Though Apple pre-announced what it will announce at the Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC 2011), the company has offered few details on what its new features will look like. Here's an overview of what to expect from Apple's latest press conference.
Apple has said that Steve Jobs will unveil iOS 5, the next version of the company's operating system for the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch, Mac OS X Lion, the eighth version of its Mac operating system, and iCloud, "Apple’s upcoming cloud services offering."
Whereas iOS 5 and Mac OS X Lion are updates on existing products (see what to expect from those here and here), iCloud would be an entirely new offering from the Cupertino company. Apple has reportedly secured licensing deals with the music industry's top labels, which has fueled speculation that iCloud will be a cloud-based music streaming music service rivaling similar new offerings from Amazon and Google, as well as startups.
Yet iCloud will likely prove to be a far more comprehensive and expansive product.
iCloud may be the new iTunes: Daring Fireball's John Gruber, who has been spot-on about Apple announcements in the past, says of iCloud, "Music storage is a feature of iCloud; iCloud is not a music service." Adding that fourth-hand information gives him the impression, Gruber writes, "don’t think of iCloud as the new MobileMe; think of iCloud as the new iTunes."
Other sources have suggested that iCloud will scan songs (and potentially other media) users have purchased from iTunes and mirror the media on Apple servers in order to enable users to access their iTunes collections across different devices and to quickly store their music in the cloud, without spending hours uploading their music collections.
iCloud may be the new Dropbox--a personal cloud server: Cult of Mac, citing a "source close to the company," speculates that iCloud will work by syncing with Time Capsule, an automatic backup service Apple offers, that will function less as a local backup and "more of a personal cloud server."
What does all that mean for users? Cult of Mac suggests, "If you make any changes on any computer, those changes are updated through iCloud and stored on your Time Capsule. The Time Capsule archives and serves up your files even when your computers are off. When you get home and fire up your desktop computer or laptop, the files are automatically synced across your devices."
iCloud may be MobileMe on steroids: Kevin Fox, a former designer for Apple, Google, and Yahoo, estimates that iCloud could be another attempt to enable users to seamlessly take their files, data, preferences, and more with them to any computer they log into. Noting that he has no "inside info," Fox guesses that, given Apple's actions thus far, iCloud will be big:
‘iCloud’ could mean anything, but given the complete failure of MobileMe over the last decade there’s no way Apple would introduce it on such a pedestal unless it’s incredible. My guess is that iCloud is to MobileMe as iPhone was to Newton: a complete, deep, polished solution after an underwhelming market failure.
Specifically, iCloud could give users a universal login to use across multiple devices: "If you make any changes on any computer, those changes are updated through iCloud and stored on your Time Capsule," writes Fox. "The Time Capsule archives and serves up your files even when your computers are off. When you get home and fire up your desktop computer or laptop, the files are automatically synced across your devices."
iCloud could be Apple's big attack on Android: Ultimately, iCloud may prove to be all those things--and more. The product is not only poised to be the next generation of Apple's iTunes and MobileMe services, but is an important front in Apple's war against Android, which has gobbled up share in the smartphone market. As Bloomberg reports, "Apple is using iCloud to retain its dominance in the smartphone and tablet markets amid fresh competition from devices powered by Google Inc.’s Android software. The new service may improve how users can access content across different Apple devices, keeping customers from defecting to rivals, said Frank Gillett, with Forrester Research Inc."
iCloud is a chance for Apple to prove it can be trusted with our data: The host of web giants, including Google, Sony, Epsilon, and more, that have fallen prey to cyber attacks reveal that we can't assume the data we entrust them to protect is secure. Apple has had its fair share of privacy stumbles--such as the "locationgate" controversy, which saw the company accused of tracking users' locations via iPhones--and with iCloud, Apple must show that it takes the security of its users' personal information seriously. The new service also provides Apple with the opportunity to differentiate itself from other companies, if it can indeed demonstrate that consumers' personal information is being properly used and protected.
"[Even] if Apple introduces a bang-up cloud service at WWDC, the company is going to be forced to become more transparent and responsive to customers in order to be a good cloud provider," notes ZDNet. "In an outage, it won’t be able to act like it did with the iPhone 4 antenna issue or the recent Mac malware problem, where Apple hung back for a long time before even acknowledging the problem and then talking about a fix. In short, if Apple becomes a major cloud provider, it’s going to have to change its ways. But, I have to think Apple would see that as a fair trade-off in order to solve a problem as big-and-hairy as this one."
Get the latest on iOS 5, Mac OS X Lion, iCloud and more: Find out how to follow Apple's WWDC keynote, which beings Monday at 1PM ET, here.
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