Friday, June 10, 2011

Putting Your Head in the iCloud

Opinions and commentary are flying freely now that Apple has announced the iCloud. My belief is that the mistake is in comparing this service to the Amazon Cloud Player and the Google Music service. While the iCloud may be Apple’s entry against those competitors, the comparison isn’t, if you’ll pardon the pun, apples to apples.

Let’s start with a simple assumption. Apple isn’t trying to win over Android or RIM users with iCloud. Apple is trying to win over Apple users. The second we start to accept this reality, we can really start evaluating whether the iCloud is a quality product.

There is no question that cloud storage, in whatever form, makes sense. Centrally located music, photos, apps, calendars, documents available across all of your wireless devices makes sense. If you have to use two services to get all these features, you automatically lose some of the charm. I can live without a web-based equalizer, but I want seamless integration and support for every type of data I may want to share –not just my media. iCloud gives me this.

John Gruber hit it home when he said, that “Music storage is a feature of iCloud; iCloud is not a music service.” If device market-share means anything, his suggestion that iCloud is essentially the next version of iTunes might actually be a positive thing rather than the limitation it sounds like.

With no native apps available to bring the Amazon Cloud Player or Google Music services to iOS devices, it makes sense that their users will turn to iTunes. Sure, there is web access to stream music through a browser using the competition but that is hardly an ideal option. For an iPhone, iPod or iPad that is a work-around.

It’s true that iCloud requires you to use iTunes to upload your music. It’s also true that iTunes is going PC Free, so why is this a problem? Like iTunes or not, it’s more stable than most web apps and it’s well established. Most complaints, such as making it easier to download previously purchased content are being addressed.

If you buy your music from iTunes, it will be available in your iCloud with no additional work or cost. If you want to store your entire music collection, you can do so for a $25 a year fee. For this fee, iTunes will scan your collection and hook you up with the content already in the iTunes library. This saves you a lot of uploading and minimizing your need for large amounts of storage. If your song isn’t available, not a problem, you can add it.

Unlike Amazon and Google, a portion of this fee is filtered back to the music industry. This has been met with a lot of criticism and suggestion that this legitimizes piracy when in actuality it seeks to reimburse the industry for monies being lost because of it.

There are also criticisms that investing in a closed system, by paying Apple to host your music means users will lose control over their media. But a more objective look at this commentary would tell you that it wouldn’t matter where users uploaded their songs, this is a possibility. Apple isn’t forcing anybody to delete their local copies of things.

For other content beyond music, no syncing is required. Add an appointment to your calendar, a photo to your album or a new contact and it’s available on all of your devices with no additional effort on your part. And as Jobs says “It just works.” No need to be a skeptic on this either, this type of syncing has been available with MobileMe for quite some time now.

Now with all of that said, once the iCloud and iTunes Match are fully launched we will know more about performance and whether the features deliver as advertised, until then we’ll wait right here on the edges of our seats.