Apple recently announced the upcoming release of iCloud, their rehabilitated cloud service that will integrate desktop, iPad, and iPhone as conduits to interact with files, applications and apps. This announcement was not a revolutionary announcement, as many had expected it.
The additional announcement of iOS5 creates an integrated suite of core applications that users will spend most of their time on. They have also created a notification center that appears on a users phone or iPad that provides all changes or updates on their suite of tools in one place with links directly to specific events. This was not unlike what AOL tried with LifeStream which was a nice aggregator of all users online social content in one application.
The trend is for an ever expanding Software-as-a-Service (SAAS) where users lease software and Platform-as-a-Service (PAAS) where developers can create custom cloud environments on top of iCloud. Both break with physical models of products and recognize that platforms and software are ever evolving ideas.
Apple has tried over the years to develop services. Many never really caught on, either due to credibility or technological problems. As a MobileMe user for over four years, I can attest to the many performance problems that Apple did not deliver on. However, many other companies that are trying to migrate to cloud services are also having problems. It seems as if everyone is learning how deliver cloud services through their users.
The movement to devices that are gateways to data services has been accelerating. One indicator is that smart phone use has been more for data than voice. This threshold was met in 2008 when data exceeded phone calls. With user’s demanding a computing platform that matches their mobile lifestyle, they have embraced the streaming of data.
When the iPad was first released, many said it was another larger iPhone as many of the applications that ran on an iPhone also worked on the iPad. Gesture computing on the iPad was not really understood and it took time for developers to understand the potential of the iPad. However, what it began to demonstrate was that a users applications could be available on both platforms. This made the differentiation between the two less dramatic.
Up to iCloud, data had to be synchronized because data was stored on a device and when it was able, it had to connect to the cloud to pass changed data back so all data was the same. With increasing sophistication of operating systems, applications and the rapid increase in 3G/4G/Broadband networks, users now can create, modify and interact with data in real time with no manual synchronizations.
One interesting detail that was important was Apple’s announcement that a users’s music library would not need to be manually uploaded to the cloud, and instead provide essentially a music streaming service for all songs that a user has purchased though iTunes. If a user has additional songs that were procured through CD’s, if they are in the iTunes catalog, they can be streamed for an additional charge.
This was a great conceptual leap by Apple that Amazon’s cloud drive service did not offer for music not purchased on Amazon. Most companies confuse a physical asset, like a downloaded mp3 file, with ownership. Apple recognized that in a contemporary world, no one owns physical digital assets, only to the rights to access them. It is access, not ownership that connects a user to the rights of service.
Many have criticized Apple’s desire for total control and there are downsides to using Apple products, software and services. Apple users pay a premium price point for Apple products, but in return they get an integrated experience. What separates Apple from other companies is that they have always created an integrated walled garden so things just work. A user does not need to possess in-depth understanding of how to configure. The system with a few key preference and data points will configure the system for a user.
While iCloud and iOS5 are not released, only time will tell what users actually do with these cloud services. Windows Azure, and Amazon Cloud will be monitoring acceptance and growth and will learn from Apple’s success or problems.