusiast syncing between documents, books, apps and backups is my favorite feature of iCloud, probably the best announcement of the event. iCloud will backup the following:
- Device Settings
- App data
- Home screen and app organization
- Text and MMS
- Photos and videos in the camera roll album
- Purchased music, apps and books
Restoring all of this to a new iDevice will require the user to login with their Apple ID.
All of this sounds pretty exciting but what does the 5GB include?
- Photos and videos in the Camera Roll album
- Account information
- App data
The 5 GB does not include purchased music, books, apps or the Photo Stream.
You can read our coverage on Apple’s announcements for OS X Lion and iOS 5: