A Look at iCloud: What is Coming in Apple’s New Cloud Storage

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iCloud has been the talk of the Apple rumor mill for months, especially when it was finally revealed that Apple has purchased the name.  Much of this had centered around Apple‚Äö√Ñ√¥s coming competition with Amazon and Google‚Äö√Ñ√¥s cloud music services that they intended to win by actually licensing the music companies.  Today at the World Wide Developer‚Äö√Ñ√¥s Conference keynote address iCloud was announced, and it ended up being more than just music.


The basics of iCloud is that it is a ‚Äö√Ñ√∫cloud‚Äö√Ñ√π based digital storage option for all Apple iDevice users.  What this means is that it is storage space that is remote from your computer, yet just as easy to access for you as if it was.  iCloud will then come free for all iDevices, and apps, media, and features on these devices will be integrated with iCloud so you can easily save things to it as you are working.  This actually has more applications that it even sounds like, and also shows the end of the somewhat failed MobileMe system.

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The main reason for iCloud, as Steve Jobs labeled from the stage, is that your computer is not just the central hub for all activity anymore.  Traditionally, everything flowed right back to your computer.  It is where you ripped or downloaded media content, synced updates, produced documents, sorted photos, and did pretty much everything else.  It made sense, then, to make everything for your mobile iDevices run through there since this was the center of your computer life.  Since people remain more mobile now and the iDevices are allowed to stand on their own more, especially with iOS 5 features like PC Free, it makes more sense to have a cloud storage system as the central hub for users.


What this essentially means is that things saved to cloud on one device are instantly accessible from another device for that user.  All users will begin having their own iCloud account they will integrate with all relevant devices.  For example, iCal will have calendar sharing through iCloud that will integrate Mail and Contacts.  All devices will then become integrated with the same available content, making the basic use of applications universal.  This makes perfect sense since a user who owns both an iPhone and iPad will likely use many of the same applications and content sources on both devices, yet the ways in which they interact with those sources may be different because of the different technology being used to do so. 

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PhotoStream is a major element of this and will be included in the Photos section of your iDevices.  This allows for immediate saving of photos through iCloud to then be accessed by all devices.  This is important for the same reason that this is going to be important for media: these end up taking up a great deal of space.  The world of digital cell phone photography and social networking have allowed for photos to be taken en masse, and today we end up clogging up much of our mobile storage space with these images.  Now that they can go directly to iCloud, then likely to social networking for gallery preparation, you can bypass this storage stranglehold that can occur. 


So iCloud is more than what was anticipated, but it has the music element in a larger format than originally thought.  Since iCloud is not standing alien from existing devices and software and instead being integrated inside them you will find iCloud as part of the new iTunes.  This is important for Apple since they would not want to walk away from the brand recognition that iTunes has in the consumer culture.  What iCloud will do is either reference your existing library against 18 million songs, many of which they have the rights to through contracts with the record companies themselves, or allow you to upload music.  This feature, called iTunes Match, does have a $24.99 annual subscription fee, but this is fairly small.  What the licensed files allow you to do that Amazon and Google do not is to have instant access to the songs without any upload or the use of any storage space.  The example that was given at the WWDC is that if you had 20,000 songs on your iTunes you could deal with this in a few minutes with the $24.99 cost, and at Amazon it could take weeks of upload and run over $200.  For smaller artists, local artists, and those without the rights you can just upload your files.

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Every user is going to have their iCloud account with 5 GB available space.  This seems as though it may only be a temporary size limit as the popularity of this and of constant mobile use may make the storage needs even bigger.  Hopefully Apple will not begin selling off iCloud storage space in the future and will allow it to work its way in to mobile use.  Since iCloud will automatically save things and back up your iDevices it is going to be an essential part of iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad use, and any additional costs may hurt sales in the long run.


There will be a beta version of iCloud for developers right away, and even for iOS 4.3 users at some point.  The full version of iCloud will be there for the fall release of the iOS 5, which will hopefully accompany the mysterious iPhone 5 that was pushed back from its assumed summer release.  iCloud is going to revolutionize the storage and sharing of documents, mail, media, and just about everything you use for these devices, and it may begin to indicate a future where on site storage will be a thing of the past.

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