Apple's iCloud announcement earned quite a few headlines. The attention is well deserved. The new cloud-based service, due for imminent release, enables synchronizing iTunes, photos, apps and books across multiple devices, including Macs, iPads, iPhones, and even Windows computers.
But those aren't the features compelling small organizations to leverage iCloud. The service also synchronizes documents, contacts, calendars, mail and backups. Further, iCloud is seamlessly integrated within applications. With synchronization functionality built directly within apps, it's simple for users to automatically sync data, files, device settings and more via Wi-Fi.
Small businesses that wish to simply sync mail, contacts and calendar information across multiple devices will find iCloud an easy choice. As long as iCloud improves upon reliability issues some users experienced with MobileMe, such basic functionality will prove popular with many small organizations.
iCloud will also sync iWork documents, spreadsheets and presentations across the common devices numerous small businesses use: iPhones, iPads and a Mac or Windows PC. Apple also encourages third party developers to leverage iCloud backup capacities within their apps, further extending iCloud's reach and benefits.
Where iCloud will really shine, though, is providing additional protection against some of the most vexing frustrations users encounter. A lost or broken iPhone or tablet used to result in device settings, home screen organization and text and MMS messages being lost. No more. iCloud will back up those items, along with apps, photos, videos, purchased music, apps, books and more, automatically. Recovery, for iTunes account holders, improves dramatically as a result.
Why iCloud may not be right
It remains to be seen whether users must use an @me.com email account to leverage iCloud-synced mail, contacts and calendar. Businesses already possessing a Microsoft Exchange (or Mac) server will find no need for Apple to assist in syncing such information across multiple devices, either, as these users will already have that problem solved.
Not all apps may offer iCloud integration, which means users may find some apps incompatible with the backup features. Or, some businesses may require collaboration and file sharing capabilities unsupported by iCloud.
Apple will provide users with 5GB of storage space free, and purchased music, apps, books, Photo Stream data and even TV shows won't count against the 5GB limit; however, many business users will find themselves requiring additional storage space. While priced reasonably, additional storage costs could add up, especially if several users each require expanded storage limits. 10GB of additional space runs $20 a year, with 20GB running $40 and 50GB costing $100.
Ultimately, I think many small business users will begin leveraging iCloud just to simplify the task of sharing their personal iTunes purchases-including music, iPad, Mac and iPhone apps, and books-across multiple devices. That's all good, and the ability to also automatically back up device settings, photos and texts will prove handy.
But when it comes to synchronizing calendars, contacts and mail across multiple devices, I think Apple will have its work cut out convincing end users. So many businesses are already committed to back-end Exchange or Mac servers that only smaller groups not already possessing such functionality will find those iCloud features compelling.
Erik Eckel owns and operates two technology companies. As a managing partner with Louisville Geek, he works daily as an IT consultant to assist small businesses in overcoming technology challenges and maximizing IT investments. He is also president of Eckel Media Corp., a communications company specializing in public relations and technical authoring projects.