WWDC 2011 Keynote: iCloud

This is decidedly the one announcement that is both the most cryptic and has the ability to be the most revolutionary. Everyone was expect “iCloud” in some form, mostly revolving around a streaming iTunes service (which we did not get), but I don’t think people were expecting a complete and total rethinking of the “digital hub” concept that Steve Jobs has touted for the past decade.

It is hard to talk about what iCloud means without talking about what iCloud is supposed to do in its current form this Fall.

Mail/Calendars/Contacts

Since iCloud is going to replace MobileMe (may she rest in peace), it will handle the main feature set that MobileMe was used for. Not much to talk about here. I’ve been very happy with MobileMe for these three, so I’m hoping that it will worked “as advertised” with iCloud as well.

Apps, Books, Backup

Easy enough as well. Apps can now be pushed to any device when you purchase (so push Twitter to your iPad after you installed it on your iPhone), and you have a list of purchased apps right in the App Store. Welcome addition.

Books work like they have before. Bookmarks and current reading positions are synced across devices. I’ve used this, it works.

You can also do partial backups right to iCloud. Here is what is saved:

  • Purchased music, apps, and books
  • Photos and videos in the camera roll
  • Device settings
  • App data
  • Home screen and app organization
  • Text and MMS messages
  • Ringtones

That’s a good amount of information. It isn’t everything, but if you connect to Wi-Fi, your iOS device will automatically download the latest backup if you put in your Apple ID. All part of untethering your iOS device from a computer.

The backup parts will happen only when connected to Wi-Fi, but it is a lot better than having a person lose all of their information if they break their iOS device.

Documents in the Cloud

Save a document on one device and have it on all devices. That’s what it will hopefully do. Right now it is baked into iWork, but Apple has opened this up for 3rd party developers as well. There isn’t a lot to talk about here, but I’m hoping this makes “cloud syncing” a feature that is just there … for everything.

Photo Stream

This one is a little more complicated. Basically, you take a picture on one iOS device and it gets pushed to the rest, including your Mac or PC. Photo Stream on your iOS device (including you Apple TV 2nd gen) will keep up to 1000 photos for 30 days until you are able to connect to Wi-Fi and back everything up (see above).

At the same time, your Mac or PC will save EVERY photo that you push through to your photo stream. So, you don’t have to worry about losing any pictures at any time, they’ll always be on your Mac or PC (or you can always move them into another album on your iOS device where they will be kept in perpetuity).

iTunes in the Cloud

No, it is not a streaming or subscription iTunes service.

What you now have access to is all of your purchased iTunes music on all of your devices where you can download your music as many times as you want.

This fixes the famous issue where someone loses their iTunes library and wants to get their music back. Now they can log into the iTunes Store and do just that. YAY! New purchases can be pushed to all of your devices as well, which is kind of nice.

iTunes Match

For $25/year, you can have access not just to music purchased through iTunes, but also to your other music as well!

There are two tiers here:

  1. music that you ripped or downloaded somewhere else that is in the iTunes Store can be downloaded on your other devices just fine without having to upload any files
  2. music that iTunes cannot identify is uploaded to iCloud and then is passed around for you to enjoy (up to 20,000 files … I think)

That’s pretty cool as well, but you do have to pay for it.

Price/Overall Impressions

Everything listed above (except iTunes Match) is now … FREE!

Yup, that’s right, Apple has released something huge for free. I’m imagining that they are not going to have a huge issue covering the costs, but this is a major shift for them and it also opens it up even more for 3rd party developers to include iCloud in their offerings. If every Mac/iOS/PC customer with an Apple ID can have access to iCloud … that’s a large market.

This entire offering (and it is really a collection of many services under a single name instead of one large offering) is going to define Apple going ahead. They’ve moved iOS to being on-par with the Mac platform in many ways, and this is another huge push.

However, what remains to be seen is how this all works. MobileMe, for how well it has worked for me, got off to a rocky start and I expect some growing pains with iCloud as well.

With the Apple Stores obviously pushing iCloud to as many iOS and Mac customers as possible, the uptake could be quick (which would be great for data retention). However, iCloud comes with the same fears as any “cloud” technology: privacy, reliability and data caps for three. Will they be an impenetrable barrier, or has Apple finally figured out how to get people to move into “the cloud”?

2 Replies to “WWDC 2011 Keynote: iCloud”

  1. So after all this time “iTunes in the Cloud” is a service that virtually every single other service already offers? Way to innovate Apple!

    1. I’m not sure what other services allow you to download any song you’ve purchased (on that service, or through iTunes Match) a seemingly-unlimited number of times. To me, the cool thing is for the music I lost during my data destruction … I had access to all of it (that I had purchased through iTunes that is).

      However, nothing is Earth-shattering, and there is no streaming (thank goodness … let others do that). The “work” revolved around getting the large labels to agree to the deal in the first place, which no one else did. Many people don’t care that Google and Amazon haven’t done that, but if their services get taken down due to lawsuits, then it will matter.

      Overall, iTunes was a tiny part of the whole picture … just another bullet point really.

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