iCloud: The Center of the Universe

Jim Dalrymple / April 12th, 2012

Over the past year Apple has given us a glimpse of what iCloud can do, but it’s the service’s potential that has me excited. Even with the small changes we’ve seen, there can be little doubt that the service will be at the center of future Apple products.

iCloud took over from MobileMe, doing the mundane but important task of syncing our calendars, contacts, bookmarks and other personal data between devices. This means that all changes will be synced between our Macs, iPhones and iPads, instantly and seamlessly.

It was with a release of a new version of iOS that we first saw how useful iCloud could be outside of a syncing service. The ability to see all of the apps that we already purchased and downloaded in one place and re-download them. I’ve used this quite often as I’ve switched devices, deleted apps and wanted to re-install. Easy and convenient — it’s what Apple is all about.

With the addition of iTunes in the Cloud allowing users to access songs in the cloud from any device, and an Apple TV update that stored purchased movies and TV shows in the cloud, we started to see how iCloud could be used in the home.

The home entertainment system is an area that companies have tried, and failed, to control for years. Like most things these days, it’s about the content. We fully expect devices like TVs to have a sleek, modern design, and look good in our entertainment center, but without the content they are just TVs.

Some TVs come with services like Netflix built-in, giving us easy access to that content. I love the Netflix service and use it all the time, however, it’s limited in a lot of ways. The most important being that it’s not the place where I get most of my digital content — that is iTunes.

In the future, if I’m going to pay for a device or television, I want to know that I have access to all of my content. That means movies, TV shows, music, podcasts, and anything else I’ve purchased. I also want the ability to seamlessly purchase new content and have that available on any other device that I want to consume it.

Apple is the only company in the industry that could provide this at the moment. Clearly we don’t have a television from them yet, but they do have the infrastructure to deliver the content. In that respect, Apple is a decade ahead of its competition.

With iCloud’s ability to deliver content to connected devices, it’s not unreasonable to envision a time when Apple could deliver all of your purchased content, as well as subscription-based content from television networks and other specialty media companies, to any or all of your devices.

iCloud is not just a syncing service — it’s a content delivery mechanism that will play an increasingly important role in future products.

Jim Dalrymple

Jim Dalrymple has been reporting on Apple for almost 20 years and has written for many industry publications. Jim currently runs The Loop, a technology focused blog, and plays guitar in his spare time. You can follow him on Twitter or visit his Web site.
  • anon

    first

  • ppgreat

    So far I’ve been enjoying iCloud. It works best if you have a me.com account as your Apple ID. If you don’t, you have to be knowledgable enough to tweak the settings on each of your devices so that iCloud is used as the reference for contacts, address book, etc.

    But I’ve sat with clients as they’ve entered a calendar event on their iPhone and watched it appear in iCal within a minute.

    It truly is the way it should work.

  • mhikl

    What will become of Apple’s iCloud is not any easy guess but I suspect it might be the glue that cements Apple’s position as the most innovative company of this era.

    This may sound off topic but I think both iCloud and an Apple TV may be the culmination of Steve’s grand view. Exactly what rabbit Apple is capable of pulling out of its hat rarely seems obvious and now it courts speculation on some iScreen TV which may have taken competitors’ eyes off its beleaguered iCloud.

    Apple’s hat trick, the iPad, sent the competition back to the drawing board and they’re still drawing, yet they had plenty of time to study its precursors, the iPod and the iPhone. (Remember MicroSofts two-piece tablet, sent to the closet as fast as the family idiot?) So what next trick, if there is to be a forth trick, will Apple pull out of its hat. Will the iScreen be a giant iPad like TV with capabilities so obvious that every competitor races to copy?

    Or will Apple’s next trick be iCloud Supreme, the rounding out of an ecosystem that further hobbles its competitors. Apple has been working on an iCloud like service for years and so far it has not been terribly successful. I hope you are correct, Jim, and that the potential of the iCloud through the Apple trick of iteration will be realised soon.

