Little Apple cuts its PC cords at last, though video is missing, while the biggest iOS news is a full frontal attack on BlackBerry messaging Lead Analyst: Caroline Gabriel, Rethink Associates
Despite Apple's talk of the post-PC era, it has clung to the personal computer for longer than most - too long, say critics, who believe both iOS and Apple's cloud activities have started to be outstripped by Android. Now the company has bitten back, freeing iTunes and its various devices from the PC with the long expected iCloud range of web-based services for streaming and storage.
Data and content can be stored in the cloud and accessed directly via any Apple device. It will launch immediately in beta version for developers and will be free to end-users. CEO Steve Jobs pleased the crowd at Apple's Worldwide Developer Conference in San Francisco by returning from sickness leave to address the event and unveil iCloud.
"iCloud stores your content in the cloud and wirelessly pushes it to all your devices," he explained. "It automatically uploads it, stores it, and pushes it … Now, when I buy a song on one of my devices it automatically downloads to all of my devices without having to sync or do anything at all. We're making it free, and we're very excited about it." If Jobs' address lacked some of its usual dramatic impact, that was not because of his health problems but because iCloud had been so thoroughly dissected in advance - and, in some respects, pipped to the post by Google's and Amazon's cloud storage moves. Indeed, Jobs showed some rare humility when he admitted that Apple's first, and hugely limited, mobile cloud offering, MobileMe, had "not been our finest hour". That service will now be moved into iCloud.
iCloud offers a range of capabilities, such as automatic synchronizing of iTunes, calendar and contacts data between devices, and one-click pushing of the same content to any new Apple device that is registered to the user account. Importantly, in comparison with Amazon Cloud Drive or Google Music, Apple has signed deals with major music labels, so that customers do not have to upload their songs to the web. Instead, a premium feature, Music Match, priced at $24.99 a year, mirrors their existing collection with the iTunes store and allows existing iTunes tracks to be streamed from the cloud.
Of course, iCloud will seek to become a full platform, and Apple is opening up APIs to third party developers so they can store application information in the cloud too.
As expected, the new releases of iOS and OSX Lion were also detailed. iOS 5 has many, much heralded features though it is an incremental rather than a radical upgrade. Among its enhancements are close integration with Twitter, an updated mobile Safari browser, and a location-based reminder service, which triggers alerts in certain areas.
Perhaps most significantly, release 5 comes with a new instant messaging application, which works across all iOS devices and is a clear shot across RIM's bows on the efficient communications front. iMessages lets communications, including photos, videos and locations, to be sent between all Apple devices free of charge and without limits - the very features that have made BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) such a hit and allowed RIM to target the unlikely territory of the teenage audience, especially in Europe. As the GigaOM blog points out, BBM has "been a life raft for RIM in the violent sea of the ongoing mobile battle BlackBerry faces with iOS and Android. However, iMessage brings a lot of what's good about BBM not only to the iPhone, but also to all iOS devices".
Apple is playing an unusual game of catch-up in the mobile OS, as its market share is overtaken by Android and rivals start to move beyond the user interface concepts it pioneered - with far more extreme cloud platforms such as Chrome OS, or with new approaches to mobile apps, like Microsoft's in WP7.
"Since the last update of iOS, the new Windows Phone platform has entered the market," wrote Nick Dillon, an analyst at Ovum, in a research note. "While it has yet to enjoy the same commercial success of iOS, the dramatic redesign of Microsoft's mobile platform has made Apple's look distinctly old fashioned in some areas." However, Microsoft is well behind in the mobile cloud stakes. Its Live Mesh product, which was similar to iCloud, is apparently on the back burner, and there is no synchronization client in WP7.
Lacking from the announcements? The iPhone 5 hardware no-show was the big disappointment, of course, though not unexpected. And there is no video syncing in iCloud, despite rumors that Apple was in talks with Hollywood to create a movie version of the music offering. Google is planning a streamed Google Movie service and Amazon already supports such capabilities, but neither firm supports users' existing stored films because of storage capacity issues.
The Bottom Line:Experture decided to highlight this topic as it is indicative of what is in store for users of cloud computing services.
For example, virtually “thin” devices where no matter what device is used, you get access to the same content. In addition, there are hopes that the basic offering (schedules, music, contacts) will be supplemented by applications using publically available API’s.
While video capability was not released at this time, there are clear indications that this will be a function in the near future.
Ultimately, Experture expects that due to the popularity of Apple Inc. culture, products and services, that this cloud offering will develop very quickly. In addition, as a result of competition, other existing cloud platforms will use Apple’s iCloud as a target as well.