Cloud investigate

Apple's next frontier: Your data

Apple is very picky about the opportunities it goes after, but it appears it is about to make a big new bet on the cloud. See what iCloud might look like and the challenges Apple has to overcome.

At their core, most technology companies are glorified toolmakers. The biggest difference between the large ones and the small ones is primarily the size of the problems they're trying to solve.

For Apple -- one of the biggest and hottest companies in the tech industry -- it can afford to be picky about the opportunities it goes after. That's also part of the company's ethos. Steve Jobs once said, "I'm actually as proud of the things we haven't done as the things [we] have done. Innovation is saying 'no' to 1,000 things."

However, Apple is about to say "yes" to another big opportunity. It's going to tackle one of tech's biggest problems: Your data.

On Monday at its World Wide Developer Conference, Apple will unveil iCloud, which it calls its "upcoming cloud services offering." (TechRepublic will provide live commentary of WWDC at 1:00PM Eastern on Monday.)

What will Apple announce on Monday? What is iCloud likely to be? There are lots of guesses: An online storage locker, a subscription music service, a cloud-based media streaming service, a wireless data syncing service. It depends on who you ask.

Two of the best sources even have conflicting predictions. Leander Kahney, author of Inside Steve's Brain and veteran Mac columnist, says his sources indicate the coming of a new AirPort Express/Time Capsule that will serve as a personal server connecting to the cloud and allowing users to seemlessly connect their data between multiple computers and mobile devices.

Meanwhile, Jon Gruber, who regularly comes through with reliable tips from inside Cupertino, argues iCloud will be an Internet-based replacement of iTunes that will allow computers, iPhones, iPads, and iPods to sync all of their media with the cloud instead of over USB.

Before I share my predictions, let's not forget that Apple doesn't have a stellar reputation in cloud services. Whatever form iCloud takes, Apple will have some important obstacles to overcome.

Apple's cloudy past

As excited as people seem to be about iCloud, it's easy to forget that Apple has wanted to be a cloud services provider for a long time and has done multiple bellyflops.

Apple has been in the cloud business for over a decade, long before we ever started calling it "the cloud." In 2000, Apple introduced iTools as a free service for Mac users. It offered a mac.com email address, a basic Web site (called HomePage), an online storage locker (iDisk), and a few more hokey services (like a online greeting card service called iCards). Since it was free, users didn't complain too badly about it, although many of them hoped Apple would do more with it.

In 2002, Apple renamed the service .Mac, turned it into a paid subscription, and upgraded the @mac.com email service, iDisk, and HomePage. It also added a backup service and a McAfee antivirus scanner. However, Apple let the service languish and did little to develop it, other than a nice update to the email service in 2006 and a new Web Gallery photo sharing service in 2007. Overall, only a small subset of Mac users adopted it, and many of them complained about the price and rightly questioned Apple's commitment to the service.

In 2008, the company turned the service into MobileMe, focusing on expanding the email service to include more advanced features as well as calendar and contacts. Apple dubbed it, "Exchange for the rest of us," referring to Microsoft Exchange Server, which most corporate employees used at the time. Apple wanted MobileMe to be a viable Exchange alternative for individuals and small business professionals. However, Google stole its thunder by enhancing Gmail and Google Apps, which even most Mac users prefer over MobileMe as an Exchange alternative. It didn't help that MobileMe suffered from a number outages and sync problems. Steve Jobs even admitted in an internal Apple email that MobileMe "was simply not up to Apple's standards."

With iCloud, Apple looks ready to take another shot at relaunching the service. This time it will have to overcome its reliability issues, come up with better features than Google and Microsoft, and solve the issue of effectively syncing apps, data, and preferences across computers and mobile devices.

What to expect from iCloud

For two years, Apple has been building one of the world's largest data centers -- bigger than almost any single data center we've seen from Google, Amazon, or Microsoft. This much-reported 500,000 square foot behemoth in Maiden, North Carolina came online this spring, just in time for the iCloud launch.

