After months of speculation and rumors, Apple’s famed iCloud service has finally been revealed. Despite the fact that just about everyone in the industry, including myself, was pretty sure they knew what iCloud would be, Apple threw us a curveball and gave us something completely different.
Today we’ll discuss what iCloud is in terms of something almost equally important: what it isn’t. What was it that everyone expected and how does iCloud differ from that expectation?
iCloud: What We Thought Was Coming
There was plenty of mystery surrounding the launch of iCloud but we all knew one thing for certain: it would finally bring iTunes to the cloud. It’s very important to note what we meant by this particular phrase. The idea was simple, Apple was going to give me a way to access my entire music library from anywhere. This would obviously take a similar form to what we were already seeing from other major players looking to get a jump on Apple.
Amazon Cloud Player and Google Music
Amazon and Google have both recently made the leap into cloud-based music services. The general concept is that you upload all of your music into the cloud where it is stored and can be accessed via any web browser.
Amazon’s service is free for up to 1,000 songs and has yearly plans for anywhere from $20 (4,000 songs) to $1,000 (200,000). Google Music (invite only) is currently free for all users and gives you enough storage for 20,000 songs!
iTunes in the Cloud?
With this in mind, it was easy to see what “iTunes in the cloud” meant because these other services were offering essentially that very thing. A simple leap of logic suggested that Apple too would be launching a service to store and stream your music online.
Interestingly enough, iCloud does neither of these things! So here we have Google and Amazon each with a service that primarily offers two features, then Apple launches a service that has neither of those features. Despite the disjoint, everyone, including Apple, seems intent to compare the two business models as if they were the same service from different providers.
iCloud: What We Got
While trying to predict what iCloud would be, we all forgot one crucial thing: Apple doesn’t care what everyone else does. Instead of looking around and mimicking the services that others were providing, the iCloud team decided to approach the same goal in a different way.
The goal is to have complete access to all of your music no matter where you are. Everyone else seems to think that the best way to go about that is to store and stream your music in the cloud. Apple, on the other hand, decided to give us a way to keep our music synced across all of our various devices.
Instead of accessing your music on the web, you access it where you do now: in iTunes and on the music players of your iOS devices. The content still resides on the hard drive of every device you use so the term “iTunes in the cloud” is a bit of a misnomer. Really, all iCloud does is facilitate downloading your music (technically it does other stuff too, we’ll get there).
This comes with both pros and cons. The upside is that streaming sucks when compared to natively hosted music, so here iCloud wins. The downside is that if you have 120GB of music, your iPhone isn’t going to hold it so no matter what, you’re not really going to have access to all of your music from everywhere. If you have a large library of music, you’re still stuck going through iTunes and decided what should and shouldn’t get synced.
More Than Music
It’s important to note that iCloud is way more than just a music service. It helps you stay synced with music, photos, documents, apps (already available in beta), contacts, calendars and email.
Instead of seeing iCloud as a competitor to Google Music, it’s a lot more like MobileMe on steroids. MobileMe was one of the few products that Apple has ever released that I actively told friends and family members to avoid. I’m personally thrilled that they’re killing it and instead offering services that are not only better, but free. That is unless you want to use iCloud with songs that you didn’t purchase from iTunes, in which case you’ll have to fork out $24.99 annually.
Is This Better Than We Hoped or Worse?
So now we know what everyone thought iCloud would be (online music storage and live streaming) and what it really is (synced music and more across all devices). Now we’re left with the decision as to whether Apple’s surprise is good or bad news.
On one hand, iCloud is undoubtedly an awesome set of features and services. It fills a big hole in functionality and will genuinely make our digital lives easier. On the other hand, if the goal is really to give everyone access to all of their music from any Mac or iOS device, the capacity of these devices presents a significant hurdle to that goal. A 32GB iPhone full of apps simply may not be enough to hold all that pirated music you have.
Personally, if Apple would’ve released a clone of Amazon’s cloud music service, I don’t think I would’ve ever used it. My music is always with me in one form or another so I don’t need a cloud player, especially at upwards of fifty bucks a year. iCloud on the other hand, is something that I will likely use and enjoy every single day. To that end, iCloud is much better than I thought it would be.
Tell Us Your Thoughts
What do you think? Are you happy with the direction that Apple chose to go with iCloud or do you wish they would’ve just released an online storage and music streaming service?