Apple announces free iCloud digital hub service that keeps your data afloat
While the announcements about the iOS 5 and Mac OS X Lion updates were enough to create considerable excitement in the Mac World today, Apple's announced iCloud service at the Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco seems to have not only been a show-stealer but also a game-changer. The free service will provide each account with 5GB of cloud-based storage for documents, contacts music, photos videos and apps with backups and syncing to all your devices including laptop and desktop computers.
With iCloud everything happens automatically and there is close integration with the apps that used to be the core of the MobileMe service. That service, still operating until June 30, will be replaced by iCloud and the apps have been re-written to maximize the potential of the Cloud. The iCloud service will be free while the MobileMe service was $99 a year. Some thought that meant the new service would be ad-driven but Apple CEO Steve Jobs dispelled that rumor quickly, confirming the service would be ad-free.
Six current apps will be used to push content to iCloud. Those are Mail, Address Book, iBooks, the AppStore, iCal and Backup. Data from these apps will automatically be pushed to the iCloud servers whenever changes are made, then synced to the various devices on the account. Tap on the cloud button in the AppStore or iBooks apps and your apps and books will be pulled down to your device automatically. You can view your purchased apps and books at any time.
Three additional apps, Documents in the Cloud, Photo Stream and iTunes in iCloud will round things out to complete a group of nine apps with iCloud capability. Backups occur daily when on a WiFi connection only, and they include purchased music, books, photos videos, device settings and App data.
Documents in the Cloud stores documents from the apps that make up the iWork package (Pages, Numbers and Keynote). You can be working on a spreadsheet in Numbers, then go home to find that same document on your iPad or PC so you can continue working. No more bringing documents home on a USB key chain drive. Everything is automatic.
With PhotoStream all photos taken with each device on the account are automatically pushed to iCloud and then sent to all the other devices. On iOS devices, PhotoStream is an integrated part of the Photos app, shown as a separate album. On the Mac the photos are sent to iPhoto and on PCs they go to the Pictures folder. iCloud stores the last 1,000 photos and will keep them there for 30 days. When you decide you want to permanently store a photo on your iOS device, just drag it from the PhotoStream library to your Camera Roll for permanent storage. Photos on the Mac and PC are always stored permanently until you delete them.
In the past if you bought a song then accidentally deleted from you library, it wasn't easy to get it back. With iTunes in iCloud you don't have to worry about it. You can always view and access the songs and albums you've purchased by pushing the Cloud button. Anything you've purchased in the past can be downloaded again with no charge, in the same way you can download apps now. This also means you can share your music with all the devices on your account, up to 10 total, with no additional charges.
After outlining the features of iCloud, Jobs offered his famous "one more thing," and it was a big one. I was sitting there thinking about how long it would take to transfer all the music in our iTunes library that we copied from CDs we own. Apparently Jobs and the Apple engineers were they thinking about that too, so he announced iTunes Match.
iTunes Match is a service for converting your iTunes library to an iCloud optimized format by comparing the music in your library to Apple's own library of 18 million songs in order to add your music to your iCloud account. For $25 a year you can point Apple to your music and iTunes Match will try to find matches for the music you ripped from your CD collection way back when. Apple says this process takes minutes instead of the weeks it might take to upload your music files. Any songs that don't match their libraries will be uploaded and added to your account.
iCloud will be set up by default on all new devices with iOS 5. The 5GB of storage is for mail, documents, contacts and backup. Purchased music, apps and books don't count against the 5GB limit and neither does your PhotoStream content. The iCloud service will launch with iOS 5 in the fall.
(Photos by the Associated Press and Getty Images)