Building something this large and ambitious says a lot about the scope of Apple's cloud plans. It's doubtful Apple would build something on this scale just to continue selling songs and videos on iTunes and keep MobileMe alive. It's much more likely that Apple has a series of plans for moving to cloud-based services in the years ahead, and we'll only hear about the beginning of those plans at WWDC 2011 on Monday.

I expect to hear about a cloud-based music service, since Apple has reportedly already signed streaming deals with the major music companies. Users are tired of managing their music libraries. That's why services such Pandora, Rdio, Last.fm, and Spotify have become so popular in recent years. It's also why services such as Amazon Cloud Player and Google Music, which require users to upload their libraries, are cool but ultimately don't solve the problem of having to manage a bunch of files. Apple is likely to launch a service that will scan your library to give you access to all the music you already own, while also offering a subscription fee to listen to new music and to get a taste for other stuff you don't own.

However, the more interesting question at WWDC will be what Apple does with MobileMe. The most potent thing Apple could do would be to take iDisk (a component of MobileMe) and expand it into a storage service that rivals Dropbox, but with much deeper integration into iOS and Mac OS X. And then, turn the MobileMe email and calendar into cloud-based services that offer the Google Docs-like capability of having the same messages or files open on multiple devices at once and enable real-time collaboration and syncing. Put those two services together and add in cloud hosting and access to multimedia files seamlessly across computers and devices and you've suddenly got a much more powerful way to handle your data. That's what I'm looking for with the launch of iCloud at WWDC.

Of course, that would have serious implications for business and IT. For small businesses, this type of iCloud offering would streamline data management and reduce the need for systems integrators. In the corporate IT world, the iCloud service would have to be handled with kid gloves to make sure employees don't use it to store sensitive company information and cause data leakage.  Still, Apple has the opportunity to connect the dots on data in a way that no other company has been able to do yet, and that could ultimately benefit professionals as well as consumers (especially if Apple pursues an enterprise version of the service).

Finally, even if Apple introduces a bang-up cloud service at WWDC, the company is going to be forced to become more transparent and responsive to customers in order to be a good cloud provider. In an outage, it won't be able to act like it did with the iPhone 4 antenna issue or the recent Mac malware problem, where Apple hung back for a long time before even acknowledging the problem and then talking about a fix. In short, if Apple becomes a major cloud provider, it's going to have to change its ways. But, I have to think Apple would see that as a fair trade-off in order to solve a problem as big-and-hairy as this one.

Also read

About

Jason Hiner is the Global Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Global Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He is an award-winning journalist who writes about the people, products, and ideas that are revolutionizing the ways we live and work in the 21st century.

58 comments
rauglothgor
rauglothgor like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

Translation: "These aren't the droids you're looking for." That pretty much sums up how Apple works most of the products, this isn't really what you are looking for. That will be in the next iGeneration, but you can buy this iToy in the mean time.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

The old rule was to never buy a Microsoft OS before the first service pack was released. It's updated to include never buying a piece of Apple hardware in the 1.0 version. In both cases, let someone else pay for the privilege of being the guinea pig.

JJFitz
JJFitz

before the first service pack? No Try it out for free? yes Always the control, never the experiment. :)

JJFitz
JJFitz like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

that has been available from other hardware or software developers for months, the media still acts like Apple invented it. Either TV network news staff are ignorant of computer and telecommunications technology or Apple is paying them off.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Why pay money when you can have the cow for free?

desilvav
desilvav

the rest quite recently released tablets. Get a life get a computer (any flavour, like profolactics and colours) make some money, go fishing to expunge the stress

JJFitz
JJFitz

I had a Fujitsu slate tablet running windows XP in 2004. That was back when Steve Jobs said "There are no plans to make a tablet," ... "It turns out people want keyboards. ... We look at the tablet, and we think it is going to fail." Google the quote. The rest of your reply is merely the inane ramblings of a juvenile who has no sense of computing technology history and perhaps has not heard of spellcheck either.

yooper
yooper like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

The Google service that allows you to store all your personal medical information, records, etc on thier site for other doctors to access, etc. If I did shots of Jack Daniels all night I wouldn't come close to making the decision to allow ANYONE access to that information without my consent! I do not have an iTunes accont or any Apple products period. I don't have anything except a $10 Tracphone and that's it. I believe in molding the technology available to your needs and not just grabbing the first new thing out there because it's hip. I would still use a Commodore64 if it performed the functions I needed.

