Apple's new iCloud will be the online repository for Contacts, Calendars, Mail, Photos, and iTunes. Less expected – but hoped for – was news that the cloudy storage locker will also be available to third-party developers to provide document storage and retrieval for their apps.
Apple's MobileMe is dead. iCloud is the new hotness. When debuting iCloud during his Worldwide Developers Conference keynote, Apple CEO Steve Jobs admitted that his company's first cloudy offering was less than perfect.
"You might ask: why should I believe them? They're the ones that brought me MobileMe," Jobs said. "It wasn't our finest hour...but we learned a lot."
Actually, we didn't actually hear him say that. The Reg is persona non grata at Apple events. Our introduction to iCloud and Apple's iOS 5 and Mac OS X Lion announcements came via the live blogs of Ars Technica and Macworld.
If iCloud works as well as Jobs and his cohorts demoed on Monday, Apple has indeed learned quite a bit. One thing they've learned is that users don't particularly want to spend $99 per year on cloud services: iCloud will be free.
As with MobileMe, iCloud will provide cloudy storage and syncing for Apple's Contacts, Calendars, and Mail apps. Unlike MobileMe, syncing across all iOS and Mac OS X devices is designed to always occure in the background, transparently and instantly.
When a contact, calendar, or @me.com mail message is updated on any iOS device or Mac OS X PC, it will be uploaded to iCloud and immediately pushed to all other devices registered to that account. "The truth is on the cloud," Jobs said. In addition to containing all content for a particular account, iCloudy calendars can also be shared among users on different accounts.
In addition to contacts, calendars, and mail messages, iCloud will also allow you to sync all your iOS apps – buy an app on one device, and it will be pushed to your other devices.
A Backup app has also been added, which once a day will send to the cloud not only your contacts, calendars, and mail messages, but also your apps, books, camera-roll photos and videos, and purchased music – more on that music in a moment.
A new Documents in the Cloud capability is perhaps the most interesting of iCloud's tricks. Beginning with Apple's Mac OS X and iOS iWork suite – Pages, Numbers, and Keynote – all documents can be saved to the cloud from one device, then made immediately available to all other devices using the same account.
Jobs told his audience that Apple had been working for 10 years to get rid of the file system, and iCloud is their answer. He wasn't clear, however, about whether iCloud will be the only storage medium for iWork files. Knowing how cloud services can sometimes disappear, we assume that local storage remains a possibility for days when the sky is clear.
But Apple's isn't reserving iCloud for its own apps. Documents in the Cloud will be available to third-party developers through storage APIs in the upcoming Mac OS X Lion. Jobs told the assembled devs that the service will be available not only to iOS and Mac OS X apps, but for Windows PCs as well.
Another iCloud feature, Photo Streaming, will also be available to Windows PCs. Photo Streaming will send photos taken on iOS devices or from iPhoto, and store them on iCloud, where they be immediately downloaded to all other devices on the same account when they're connected over Wi-Fi. Apple TV is included on this list, as are Windows PCs, where photos will appear in the Pictures folder.
Needless to say, storing squillions of photos taken with or stored on what Apple claims are 200 million iOS devices would quickly eat up the storage capabilities of even Apple's new mega-datacenter in North Carolina, so there are limits to Photo Streaming: the 1,000 most-recent photos.
But your photos won't vaporize after you've hit that limit: you can move them to an album on your iOS device, Mac, or Windows PC. If you don't move them, though, they'll disappear after you hit 1,000 photos or after 30 days, whichever comes first.
Also as expected, iTunes is moving to the cloud as well. Monday's news, however, was about how Apple plans to manage your tunes, both purchased and ripped from your own CDs. Or, for that matter, acquired in some other, less-noble manner.
iTunes-purchased tunes are the most straightforward. The iTunes app on each device will now have a Purchased button, which you can click to see a list of all the songs you've bought at the iTunes Store. From that list you can choose which ones you want on that device, and they'll be sent to that device.
After what must have been some hardball wrangling with music-industry suits, there'll be no extra charge for having the same tunes available on multiple devices – up to 10 different devices will be supported, and all songs will be encoded in 256Kbps AAC.
For tunes in your iTunes library that you didn't purchase from the iTunes Store, Jobs outlined three possible scenarios: sync your songs from iTunes over a cable or Wi-Fi (yes, over Wi-Fi), buy the songs that you're missing from the iTunes Store, or – drum roll, please – a new cloudy service called iTunes Match.
iTunes match uses a technology reminiscent of Song Match from Lala.com – acquired by Apple in December 2009 – to look at your list of songs and match them up with their mates in the iTunes Store. Those song will then be available to you just as if they were purchsed: at 256Kbps AAC.
iTunes Match won't be free – but at $24.99 per year, Jobs said, it compares favorably with similar cloudy-tune services from Amazon and Google. Both of those services require you to actually upload your files, while iTunes Match scans and matches. As jobs put it, iTunes Match works in "minutes, not weeks."
Amazon charges $50 per 5,000 songs, while iTunes Match offers unlimited scan-and-match for $24.99. Google hasn't yet announced its pricing policy, but we can only imagine that after Monday's keynote, there will be some interesting discussions in the corner offices of the Mountain View Chocolate Factory.
An iTunes in the Cloud beta will be available today for iTunes 10.3 and iOS 4.3 running on the iPhone 4, Jobs said. ®