Starting soon, your Mac, iPad, iPod Touch and or iPhone will be living in the cloud. In actuality, they will be living in the iCloud, Apple's latest way to keep all your Macs, iOS devices and data synchronized. This may sound familiar. Apple has a pay-for-service called MobileMe ($99/year subscription), which Apple finally admitted was a bit of a disappointment for them. The upcoming iCloud service is not a direct replacement for MobileMe, but will take over many of the same features - for free.
If you are a current MobileMe subscriber you should have received email from Apple explaining the transition to iCloud. Current members should have plenty of time to transition over to the new iCloud service. In the email I received, Apple states that MobileMe will be available through June 30, 2012, "at no additional charge." This should allow most users of MobileMe to either move over to iCloud, or find some other alternative.
Apple also stated in my email that iCloud is coming sometime this fall. Vague, yes, but most rumor sites have iCloud available about the same time as the new iPhone. The likely timeframe for the new iPhone is an announcement the end of this September with a launch sometime in October. Of course this is just a guess, no one really knows except Apple, and maybe AT&T and Verizon. This makes sense since iCloud will require iOS 5, the next Apple mobile operating system.
An overview of iCloud reveals five functions, according to information on Apple's website. These functions include: iTunes in the Cloud, Photo Stream, Documents in the Cloud, Apps-Books-Backup, Contacts-Calendar-Mail. While some of these functions were part of MobileMe, iCloud does add more to the mix.
Unlike MobileMe, iCloud is an active system. Whenever you create or change something on one of your registered devices, the updates are automatically pushed to all your other devices. Say you take some photos with your iPhone at a party. These photos will automatically upload to your iCloud account and then downloaded to your Mac at home. The same thing will happen even with video, or any iWorks documents (iWorks is available to purchase for both Mac OS and iOS devices).
The real power of iCloud will be for those who own an iOS device and nothing else. Apple created the iPad as the 'Post-PC device'. The only problem was that you had to have a Mac or a PC to use it (the iPad had to connect to iTunes to activate it). Eventually, Apple came up with a fix for those who purchased an iPad in the Apple retail stores. Supposedly, iCloud and iOS 5 will eliminate this activation conundrum. Those who want an iPad and don't own a computer will be able to activate, and even backup, with iCloud.
Back in June, at this years WWDC show, Steve Jobs went over the features of iCloud. One feature that stood out for many Apple fans was iTunes in the Cloud. This new feature allows you to access all, or most all, of your iTunes music library from the cloud. This means that your iCloud account will contain all the songs that you have ever purchased from iTunes, plus for a fee of $24.99 a year, you can also stream any song, that is in your iTunes library, no matter where you got it (as long as it is in the iTunes catalog). Apple is calling this service iTunes Match. This should cover pretty much all but the most esoteric of music titles. After all, iTunes has over 18 million songs in their catalog.
What this all means is that any song that you have purchased from iTunes will be available for you to re-download anytime and anywhere. This is huge. In the past if you ever lost a hard drive full of iTunes music you were out of luck. With iCloud, you will no longer have to worry about losing hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars worth of music downloads. If you decide to add the iTunes Match service, you cannot download these tracks again, but will be able to stream them from the cloud at 256Kbps, which is not CD quality audio, but I defy most to tell the difference.
With iCloud, Apple is really taking the cloud seriously. It all started back in the beginning of 2000 with iTools, a free web based service from Apple. It soon grew into the subscription service .Mac and then into MobileMe. Along with this, Apple now has the App Store (for iOS software) and the new Mac App Store (for Macintosh software). Any App you buy online from Apple can be re-downloaded and installed on any registered device. Now we can add music to this list.
The one thing you will need to decide on is the amount of cloud storage you think you will need. Apple is offering 5GB of storage and all the syncing for free, which is where most people should start. You can also purchase additional storage. You can add 10GB for $20/year, 20GB for $40/year, or 50GB for $100/year. This is on top of the 5GB you get for free.
Soon you will be able to have all your data - music, Apps, ebooks, movies, documents, photos, videos, etc. - automatically transferred to all of your Apple devices. Buy a song and it will go to all your devices, not just the one you bought it on. Take a picture with your iPhone and it will automatically load into your Mac at home. This is not just cloud storage. Apple's iCloud looks to go far beyond MobileMe and really allow us to tame the wild beast of multiple Macs and mobile devices.