iOS 5 is coming this fall, and with it comes iCloud, Apple's 4th attempt at doing things in the cloud. Previous attempts were .Mac, MobleMe, all not really up to Apple's generally awesome user experience. All previous attempts and the computer (the Mac, of course) as the central piece of the puzzle with web and device integration kind of added on as an after thought. So, what's new this time around, and should Google be worried?
Before I get into it there's not a whole lot of details out on how iCloud will function when it gets released in the fall. So, I reserve to point out that in the fall much of what I write about could be completely different. With that said, here we go.
Let's start with the most anticipated feature of iCloud, music. iTunes Cloud allows you to purchase a song on your iPhone and have it be available for all your other connected devices instantly, without the need of the little white cord. This is great. Basically all your music, apps, and book purchases can now instantly synch with your other iDevices no matter which one you used to purchase it from. So say you bought Angry Birds the "OMG I Can't Believe People Are Still Buying This" Edition on your iPhone but want to play it on your iPad that you have with you? Just sync it to the cloud. Problem solved. You can have your devices automatically sync purchases or you can selectively sync just the apps, books, or music you want. Oh, please note, movies and TV shows are a no go, so far.
This doesn't just work on future purchases this will work on all past purchases also. A copy of your iTunes purchases will reside in the cloud. Ah, but what about music you ripped off CDs, music you bought from some other store, or music you got from (ahem) other sources? Apple helpfully notes that if it's just some songs you can re-purchase them from iTunes, but if you have lots there's iTunes Matching. For a quite reasonable fee of $24.99 a year iTunes will match what you have with a song from their catalog of 18 million tracks that way you can now sync all your music with all your devices. The big thing here is you don't upload anything. So a process that has taken me weeks so far will take minutes with iTunes Matching. So far so good, right? We've got device synching, we've got a music service that doesn't require uploading. So iTunes and iCloud must be the winner, right?
It is if you're an Apple only kind of person. The keyword in this posting is "sync". You can sync your iDevices and your computers that run iTunes, but you can't stream? Why is this a big deal? Well for one, if your family of gadgets aren't all Apple branded, or iTunes running then you can't access your music on iCloud. Or, say you skimped out on the iPhone or iPad when it comes to disk space, and you're out of space then you won't be able to sync anymore songs to that device. The lack of streaming is, for me, the deal breaker. I don't run an all Apple family, and I don't want to (you hear me HP, don't make me become an iPhone user) so iCloud would be useless for me. Another usage case; I'm at someone else's computer and I want them to hear a song I have. I obviously don't want to sync my iTunes account with their computer, but if I could have a webportal to log into and stream that 1 song, that'd be great.
In the end Apple's iCloud should really just be iSync, which is a function of OS X already. So maybe it should be iSync More. For now, Google Music is still my best choice, though not my ideal choice. I can access my music from a web browser, and will gladly spend the 4 weeks (and counting) it's going to take to upload all my music, just so I don't have to worry about space on my mobile devices. I'll be waiting to see what, if anything, HP comes up with. I just hope it doesn't involve re-uploading all my music again.