Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Apple takes to the Clouds

Among the announcements at this year's Apple developers conference was the formal introduction of Apple's new "cloud" service, iCloud.  Apple's iCloud differs from most of the other recently offered cloud services in that it follows Apple's tradition of tight integration of hardware and operating systems.  The iCloud service was introduced as an integral component of the new versions of Mac operating system (OS X Lion) and mobile operating system (iOS 5), so that systems and software (including apps) using the new OSs can seamlessly integrate access to a user's iCloud content.  The iCloud can provide wireless backup and syncing of apps and related content across all of an Apple user's devices (or at least those running the new OSs), and Apple is offering basic iCloud service free to those users, as well as users of its Net-based, and much more limited, backup and syncing service, MobileMe (which they indicate will be phased out in June 2012).
Key announced features:
  • Every user gets 5GB of space for backup of data and files for free.  Backups automatically occur on a daily basis.
  • iCloud stored files are accessible from any compatible device (Macs, iPads, iPhones, iPod touch)
  • Content acquired through iTunes will be accessible via the iCloud.  Rather than storing it there, it will access that content from the iTunes archive for streaming or download
    • Apple also announced iMatch, which will give similar access to music not acquired from iTunes.  But rather than just storing those music files, it matches titles against those in the iTunes library, and streams or downloads from there.  iMatch will require a $25 a year fee, but with no limit on the number of music files matched, and can be used on up to 10 devices.
    • iTunes and iMatch content will not count as part of the 5GB free space
  • Integration with iOS and OS X apps, so that data added or updated on one device will automatically be shared with other devices.  Third party apps will be able to store and share files through API access
  • Photos can be uploaded to iCloud for sharing with other devices (Photostream), and will be automatically stored on Apple servers for 30 days.
  • Integration with iWork files, with auto-save of files, both while you're working on them and in finished versions.
Looking at the music side, the iCloud is following both Amazon and Google (although offering less "free" space.  Both Amazon and Google's music clouds offer free storage of files acquired from them, without counting them against the storage cap, and both offer the ability to upload your legally acquired music files to the cloud, although that will count against the cap.  The difference with Apple's iTunes/iCloud is the iMatch service, which reportedly won't bother to check where you got the music files from, and rather than storing your music library in the cloud (where it would count against the storage cap), it offers access to the iTunes file version of the tune (which is also likely to be a higher-quality digital file).
Apple's iCloud service should be available this fall.

Sources: "This is iCloud" Gizmodo (along with linked Gizmodo reports)
"WWDC: Industry speaks on Apple's iCloud post-PC attack" Computerworld
Apple's iCloud site

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