iCloud Unveiled: Apple’s New Digital Hub

Posted In Apple news - By Tariq On Tuesday, June 7th, 2011 With 0 Comments

Apple’s WWDC 2011 kicked off yesterday morning with quite the keynote address. With some last minute excitement and a supposedly leaked screenshot (now confirmed fake), developers and press started lining up Sunday night to snag a spot in line ensuring them a good seat for the event. Come Monday morning, Steve Jobs and other Apple employees took the stage to show off what the Mac and iOS teams have been working on for the last year. The latest version of Mac OS X (Lion) was the first product Apple showed off. Bringing some of the polish, innovations, and features from iOS back to the Mac is what this release is all about. Next up was iOS 5, the latest major update to the firmware for iPhone and iPad. And last but not least: iCloud.

For me, Apple’s new cloud service is what really stole the show at WWDC. We had heard so many rumors about what it could be (and what it wouldn’t), that setting expectations was only a fool’s game. Needless to say, I am very impressed with what Apple has done with iCloud.

The first thing that Steve Jobs stated when he announced iCloud was that MobileMe was dead, effective immediately. If you take a look on the Apple Store website, you will find no mention of Apple’s previous email/contacts/calendar service anywhere on the page. The service has been completely absorbed into iCloud with promises of improvement. The biggest improvement is the price for iCloud services: free. Apple finally understands that the web is free, and most services need to be free. Apple can make their money on the hardware and tie in fantastic software and services which can be leveraged as added selling points.

So besides syncing email, contacts, and calendars, iCloud gives you the ability to sync apps, app data, documents, and more. This is some very powerful stuff. You can create and work on a document in Pages on your iPad. When it come times to leave the house, the document will automatically sync back to iCloud, and you can resume working on it instantly on Pages on your iPhone or iPod touch while on the go. When you arrive at the office, pop open Pages on the Mac and the document will be ready and waiting for you, just as you left it on the iPhone. No save buttons, no input on the user part. Everything syncs automatically. Finally developers have a service to tie into that can easily sync application data between devices. I find it to be a huge inconvenience when I’m playing a game like Angry Birds on my iPhone, beat a few levels, and then switch to the iPad only to have to redo those same levels because the progress I’ve made doesn’t transfer over. This will also make iOS restores a lot less painful too. Just from jailbreaking and a little overzealous tinkering, I’ve corrupted a few filesystems on my iPhone that couldn’t be fixed with an earlier backup. With each restore, I’ve lost all application data and progress, and have had to start from scratch. Well no longer (so long as developers implement some form of iCloud data syncing)! In the App Store, you can see a new Purchases menu under the Updates tab. Now with iCloud, you can view all of your previously purchased apps in one place and re-download them whenever you want.

Jobs said that his favorite part about iCloud is the all new Photo Stream. Currently if I wanted to view a picture on my iPad that I had taken earlier on the iPhone, I would first have to sync the iPhone with iPhoto on my Mac, and then sync my iPad too. Now with iCloud, I can just take a picture with my iPhone, that photo is automatically uploaded to iCloud, and then downloaded to the Camera Roll on both my iPad and iPhoto on my Mac (along with any other devices you may have). It will even appear on an Apple TV so you can easily share photos in the living room. The Photo Stream in iCloud will hold all of the photos you’ve taken in the last 30 days. Then they’ll just be saved locally on your device unless you choose to upload them to a folder.

iTunes in the cloud is probably the biggest deal out of all the features. Apple really blew the doors off the competition with this one. Some people expected iCloud to be just another locker service for music like Amazon and Google have released these past couple months. Well Apple went above and beyond what the other two digital music giants have offered. The other services force you to upload your entire library to their cloud storage to be able to access it from mobile devices. My library is a little over 60 GB now, and it could take weeks to upload it all. Not to mention that with Amazon’s pricing it would cost me $100/year to keep it stored on their servers. Well since Apple took the time to actually talk and make deals with the major record labels, I can access all the songs I’ve purchased through the iTunes Store on any device without uploading anything. I have immediate access to all of my purchase history right through the iTunes app on my iPhone and iPad. The only problem is that the majority of my music came from CDs I ripped previously, and that’s where Google and Amazon say that uploading makes sense. Well Apple thought that one through too. They gave us iTunes Match. For $25/year, iTunes Match will scan my library and find any songs that match those in Apple’s 18+ million song catalogue. I can then access Apple’s copy of the song on my iPhone and iPad right through the iTunes Store, and it’s even upgraded to the high quality, DRM-free iTunes Plus format (256kbps AAC). And whatever few songs are leftover that Apple doesn’t have in their gigantic library can be uploaded to your own iCloud.

So how about storage? Apple gives everyone 5 GB to store email, contacts, calendars, photos, app data, music, etc. Now 5 GB may not sound like much. The competition also offers 5 GB free to start, but has higher priced annual plans for greater storage. Well Apple gives us something much more. None of the music in the iTunes Store or the apps in the App Store count against your 5 GB limit. With iTunes Match, it’s just a $25 flat fee and it will get you seemingly unlimited storage for your music (again, as long as it’s available in the iTunes Store). Even the photos in Photo Stream won’t count against your storage limit. For a free service, iCloud looks to be quite a tremendous offering. Apple has really made this digital hub in the cloud the center of the Mac+iOS universe. iCloud will be available to all Mac and iOS users come this fall with the release of iOS 5.

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