iCloud: What It Isn’t

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.


Google Music Beta

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


iCloud doesn't stream, it syncs

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.

“We all forgot one crucial thing: Apple doesn’t care what everyone else does.”

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.

“iCloud is something that I will likely use and enjoy every single day.”

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?


Add Yours
  • I couldnt agree more with the “iCloud on the other hand, is something that I will likely use and enjoy every single day” statement. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve found apps/music for the mac at the office, only to run home and download it again on my MacBook and iPad. Very time consuming.

    I would say Apple threw a strike on this one.

  • So I’m old school: I still buy CDs. Then I import them into iTunes so I can play them on my iPod etc.

    iCloud will be useless for songs from CDs, unless I pay, right?

    • I think you will be able to upload… Steve mentioned that there would be three options.

      1. Upload (but it could take weeks to do an entire library)

      2. Re-buy music from itunes

      3. Itunes match (24.99 a year)

      • Correct me if im wrong, but: The upload part is only for music that iTunes can´t match with its library. This has the prize of 24.99 a year. ;)

  • One thing I havn’t heard yet, is if this service is optional, or does everything get synced whether you want it to or not? I can see syncing being handy for some things, but not everything. Also, can you choose which devices to sync to? I have several macs in my family, but I don’t want all my work stuff syncing to those computers. Also, right now I simply sync any music I want to my Iphone by plugging it in. I assume we will still be able to do that.

    • @Terence: I would assume this is one of the things they will be working on. I doubt they wouldn’t give us the option of choosing what we have synced. As of now, we can set those parameters when we upload music onto our iPods/iPhones, so I would assume this same functionality will carry over.

      I, for one, am very excited to start using iCloud. I think it will be yet another way to ensure that I have everything I need with me at all times.

  • iCloud to start with, I think, is trying to save bandwidth. When the iPhone first came to being we heard many stories of people with extremely high phone bills because they didn’t understand the data charges. If someone wants to listen to music on their iPhone and everything was streamed it would take no time at all to chew up a ridiculously small data plan. This way, it is a one time download/sync (minus the cable) to your device of choice, iPhone, iPad, iPod touch etc. Until data plans become unlimited (again) I think iCloud is perfect just the way it is.

  • Too much focus here on music – icloud is about data in the most complete sense. Remember what Minimal Mac said on 9th June? The data IS the computer:


    • I focused on music because that’s what everyone expected, but I did address your points:

      “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.”

  • As far as I can tell, iCloud is going to be a walled cloud — there’s no way to access it from my phone or my Linux computer, no open API, and so on. As such it’ll be completely useless to me. Apple doesn’t get it.

    • Dude, it’s Apple. Not Linux. Apple gets it perfectly.

      Sent from my iPad

  • I think that iCloud is great for Apple users… that’s who it was built for. @mathew You’re right, it’s not going to be of much use to a Linux user, etc.

    I like iCloud most of all for what it does outside of music. I have already used used the “Purchased” menu in the App Store on my iPhone several times. It is very useful. And the iCloud does a good job of syncing music… but I want more…

    I’m disappointed in the lack of a streaming service similar to rdio. I think Apple could produce a very nice streaming service with monthly or annual fees, and many would subscribe. I can’t afford to purchase all the music I want, and I don’t want to pirate music. Rdio has been very enjoyable to use, but I have no loyalties to them and would definitely change my subscription over to an Apple produced service.

  • I love this blog, and read it frequently, but I have to protest to one comment in this article:

    “A 32GB iPhone full of apps simply may not be enough to hold all that pirated music you have. ”

    I can’t tell you how unbelievably sick I am, of hearing, that if you have more than 32gb of music, its assumed to be pirated!! I know this article nor the author truly meant any harm here, but, there are A LOT of us out there, with LARGE, or EXTREMELY LARGE, music libraries, that have never pirated one song. I have had this conversation numerous times since the iCloud annoucement (and specifically the 25,000 song cap) and every person that hears that someone has more then 25,000 songs immediately says “Well apple is not catering to PIRATES”……..well, just because SOME bad apples are on the tree, do we chop the tree??? I personally have been collecting vinyl/cds/cassettes for over 20 years, and BEFORE the advent of Napster/iTunes/P2P’s I had 20,000 songs…..SOME OF US LOVE MUSIC….DONT LUMP ME IN WITH COPYRIGHT VIOLATORS!

    • Ha, it was just a quick attempt at humor, not a moral bashing. I have tons of music as well. No real insult meant!

  • I get what iTunes Match is except one thing. Will it keep charging me 24.99$ every year for my non-iTunes music or will it be only for one year?

    Other than that, I really liked iCloud. MobileMe wasn’t that good and it was pricey so I switched to Google and used Google Sync for some time. But I’ve to admit that some of Apple’s technology like syncing contacts is way more mature than Google’s.

    Also since now iCloud is free and has a lot more to offer; it’s a deal I can’t let down. :))

    • Honestly, I’d love to know the same thing. At this point, no one seems to know!

  • I’m really looking forward to iCloud but I’m wondering what the downside is. I can’t believe the service is completely free. There has to be something in stock for them. First thing that comed to my mind is collecting and analysing the data given to them.
    Anyone who has some more informations on this topic?

    • It’s value added to their products. This is offering something exclusive to Mac and the iDevices. So while it’s free it gives a stronger value to existing and future products from Apple. What they get out of it is another strength for someone to look at when shopping for something Apple makes products for.

  • It is not Spotify.


  • I’ve wanted to use the ‘find my iPod’ app on my iPod touch, but have not wanted to pay for a mobile me subscription. Does anyone know if ‘find my iPod/ iPhone’ apps will sync with iCloud?

    • The ONLY paid feature is iTunes in the cloud. All the other services are completely free.

  • BTW – They did release online storage with the cloud. How else are you downloading all the music? All your music is stored in the cloud (where really it already exists in the iTunes store), and it will also backup your apps, docs, etc. For me, I love the direction Apple went with this. If I want to listen to my music, I’d rather have the local copy. If I’m going to stream music, I’ll go to Pandora.

  • you should all stop calling our music pirated music. people still buy cds and vinyls. okay? pretentious ingorants

    • ignorants* . lol this mistake made my day

  • Anyone know how the iWork.com beta fits into this? They didn’t mention anything that seems to replicate it’s purpose completely.

  • iCloud was only useful for retrieving music I lost years ago when my computer crashed. It let me redownload that stuff. I would’ve been more into the Amazon/Google way though. I buy music from amazon (cheaper than itunes usually with sales and such) so that doesn’t count against my storage.

    I thought once I got a new phone, my old (only 8gb) iOS device could be docked to speakers and used to stream my music, but the lack of amazon/google music iOS app is killing my dream.

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