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Living With Your Head in the iCloud

Steve Jobs the co-founder of Apple unveiled iCloud at the World Wide Developer Conference in San Francisco on 6th June 2011. Signaling Apple’s intentions in the race for control of the internet. Jobs was quoted as saying that “Some people think that the cloud is just a hard disk in the sky. We think it’s way more than that. And we call it iCloud.” Jobs also stated, “We have the solution: we’re going to demote the PC and Mac to be “just a device” - we’re going to move your digital life to the cloud.”
iCloud works with the iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch, Apple TV, Macintosh Computers and PC’s running Microsoft Windows. The service offers the ability to sync contacts, calendars, and mail across a user’s devices. For instance, if you add a contact on your iPhone, it gets pushed to the cloud automatically and synced to all of your devices and computers. The same goes for calendar events, photos taken on your devices, and documents you create.

The new service is available free of charge to all users of iOS5, which I wrote about in my last editorial and which runs on all iPod Touches, iPads and iPhones. Great to see is that Apple hans’t kept iCloud a closed system, they have given third party developers the ability to write iCloud capabilities into their applications so that content changed in an application on one device automatically syncs to the same application on your other devices.

Three New Applications
Apple has created three new apps for iCloud.
Documents in the Cloud - uploads Pages, Numbers, and Keynote ,(Apple’s versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint), documents to the cloud for syncing. For example, if you create a Keynote presentation on an iPad, Documents in the Cloud stores that presentation. Then, if you have an iPhone that syncs to the same iCloud account and that iPhone has Keynote, that presentation is available for editing on the iPhone.
Photo Stream - lets you take photos on any device and uploads them to sync with your other devices (for example, your iPhone shots appear on your iPad). Photo Stream also works with iPhoto on the Mac, and supports the second-generation Apple TV. Because photos are so large, Apple says that photo syncing works over Wi-Fi or ethernet, and Photo Stream has a limit of the last 1000 photos on iOS devices (unlimited on Macs and PCs). Photos remain on iCloud for 30 days after you upload them, but you can save them permanently on a device by moving them to a new or existing album.
iTunes in the Cloud - for songs that you’ve already purchased from the iTunes Store, there’s a Purchased button that shows your entire purchase history of songs (purchased on any device). You can view by all songs, recent songs, or by artist. You can then download any song or album with the touch of a button.
“This is the first time we’ve seen this in the music industry,” said Jobs. “No charge for multiple downloads on many devices.”
You can download music to up to 10 devices, and you can also enable an Automatic Downloads feature that will grab any new purchases you make on other devices.
Additional Features
iTunes Match
Unlike cloud based services from Google and Amazon that require you to upload your bulky music or video library to the web, Apple’s iCloud service features iTunes Match. iTunes will scan your tracks in iTunes regardless of whether they were copied from a friend, ripped from a music CD or dubbed from a cassette, if the songs are available in the iTunes store, Apple will give you access to the original tracks in 256kbps AAC format. iTunes Match does come with a price tag of $25.00 per year, but in my mind this is a very small price to pay to legitimize your huge collection of pirated music and replace it with  original recordings and live guilt free. For songs in your library that are not included in the 25million tracks sold by Apple on iTunes, they allow you to upload them for free to your iCloud account. So with iCloud you have benefit of your entire music collection available to you anywhere in the world on any of your iOS devices without spending years waiting for them to upload on your limited internet connection (for those of us in Southern Africa).
App Flexibility
iCloud lets you view your purchase history on the App Store, allowing you to re-download apps you previously purchased, at no additional charge, to your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch. It doesn't matter what device you used for the original purchase. When you purchase new apps, iCloud can push them to all your devices automatically. Similarly, with the iBooks app on your iOS device or the iBookstore on your desktop Mac or PC, you can get a list of your past book purchases and download these books again to any of your devices. When you buy a new book, it will appear everywhere. When you start reading on one device, iCloud will save your place. Your iBook bookmarks, highlighted text, or notes are automatically pushed to all your other devices.
Backing-Up
If you are signed up on iCloud, once a day, your content will automatically be backed up to the cloud. If you ever get a new iPhone, you enter your iCloud username and password and your data will automatically sync to that new device from the cloud. This includes your iTunes Store purchased music, applications, books, your camera rolls from your old device, video, settings and app data. 
Specifications and Availability
Each user gets 5GB of free storage for mail, documents, and backup. Fortunately, purchased music, apps, books, and Photo Stream photos don’t count against that total.
iCloud will be available from September this year, although users of iOS 4.3 can try out a beta of iTunes in the Cloud now by launching the iTunes app and clicking on the Purchased button.
My Clouded Vision
So to summaries, what do I think of iCloud? I am extremely excited, whilst at the same time a little apprehensive. The service if it is all that it was made out to be in the unveiling by Mr Jobs will be simply fantastic. It will save hours of searching for the right content on the right device and avoid moments of disappointment when I am wanting to show some content to someone and discover that it is on another device that I don't have with me at the time. I am apprehensive to see how well it syncs particularly for a user with more than one mail account and multiple address books. I fear too that given our limited connection speeds and internet caps in Zimbabwe, the service may become costly and result in half synced documents. Given Apple’s track record however, I have no reason to believe that it won’t operate as advertised, and like all of the company’s other initiatives, work like clockwork. I can’t wait to try it out.

 

30 June 2011