Apple iCloud launched two months ago to huge fanfare and punditry. It’s no surprise given the huge future opportunity with the cloud. Also, it was a big deal for Apple given their past online endeavors had been so unsuccessful that even Steve Jobs issued out one of the few apologies Apple had ever made. In that case, it was about MobileMe. Two months in, Apple has done an admirable job, but it’s clear if they don’t plug some holes, competition has the ability to swoop and and deliver a much more user centric, comprehensive solution.
iCloud Problem #1: Lack of video sync
Unlike photos with Photostream, iCloud will not sync videos taken off of an iPhone and sync to a consumer’s iPad, PC, Mac, or Apple TV. So that last minute winning basketball score…. you are out of luck. Lose the video? Oops… With advanced and mainstreamers users already embracing video this is a huge hole that will be be filled by someone. Bandwidth isn’t an excuse because there’s certainly enough of that over WiFi at home or the business. This is a hole that Google could easily fill in that they get video via YouTube. And with Apple owning both ends of the pipeline, they could even develop a proprietary CODEC that shrinks and expands the files minimizing bandwidth even over WiFi. Microsoft certainly has the capability given they own the PC market and with Live Mesh could provide an solution that never touches an external server.
iCloud Problem #2: Fractured productivity pipeline
Unlike photos, iCloud requires significant user intervention to sync documents, presentations, and spreadsheets between iOS devices and PCs/Macs. If a user creates a document on an iPad and wants to pull it into Pages for Mac, the user is required to download from iCloud.com. After changes are made on the Mac, the user needs to drop it back into iCloud.com. Seems like syncing documents folder on the Mac and PC would have been a whole lot easier. Again, an opportunity for Google Docs and Office 365 from Microsoft.
iCloud Problem #3: Lack of on-line photos
Unlike Google Picasaweb and Yahoo Flickr, iCloud provides no way to go online and view, download, and share pictures from a web browser. This is a very basic feature that is surprising in its absence. Microsoft Live Mesh and Windows Live service can easily fill in this gap.
iCloud Problem #4: PDFs are books, not documents
For most consumers, PDFs are intended to be files intended to be uneditable documents. They are so pervasive that even global governments use them as standard document formats. How does iCloud treat them? As books, of course. In Apples war with Adobe they have crossed the line and have sacrificed the consumer in the process. This is easily addressed by Google and Microsoft.
Filling the Gap
Many companies can fill the gap opened by the lack of iCloud comprehensiveness, timing, and completeness. They fall into two categories; niche plays and comprehensiveness plays.
From a comprehensive standpoint, there are three options, Google, Microsoft and an OEM. Google and Microsoft solutions are straightforward, but the OEM play is a bit complex. Google and Microsoft can build cross platform smartphone, tablet and desktop apps that keep everything in sync. Google already has many desktop apps, with Picasa 3 already filling the comprehensive photo sync role to Picasa Web. Microsoft already has a comprehensive solution with LiveMesh and Office 365 but need to provide more robust smartphone and tablet integration. OEMs like HP, Sony and Dell could either build their own infrastructure or partner with companies like Box, Dropbox, or Sugarsync to fulfill that need. They could also partner with Microsoft and Google as well, but sacrifice some level of integration and control.
The niche players are in the market today, companies like Sugarsync, Box, Dropbox and even Evernote. Essentially, a consumer looking for a specific, non-integrated solution can look to these players today to provide cloud sync. While they aren’t always integrated into an end to end pipeline into the apps, they provide a solution today, and maybe even tomorrow who don’t want to get locked into a solution. Most sophisticated and experienced users will actually prefer this approach as they understand the complexity and see the downside to being locked into an app environment. Probably many reading this blog in fact.
Microsoft, Google, and Independents Fill the Gap
I believe Apple is rolling out online, integrated services as fast as it can, prioritizing what it believes consumers will want first. Services hasn’t been Apple’s core competency, as Ping and MobileMe highlight this. It’s on a slow pace which will let Microsoft and Google edge into a market leading position, regardless of Apple’s prowess in phones and tablets. Microsoft will leverage their ~95% share in PCs and Google will leverage their market share advantage in smartphones and search. The big question is, can Apple accelerate into an area rife with competition in an area which isn’t it’s core competency?