    Isn’t part of the Apple magic its timing? The iPod came out when MP3 players were anything but intuitive. The iPod was expensive and the competition’s heckles and failure to recognise the pod’s potential, portended their failure to compete. Then the little music player’s price fell, siblings emerged and the competition was left scrambling to catch up. The iPhone continued the trend though Android certainly gave Apple some good competition, making the company wiser when it came time to introduce the iPad. Whatever the Apple snide say, Apple has forced its foes to buckle up and try harder. But if iCloud proves worthy, the ride is sure to be an even bumpier one and the road ahead will likely be on a roller-coaster called Perdition, taking breathtaking dips and tricky curves that again throws its adversaries from the ride.

    I suspect iCloud could be the final slam dunk.

    • benbajarin

      I really think what I pointed out on Friday about the need to move iCloud beyond the personal cloud and embrace the family / group / communal cloud is what is needed next. I have so many issues today with iCloud when trying to keep many Apple devices in sync between family members. I still resort to analog / sneaker net processes to do this.

      So iCloud as it is, is evolving nicely for the individual but it needs to evolve to work for families also. That I think is the next frontier because then the family unit as a whole gets sucked in.

      • mhikl

        One of Apple’s faults as I see it, Ben, is that at times it goes far too simple. I’m no expert on this but iBook, for example, sure could use some features. iTunes, on the other hand, is condemned by some as being bloatware; an idea I personally find preposterous. I would rather have all my iTunes stuffings in one flexible app than to have a multitude of movie, TV, music, book, etc. apps, to search down or organise.

        I have shown complaining friends how to turn off features in Preferences and View in iTunes and suddenly they changed their tune. I would hope that iCloud could do the same and be more personalised. The family feature could be made very practical this way.

        I find my simpler friends suffer reading-manuals phobia. Built in Video instructions might be the way to go if iCloud were to become as complex as iTunes. I wonder if iCloud could become part of iTunes. Such should send iTune Haters into apoplectic shock. I’d buy that. (joking)

        I will be better able to understand iCloud when I finally make up my mind between getting an iPad or an MBA; and then I’ve still to overcome my frustrating experiences with MobileMe and its ugly predecessors. If it comes to me quick, great. Otherwise, I am easily bored when reading manuals. =$

        PS I was just looking for your account of iCloud, Ben, and found Mr Moorhead’s review. Then remembered to search the top right side of this page and above comments and there were some related reviews. Handy! Mr M’s review doesn’t appear, but maybe because it is older.

  • immovableobject

    I’m a fan of Apple’s “controlling the whole widget” philosophy, but I draw the line at iCloud.

    I don’t like the idea of being dependent on Apple’s servers (with its attendant policies and surveillance). That may be fine for some people, but I’d much prefer that Apple offer an option for me to set up my own internet-connected “iCloud server” box at home. It could perform all the multi-device unifying services one expects (backup, data syncing, media service, etc.) The difference is that if I want more storage capacity, I can just slap a low-cost hard drive onto/into it rather than paying an ongoing fee to Apple in perpetuity. My data remains private (as much it can be on any device connected to the internet). It handles all my media, not just those for which Apple has cut deals with content publishers.

    In short, I want Apple to provide an easy-to-use cloud solution that is completely under my control, I would think that businesses would also prefer to mange their own local servers for their company-issued Apple devices.

    If there is one thing that would make this long-time Apple fan finally give up, it is Apple’s current direction toward taking control and possession of all my most personal data.

    • Gjgustav

      Well, I agree, I’d love a “myCloud”, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. However, you can set up your own MacOS X Server and serve your own contacts, calendars, and email – you just can’t use it to sync iCloud docs, use PhotoStream etc. – that would be great if Apple added that to MacOS X Server. I just don’t see Apple doing that though, unfortunately.

      I’d also like to see more support for families. i.e. Mom purchases an app or song (possibly paying more for a “family pack”) and any Apple ID with the same address can download it.

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