I’ve mentioned Lion and IOS 5 already but there is one major announcement left to mention and that is iCloud, a long-anticipated and much-rumoured over addition to the Apple family. Ever since Apple bought over LaLa and started building their data center in North Carolina, people have speculated about how Apple would make use of these resources… Speculate no more for now we have the answers.
The central premise of iCloud is to break the link between your PC or Mac and your iDevices. Currently we store all music, photos, files etc on a desktop or laptop machine and then use iTunes to sync them to the devices as you have set it up. Limitations in the way that files get onto your mobile device has given rise to many workarounds (Dropbox on all platforms and Goodreader on the iPad are perfect examples of this). Enter iCloud, a (mostly) free service which completely replaces the MobileMe annual subscription offering we have been used to up till now. Like IOS 5, iCloud will become available in Autumn at the same time.
ICloud will store store all the music, documents, pictures, backups, mail, and more from your device and sync it to all your other devices. This is a more active service than Dropbox or Goodreader who only download on demand. Every user is given 5Gb of storage space and there are no current offerings to buy extra.
At the base level, MobileMe still exists and you can still sync contacts, calendars and an @me.com email address if you want it between all your machines. If you have google mail or exchange then this happens anyway but if you don’t then it’s a good first place to start.
Currently all Apple apps (ie Pages, Numbers & Keynote) are already iCloud ready and when IOS 5 releases will sync. Apple is making the iCloud storage APIs available to third-party developers so other apps can take advantage of this functionality once they have updated.
As with files, a photo taken on your iPhone will automatically make the trip to your iPad without any intervention. To save space, only the most recent 1,000 photos will sync with older ones being selected manually. You can also import older pictures into iPhoto on a Mac to enable sharing them via Photo Stream.
Any device connect with your Apple ID can be backed up to the cloud on a daily basis, and that data can be restored in the event of failure to a reloaded or replaced device. This, of course, removes the need to do a full backup of your iOS device to your computer via a cable and iTunes.
Download previously purchased content.
With iCloud, the App Store, iBooks, and iTunes your purchase history is now available and you will be able to re-download any previously purchased app, book, or song to any registered device at no extra cost. This has obviously been one of the things Apple was negotiating with the music majors to get along with iTunes Match (more on that next).
iTunes in the Cloud
Speaking of iTunes, let’s talk about iTunes in the Cloud, iCloud’s most interesting (and only potentially paid-for) feature. As previously mentioned you will now have the ability to download previously purchased music to any device you own. These files are 256kbps, AAC files.
So, what about music you haven’t bought from iTunes then? Well, for the price of $24.99 a year you get access to ITunes Match. When you subscribe iTunes goes through your entire music library and attempts to match it to a song that exists in the iTunes Store and then it gets treated like any other song you purchased on iTunes saving the pain currently experienced by Amazon or Google users. Even if your songs are a Lower bitrate, it will still give you access to it at 256kbps. Songs that can’t be matched to content in the iTunes store can be uploaded manually which covers all those live albums or special editions you my own.