There had been a lot of speculation about what Apple will do with http://goo.gl/79TF8 after Apple purchased the domain name from a European company earlier this year. Steve Jobs presented details of iCloud at the Keynote presentation in June 2011 and I'm fairly excited about the direction Apple are taking us.
What is iCloud?
Cloud computing is a term referencing data, applications and services that are accessed via the internet from internet enabled devices. All processing and storage is provided by the cloud, with computers, smart phones and other internet enabled devices able to connect and use the cloud services regardless of the underlying hardware.
Most of us are already using cloud based services like email accounts from hotmail.com or gmail.com. These email accounts can be accessed from any computer connected to the internet (cloud). Web sites like eBay operate in the cloud and provide all services necessary to buy and sell products from many different devices via the web browser of your choice.
iCloud is Apple's version of cloud computing and is an extension of the existing MobileMe service with a few twists.
iTunes and iCloud.
Have you ever purchased music from the iTunes store? You find the tracks or albums you like, add them to your shopping cart, pay for them and then download them to your music collection in iTunes. iTunes then syncs the music to your other Apple devices like iPods, iPhones and iPads.
iCloud changes the game by storing your purchases in the cloud and allowing you to choose up to 10 devices which are able to connect to the iCloud and sync the purchases to each of your devices over the internet.
iCloud is free, but for a fee of about $24.99 a year, iCloud will allow you to sync other non iTunes purchased tracks directly to your chosen devices. Up to 25,000 songs that you already have in your music collection will be available through this additional service. These tracks could be your own CD's that have been ripped into iTunes etc.
The important point here is that you will NOT have to upload the existing tracks to iCloud. iCloud will collect details of the current music collection directly from iTunes and then match those tracks with its own huge music collection and enable syncing across your devices. This will save gigabytes of uploads and many hours of your time and will allow you access to all your music using multiple devices.
Applications, Books and Backups.
It's not all about your music, with the iCloud your application purchases are also able to be pushed to compatible devices. So if you have a game or application purchased for your iPhone, it will also work on your iPad (subject to the application being compatible with both devices). Books purchased for your iPad will be pushed to your other devices. Backups with iCloud are practically obsolete as all your content is available on iCloud and can be pushed to your devices. Even if your iPhone is reset and wiped, iCloud will allow you to push your content back to the device.
Email, Calendar, Contacts, Photos and Documents.
You can store all your email and photos in iCloud. Take a new picture on your iPhone and automatically sync it with all your other devices in real time or when they next connect to the internet. Documents stored in iCloud can be created on your iMac in the office, edited on your MacBook Air and available on your iPad or any other computer you log onto (subject to the application being installed on the device).
Calendar appointments are easy when you're in the office. Just open the calendar app and add or edit appointments at will. When you're on the road that same calendar is available on any of your devices and changes you make on your devices are saved and synchronised to all of your other devices in real time, or the next time they access the internet. Same goes for your contacts and email. This functionality has been available for sometime for MobileMe subscribers and it will be enhanced for release on iCloud.
How is this all done?
In Spring 2011, or Fall 2011 for people in the Northern hemisphere, Apple will release iOS 5 that is compatible with iPhone 3GS and 4, iPod touch 3rd and 4th generation and iPad 1 or 2. in July 2011, OS X Lion will be released for Mac computers. You will need to upgrade your operating system to iOS 5 or OS X Lion on your devices and Mac computers to use all the iCloud features fully. A PC with Vista or Windows 7 will also be able to benefit from some iCloud features.
OSX Lion and iOS 5 are built for iCloud and the operating systems have been designed to integrate seamlessly with iCloud. Your content is effortlessly available and up to date across all your devices. iCloud is free and you automatically get 5GB of free storage for your mail, documents, Camera Roll, account information, settings and other app data. Importantly your music, apps, books and Photo Stream don't count against your free storage, so 5GB goes a long way.
Seamless integration of iCloud into the device operating system for ease of use.
No more plugging all devices into computer to sync as this is automatically achieved over internet or wi-fi connections.
Backups on the fly, if device fails the content is safe in the cloud.
Music purchases available for syncing to up to 10 devices.
Free for most services except streaming of your existing music collection.
Increased bandwidth requirements with all the streaming to multiple devices could be cause for concern, especially with smart phones and iPads on 3G data plans.
Document security could be an issue with your data sitting in iCloud. Recommend waiting to see if FileVault encryption of files will be integrated into the iCloud before storing any sensitive information.
Accounts with high risk (easy) passwords could be open to theft and fraud. Recommend using longer passwords with a combination of alpha, numeric, symbol and some capitalisation to increase the passwords complexity and reduce the risk of your account being hacked.
This is a big move and a game changer for music aficionados with multiple devices and big CD collections sitting in iTunes folders. For regular users, the benefits are great with the chances of losing important documents, settings, contacts and emails vastly reduced by having them sitting in iCloud. If you have not experienced push technology in MobileMe, you will be in for a real treat with iCloud. For current MobileMe subscribers like myself, we will no doubt enjoy similar great features albeit with a few enhancements and many new features with iCloud.
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