As if he descended from the clouds, Steve Jobs was greeted with thunderous applause today at Apple's Worldwide Developer Conference in San Francisco. iCloud has arrived and we can finally answer some of the questions that have been on everyone's mind lately.
What is iCloud?
Imagine a place that stores your photos, music, apps, calendars and documents. Now, imagine this place automatically pushing your content, as it changes, to all of your devices — that's iCloud. The days of manually transferring songs, photos, books and apps from one Apple device to the next are over. According to Apple, with iCloud, there is "no syncing required" and "no management required", which means we can rely on our digital content to be there, whenever and wherever we need it.
How does it work?
iCloud uses cloud storage to quickly make content accessible, wherever you are, from whichever Apple device you happen to be using. Buy Angry Birds on your iPhone, and with iCloud, the app will automatically be synced with your iPad and other devices. There's no need to push a button or plug your device into your computer. iCloud magically pushes out new data to your devices, even while you're sleeping. Simply put, by Steve Jobs during his keynote speech, "it just works."
What types of content will iCloud store?
So what exactly can iCloud do for me you ask? Great question. The professional in you will appreciate the fact that iCloud will store and sync e-mails, calendar appointments and contacts. Add a new contact on your iPhone and it will show up in your address book the next time you use your iMac. Or start writing an e-mail from Apple Mail at home, and then finish it while on the train using your iPhone.
How will iCloud handle photos? And will iCloud store music better than Google and Amazon? Excellent questions. The verdict is still out, but at least now we have more details.
iCloud will feature Photo Stream, a "rolling collection" of photos that have passed through the cloud from your various devices. For example, if you add a photo to the Photo Stream album in iPhoto, the next time you fire up the Photos app on your iPhone, it'll be there. To save space on iPhones and iPads, the Photo Stream album will only contain the most recent 1,000 photos. And to save space on Apple's plethora of servers, iCloud will only store new photos for 30 days — plenty of time to sync between devices. The Photo Stream album in iPhoto will work differently, since a computer has the luxury of storing more content. It will basically store everything sent to it from iCloud, beyond 1,000 photos and 30 days.
Let's talk music, shall we? If you've been following along so far, it should come as no surprise that any new song you buy from iTunes, for example via your iPhone, will get stored in iCloud and therefore be instantly available on your iPad and computer. What about songs I downloaded years ago? Well, according to Apple, as long as those songs are still available in the iTunes store and you are logged into iTunes with the account from which you purchased the music, you should be able to download any of your previous purchases…for free. That's right, no charge for multiple downloads to different devices — a first in the music industry.
Alright, alright, I get it. But what about songs in my music library that I didn't buy from iTunes, like old CDs that I imported? Apple has you covered with their new iTunes Match service. For a small annual fee, iTunes Match will scan and match your personal library with the 18 million songs in iTunes. When it finds a match, you'll be able to listen to that song from any of your devices via iCloud. When no match is found, the song will simply get uploaded to iCloud. Apple couldn't have made this easier. They certainly have a leg up on Google and Amazon when it comes to getting your music library from your computer to the cloud.
How much will it cost?
Believe it or not, it's free. However, there is some fine print to be aware of. We all get 5GB of free iCloud storage, which conveniently doesn't include music, apps, books and the Photo Stream. So that leaves mail, documents, app data and a few other things, which will count towards the 5GB of space. What happens after 5GB? Well, I'm sure Apple will find a way to make a profit from selling extra space. iTunes Match will cost $24.99 per year, a flat fee regardless of whether you have 2,000 or 20,000 songs in your iTunes library.
When will iCloud be available?
To use iCloud in all of its glory, you'll have to wait until the fall, when iOS 5 will be released, the newest operating system for Apple's mobile devices. However, we should be able to take advantage of iTunes in the cloud right now. This feature, while still in beta, is available in the U.S. only and requires iOS 4.3.3 on your mobile device with iTunes 10.3.
I hope Apple's latest product is a little less "cloudy" for you now. For even more information on iCloud, check out the Apple website. And be sure to follow me and the rest of the GigMasters Tech Team on Twitter for the latest updates on what we're learning and what we're building.
UPDATE: For a great read about the pros and cons of the cloud for the music business from Jay Frank, SVP of Music Strategy at CMT, click here. -ds