JCitizen
JCitizen

Commodore64 enthusiasts are modifying the old venerable to do fantastic things now. Maybe your dream will come true! @->-

yooper
yooper like.author.displayName 1 Like

As I already mentioned, I use the technology I want to use. I have no need for a smart phone, iPad, etc. I customed built my entire system to the way I want it, just because something is cutting edge and hip isn't going to force me to buy it just to impress someone. I do admit, I enjoy using modern computers over the old 8 bit systems like the Commodore64, but I "enjoy" using the older systems more, not the same as "enjoying" the modern computers just because of the convinence I'm sure you know what I mean. :) I don't want to go "off the grid" like I've heard many say lately, but I also do not want to be relagated to being a slave to something that will benifit me as well. I could go on about apps that let you see where your friends are using GPS, etc but why bother, just don't use it.

yooper
yooper like.author.displayName 1 Like

"Not benifit me" just got home after a long hot day, so please forgive the typo's. :)

desilvav
desilvav like.author.displayName 1 Like

you can just forget the whole lot

JJFitz
JJFitz like.author.displayName 1 Like

"In an outage, it won???t be able to act like it did with the iPhone 4 antenna issue or the recent Mac malware problem, where Apple hung back for a long time before even acknowledging the problem and then talking about a fix. In short, if Apple becomes a major cloud provider, it???s going to have to change its ways." Translation: "These aren't the droids you're looking for."

maclovin
maclovin

Ahh....the good ol' days of OS 9!

thomas
thomas like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 4 Like

"Yet still, the audience did swoon and caper And behold, The Steve did grin mightily,..." ...yea, all the way unto the bank.

Gr8Music
Gr8Music like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

In the beginning, the techno-geeks created PC technologies that the common man could not understand; and man struggled... Then the geeks created applications for business; and man struggled... Then two of the chosen ones created the GUI (with the help of PARC); and man was intrigued... Then the internet was created; and man saw purpose... Then compression algorithms were invented; and man started to communicate with fellow man... Then personal music players were invented; and man wanted music everywhere... Then camera phones were invented; and man took pictures of everything... Then the smartphone with video were invented; and man took videos of everything in sight to share on the internet... Then cheap external disc storage was invented; and man put files all over the frickin' place, man was not happy... Then techno-geeks invented internet solutions trying to gather all of man's crap into a single location; and common man learned it did not work easily... Then manufacturing efficiencies enabled man to have multiple personal and business devices connected to the internet; and man was frustrated that one device could not easily share with another device... And behold, the Steve invented iCloud and made it EASY for the common man to share his beloved photos, videos and music without the techno-geek! Long live the Steve!

inouyde
inouyde like.author.displayName 1 Like

A for fanboi-ism, but A+ for creativity

JCitizen
JCitizen

that was entertaining! :)

vulcan_
vulcan_ like.author.displayName 1 Like

Dear MobileMe member, We'd like to share some exciting news with you about iCloud ??? Apple???s upcoming cloud service, which stores your content and wirelessly pushes it to your devices. iCloud integrates seamlessly with your apps, so everything happens automatically. Available this fall, iCloud is free for iOS 5 and OS X Lion users. What does this mean for you as a MobileMe member? When you sign up for iCloud, you'll be able to keep your MobileMe email address and move your mail, contacts, calendars, and bookmarks to the new service. Your MobileMe subscription will be automatically extended through June 30, 2012, at no additional charge. After that date, MobileMe will no longer be available. When iCloud becomes available this fall, we will provide more details and instructions on how to make the move. In the meantime, we encourage you to learn more about iCloud.

