The much-talked about iCloud service from Apple was officially detailed today by Steve Jobs himself at the Apple WWDC keynote in San Francisco. Apple will now let you store your files on their servers, but the real application for Apple fans here will be the syncing possibilities iCloud opens up, and that’s what Jobs focused on the most in his speech today.
iCloud is free of charge for everyone – iOS device users, Mac users and PC users alike. All devices registered to you will be able to communicate with iCloud, and all applications on your devices will be fully integrated with it. The service will automatically push new data to all of your other devices. Buy an iBook, and it will be automatically downloaded to your other devices. Take a picture, same thing happens. Store a contact on your iPhone, the iCloud pushes it immediately to your iPad.
Almost everything about the iCloud is automatic. Once a day, your data will be backed up to the cloud, wirelessly. This means all of your data – if you buy a new phone, you can enter your Apple ID, and everything saved to your old phone will be automatically downloaded to your new phone.
iCloud has a few little advantages depending on which app you use it with. When reading an iBook, your progress will be automatically pushed to all of your devices, so you can pick up immediately where you left off on your book when you switch between your iPhone, Mac, and iPad. Photo stream will upload your camera roll to the cloud and push to all other devices. This works with PCs, too, using the pictures folder. iOS devices will then store the 1000 most recent photos, due to storage space considerations, while Macs and PCs will store all photos from all devices.
This isn’t a permanent storage solution, though. Files are stored on iCloud for up to 30 days, meaning this is more of a wireless syncing platform with rolling cloud storage. It’s also not a streaming service – files and apps are downloaded to your devices, so no form of media can actually be streamed from the cloud. There will be 5 GB of free storage available to everyone in iCloud, but purchased items like books and music do not count toward that limit.
Time was taken out to specifically discuss iTunes in the cloud, the feature most of us were waiting on with bated breath. It delivers what we wanted (besides streaming), with one big caveat. iTunes in the cloud features a complete purchase history that you can browse through, and use to download songs already purchased to your other devices free of charge. For songs purchased after iCloud is activated on your devices, purchased songs will be automatically pushed to your other devices. You can download a song on up to 10 different devices using one account. iTunes in the cloud is up and running as of today.
Now, you may be wondering – what about songs on my computer that I did not purchase from iTunes? What about the songs ripped from CDs, or bought from Amazon’s store, or from other sources? Steve Jobs says this won’t be a problem for most Apple customers (I think I will politely disagree with Steve, strongly, on this point). But, if it is a problem, Apple hasn’t totally forgotten about you. Of course, you can still sync music the old way, with your trusty white USB cord. Or, you can use iTunes Match.
iTunes Match is a paid service that costs $24.99 per year. The service scans your entire library, and matches songs that were not purchased from iTunes to songs on the iTunes store. You can then download iTunes versions of those songs, which will replace the impure, non-Apple versions Steve Jobs seems to think are defiling your music library. If you do choose to use the service, you’ll be happy to know that the $24.99 fee is flat – you can have 20,000 non-iTunes songs to download, and you won’t need to pay any extra.
All told, iCloud seems to be more of a wireless syncing platform than a storage solution, and is certainly not the streaming media center many were hoping for. But, it is fully integrated with all apps, and to say it’s easy to use would be a little misleading. You don’t really use iCloud at all. You set it up on your devices, and it does the rest in the background, pushing new and updated files and apps to all of your devices in (literally) seconds. It is amazingly fast. iCloud will work over Wi-Fi connections, and will completely replace MobileMe, which will cease to exist after iCloud is fully implemented, which will be sometime this fall, alongside iOS 5.