iCloud: everything, everywhere, in sync

Without wanting to sound smug as it really isn’t my style, it turns out my previous speculation about Apple’s forthcoming iCloud service wasn’t too far off the mark. It had always struck me that iCloud was never going to be a cloud-based music streaming service, and what Steve Jobs announced at WWDC yesterday was much more – everything, everywhere, in sync.

iCloud stores your music, photos, apps, calendars, documents, and more. And wirelessly pushes them to all your devices — automatically. It’s the easiest way to manage your content. Because now you don’t have to.

All that automatic, wireless pushing of data and documents sounds like a good thing, and perhaps best of all, it’s going to be free. There’s no indication yet of whether you can pay for more storage, but Apple are suggesting that the 5Gb space you do get will go a long way, since it isn’t used to store your purchased apps, music, books or photo stream.

One of the key messages that I got from beyond the reality distortion field, is that with iCloud the end-user no longer has to think about syncing their iDevices or managing their media and documents – it all happens automatically, and it “just works”. So for Apple applications and content – music, apps, books, mail, contact, calendars etc – you’re sorted, and with iCloud APIs being released to developers, third party applications will also be able to leverage the iCloud for storage and syncing.

iTunes in the Cloud isn’t what many pundits expected – there’s no subscription service here, and I’m not convinced that’s necessarily a bad thing. What it is though, is essentially two things: firstly, your purchases will be available everywhere, so if you buy (or indeed have already bought) a music track on your iPod, it’ll appear on your iPhone automatically without having to sync; and secondly, a paid for service called ‘iTunes Match’ gives you the same iCloud benefits for music you haven’t bought through iTunes. Your library is scanned for matching content, and if it doesn’t exist, you can upload it. With UK pricing unconfirmed, it remains to be seen if the service will be available here, but at $25 it looks like it’s going to be a worthwhile investment for a lot of people.

The same “access all areas” mantra of iCloud applies to books and apps, and with the beta version already having gone live, you can see how this works already on your iOS device – previously purchased apps can now be grabbed from iCloud using the new ‘Purchased’ section of the App Store, and in fact, I just downloaded Pages to my iPhone having previously bought it for my iPad. As Steve said, “it just works”, and I’ve no reason to believe it won’t be exactly the same story with iWork documents.

Another great feature coming soon in iCloud is Photo Stream. Take a photo using your iPhone and it’ll be automatically pushed to the cloud and instantly available on all your other devices – iPods, iPads, Macs, PCs and Apple TVs – without needing to sync or send via email, and it also works for photos that you import from a digital camera on your computer. The iCloud will only store your last 1000 photos, and new photos are going to be kept for 30 days, so you will at least need to remember to move photos into your camera roll or an album if you want to store them permanently.

iCloud looks set to change how we interact with our Apple devices, both desktop and mobile, but for the most part in a good way – automatic and seamless is great, although sometimes I worry when I hear phrases like “now you don’t have to” as it can lead some people into complacency and a false sense of security.

There are also unanswered questions, like how will iCloud syncing work if you have multiple Apple ID’s? With MobileMe being terminated and existing subscribers having to transition to iCloud, what about iDisk storage? For most folks I guess it won’t be a big deal, and we’ll need to wait to hear more about the transition process when I’m sure everything will become crystal clear.

So, is having “everything, everywhere, in sync” a good idea? It’s certainly convenient, but you do have to ask yourself whether you’re ready to store so much personal data in a cloud…. I am, I just really hope it doesn’t rain 🙂

iCloud is coming in the Autumn. For more details, visit the Apple Website

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