zaks4rill
zaks4rill like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

I don't think this is a good idea.. I'd rather call it an indirect of Compromising data by apple, which will give them more a adherent serenity for profiling customers using their data. Why Should You Trust Apple ? What gives them the qualities to be trusted and relied on when they're secretly , monitoring your location, it'll now be your own personal data. Apple iCloud = Shooting Yourself with a gun on the Leg!

jacky.cheung
jacky.cheung like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 3 Like

A dark iCloud would be cool but I prefer the white. That's probably the only thing going across the followers' mind after the presentation...

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Seriously, what's with Apple customers' obsession with white iDevices? When the marketing department starts pushing colors, you know a product has reached everyone who NEEDS a widget; now we're targeting those who WANT one.

JJFitz
JJFitz

Frankly, I think the white frame on the iPad 2 produces glare around the screen image. That's why you don't see many white framed monitors or tv's outside of Apple. The white iPhone was delayed because it produced a halo around images taken on the camera. Why would anyone want one? That's why athletes put on eyeblack and white horses get black tattoos around their eyes.There's too much glare. White is ok if it works but white so that others identify it as an exclusive item is plain stupid.

JJFitz
JJFitz like.author.displayName 1 Like

Maybe it's because I have always enjoyed absurd stories of any nature. Perhaps it is an obsessive compulsive disorder. :)

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

"Do you remember when only Apple employees were seen with white iPhones? Do you remember when Apple just kept saying, "The white iPhone is coming soon."? ... Do you remember when only Apple employees were seen with white iPhones? Do you remember when Apple just kept saying, "The white iPhone is coming soon."?" Nope. I wasn't interested in the device, so I didn't keep up with the colors. I've only recently become aware of this obsession. "In the meantime folks who purchased iPhone 4's early on had to get a black one. Then they got stuck in a contract where they would have to pay full price to switch it to white. ... I still don't understand why people fell for it." That makes two of us.

JJFitz
JJFitz

you couldn't get it for almost an entire year. Do you remember when only Apple employees were seen with white iPhones? Do you remember when Apple just kept saying, "The white iPhone is coming soon."? In the meantime folks who purchased iPhone 4's early on had to get a black one. Then they got stuck in a contract where they would have to pay full price to switch it to white. "Oh, mine is newer because it is white." ( adding to the mystique of exclusivity) Do you remember the entrepreneur who figured out how to buy the white iPhone shell at wholesale and offered to install it on people's black iPhones? Apple shut him down pretty quickly. It WAS exclusive and people fell for the hype. It is no longer exclusive. I still don't understand why people fell for it.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Hell, how exclusive can it be when they sell them retail? You don't need a Secret Membership Card or know the iHandshake to buy one. It's not like other manufacturers are barred from using the color. My Samsung MP3 player is white; it was the only color of the model I wanted that Best Buy had in stock that day.

JCitizen
JCitizen

and jack the price way up with the sales pitch that they would be limited edition, and collectors items someday! HA! ;\

JJFitz
JJFitz

sounds a bit racist. :)

BillDodd
BillDodd like.author.displayName 1 Like

Apple just loves re-marketing......Lets all call it the cloud.. I've got a new product called "Mist" made in Scotland.

gtatransam
gtatransam like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

Stupid Apple Zombie... they need Brains, Brains...

MacNewton
MacNewton like.author.displayName 1 Like

CEO M$ Mr Steve Ballmer . It's not a pretty picture , its on YouTube for all the world to see. IF that's the Brains you suggest we need, no thank you! I rather be an Apple Zombie

Starliner
Starliner like.author.displayName 1 Like

It reminds me of the old saying "Watch your money go up in smoke."

peter_erskine
peter_erskine like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 3 Like

When I read that last sentence, I thought "But surely, Amazon, Google and others have already solved the technical issues of how to do Cloud? So why should Apple find it any more problematic?". But then, I guess its because you're talking mainly about personal individuals' unstructured data, and not so much about Business requirements. In the Personal Computing domain it is a problem because they'd be competing against free. In any case someone with their own computers and devices, who is capable of copying a file, doesn't need the Cloud (or needs it like a hole in the head). And a somewhat incompetent rip-off merchant like Apple actually doesn't stand a snowball in hell's chance, unless people have got more money than sense.

