In a recent post, my colleague Ben Bajarin wrote a post on how the seamlessness of Apple’s iCloud is a bit like Amazon’s WhisperSync in the way it invisibly does its job. I’d like to take a deeper look at the design philosophy behind this and why it is a key to Apple’s success. In a word, the key to making the iPhone and iPad a better experience than their competitors is integration.
The iPhone’s new iOS 5 software has a couple of important tricks. Siri, a voice driven personal assistant, lets you accomplish much of what you want to do an an iPhone simply by speaking to it. iCloud creates automatic links among iOS devices, Macs, and, to a limited extent, Windows PCs. But the important thing is that these new features are built into the heart of the operating system, not whizzy add-ons. That means their function becomes a natural extension of the device itself. As developers do more to hook their apps into these services, their usefulness will explode.
I just finished up a project that required including a number of iPad and iPhone screen shots. I wrote the report on an iMac and in the past, getting those pictures from the devices to my Mac would have been a pain. Fortunately, the iCloud feature called Photo Stream came along just in time. Once Photo Stream was activated, I could create a screen shot on the iPad and within a minute or so it would just appear in iPhoto on the Mac with absolutely no intervention on my part. This is not magic, though it looks like it. But it does require deep integration of iCloud services into the operating system to work as seamlessly as it does.
Apple is actually late coming to the cloud and its early efforts, notably MobileMe, were not terribly successful. But in typical Apple fashion, the company is making up for lost time with a vengeance by pushing cloud connections deeper into its products than any competitor. Google may be the ultimate cloud company, but Android is festooned with an assortment of cloud services that never feel like part of an integrated whole.
One big advantage of Apple’s integration is that these services can be made available relatively easily so third-party developers can use them. Apple has already published an iCloud application programming interface and as Ben noted, developers are already finding interesting ways to use it. Apple has not yet published a Siri API–the service is officially still in beta–but once it does, I expect the usefulness of a natural language voice interface will explode.
At Apple, it’s never about the technology, but always about the user experience. That philosophy is likely to keep iOS a step or two ahead of its competitors for some time to come.