How Apple Helps and Hurts with iCloud
Cloud Computing is a term used for everything from a true virtualized, multi-tenant internet hosted environment to a server accessed over the internet. Add to that all of the branches to the terminology tree like Software as a Service (SaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS), Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), and private clouds and the simple explanation gets very muddied for most consumers.
Jobs Does Clouds
At Apple's 2011 World Wide Developers Conference (WWDC) yesterday, Apple released a host of new software including iOS 5 and OSX Lion but those didn't shake the cloud computing world like iCloud. The new iCloud service is a replacement of MobileMe which which starts with ad-free email and syncing of contacts and calendar. The new features include syncing and full back up of all applications, documents and books across all iOS and OSX devices such as the Mac, iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad. Call it drop box for Apple devices. Photo Stream does the same for photos making them available instantly from one device to another automatically. Last but certainly not least is iTunes in the Cloud that will push purchases down to all devices while also scanning, matching and hosting all songs in your library for $24.99 a year. All in all an incredible bundled set of features and software that made a few waves with consumers and competitors alike.
How It Hurts
While most cloud computing platforms are open to anyone with a web browser Apple has once again created a pretty closed environment. All the syncing back and forth is really based on having an iOS 5 device which is a big revenue stream to Apple. A lot of what Apple is doing with its cloud platform is very Apple specific which goes against some of the pillars of the public cloud. Imagine if Google suddenly made Google Apps only work on Android devices.
Also, while the name iCloud does highlight the cloud it also makes it seem like another Apple creation like the iPod and iMac. While Apple has been in the computing and specifically cloud computing space for awhile with MobileMe, they didn't invent it or haven't really done a great job at it. Even Steve Jobs made fun of MobileMe on stage at the event yesterday.
The last negative to the iCloud is the functionality itself. While all the documents, music, contacts and applications are syncing through a multi-tenant internet based platform, the actual work being done on these items is dependant on devices. Unlike Google and Salesforce.com who house the actual applications and provide access via the internet browser, Apple is just propagating data across from device to device.
How It Helps
While cloud computing has lots of name recognition thanks to companies like Salesforce.com, Amazon, and Google, it is still not very main stream. Most people understand it means something about the internet, but not really sure how it all works or what benefits it has. Apple has always been the master of taking a difficult concept and packaging it into a consumable product. Everyone can describe an iPod and iPhone or how the iPad is cool while the MP3 music player, smart phone and tablet computer might not get the same excitement or understanding. The new iCloud product will have lots of consumers of all ages asking about this "cloud thing" and how it could benefit them. They will likely get to know the cloud as something that syncs everything seemlessly to the internet and "just works", which are all positives.
Don't get me wrong in this article, I am very excited about all the new features and functions coming in iCloud and love the raising of the bar when it comes to cloud computing. Syncing is one of the hardest things to do and probably why most companies stay away from trying to tackle it. If Apple can provide all of the features in iCloud that "just work" the consumers are the winners in the end.
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