Slayer_
Slayer_ like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 3 Like

This is the foundation for Apple's entire business model....

dsimpson
dsimpson like.author.displayName 1 Like

Unless you're making an arch pun that's over my head....

desilvav
desilvav

thats why it is an arch ...

portable
portable like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 4 Like

Why would I trust Apple not to mine MY data when they SECRETLY copy all my movements and locations to sell to "land sharks" (my name for telemarketers). I would trust Apple to keep my data safe and PRIVATE about as much as I would trust a Great White to avoid an injured seal in the water.

JCitizen
JCitizen

Good one portable! You hit it right on the nail head! :^0

desilvav
desilvav

why use anybodies cloud. I think you need to rethink you similes also. Great Whites and Injured Seals don't draw a parallel. If you used a Mac it may have suggested this. This is a Mac speaking.

JJFitz
JJFitz like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

I am going to pay Apple $30/year to make money on my information. Win Win for Apple

desilvav
desilvav

you pay USD 100.00 (1T) for a new disk and then a second USD100 (1T) for a second and spend forever trying to get the data back. Grow up, use computers to add value not cost money ..

JJFitz
JJFitz

How do you compare two 1TB hard drives to iCloud? iCloud is not really storage as much as it is an index of what you own which it can rebuild on another device. The process of copying what you own to a new Apple device will be more cumbersome than copying what you own from your laptop to a microsd card and putting the card in your non-Apple phone or tablet. and I'm not sure why I have to grow up

JCitizen
JCitizen like.author.displayName 1 Like

but I haven't talked to my Mac clients yet. They may have a different mindset.

desilvav
desilvav like.author.displayName 1 Like

they have the right mindset. Else you will not be posting

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

You mean your Mac clients wouldn't consider cloud-based storage before, but now that Apple offers it then it's an option?

JCitizen
JCitizen

but I know my brother is too cheap to pay for cloud storage, if he can get it free. He is a Mac fan BTW. He has nothing that is not Apple in his house or office - He is totally Mac oriented. The only reason he has any Windows at his lab, is the fact that Windows is the only way to control 95% of the automation in manufacturing and other industries. Otherwise even his learning center is totally Mac(Apple). Yeah, he's a Mac fanatic of the first order, but he isn't the only one I know.

desilvav
desilvav like.author.displayName 1 Like

and the conclusion is, most people who use Macs ...

JJFitz
JJFitz like.author.displayName 1 Like

The Apple - faithful

desilvav
desilvav

... you can't. You can provide a moratorium. Apple may have just persuaded the industry to do that, don't knock it, see the benefit and if there are less pirates, the cost may just decrease ...

craig lang
craig lang

i am particularly interested in an article i read regarding apples offer, with the new cloud implementation, of allowing you to upload your "pirated" mp3's for a nominal fee of 25 dollars a year. How do they define or identify "pirated". Is any thing i rip from a cd considered pirated?

dwar10
dwar10 like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

I saw this somewhere in my travels today.... Thought it was funny... And relevant to your comment.... Excerpts from the Book of Jobs: And lo! The Steve did take the stage and make the following miraculous predictions: That Apple would roll out a new version of every product that its followers just bought six months ago, forcing them to upgrade; That Apple would continue to include a camera in every iphone which is at least two generations behind any other camera phone on the market; That Apple's itunes songs, when purchased, would always remain invisible on any other mp3 player in the world.. That Apple and Flash would never get along; That batteries would always remain a hidden sanctum to be touched only by technicians in the great Fortress of Apple; That expandable memory would continue to be a taboo subject... Yet still, the audience did swoon and caper And behold, The Steve did grin mightily.