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Wednesday June 1, 2011 1:58 pm

iCloud: Can Apple make the cloud mainstream?

Posted by Andru Edwards Categories: Apple, Editorial, Features, Internet, Music

Apple iCloudI've long since stopped kvetching over the number of things Apple chief executive Steve Jobs can attach an "i" to and call his own. The maverick CEO's track record is just too darn good. Now that we know that Apple's iCloud is a real thing, there's no sense in wondering how Jobs can have the gall to rebrand cloud computing. I'd rather focus on what Apple will do with the cl...er... iCloud now that Apple has adopted it as its own.

Is Apple new to the cloud? If you accept that at the most fundamental level, cloud computing is simply a matter of thin clients (hardware or software) accessing Internet-based services and intelligence, then the answer is no. Consider Apple's reliance on streaming services for Apple TV's TV show and movie rentals, or the way genius playlists work.

iCloud, which Apple will officially unveil at next week's World Wide Developers Conference (WWDC), will be more, and streaming content is only the beginning. Obviously, we expect some sort of cloud-based, access-anywhere music library. Apple may even cave and offer a subscription-based music service. These plans will only succeed if Apple has done what Google failed to do with Google Music Beta: convince the major labels to let consumers store and access purchased (and rented) music from central servers.

I think music labels fear this not only because they worry about losing further control of the digital bits that make up their vast song libraries, but because no one will ever buy more than one copy of a song again, and if they get subscription access, they're done buying music—period.

This is as it should be, but all those lost revenues scare the labels. I bet they scare Apple a bit, too. Apple seems only too happy to let iTunes members buy songs again as they try, often unsuccessfully, to transfer songs from one device to another.

The End of Headaches

For me, the greatest potential benefit of a cloud service from Apple is that I will finally be able to upgrade computers and buy new Apple devices without worrying about losing access to my song libraries. I would also like to see Apple move iTunes profiles into the cloud. Right now, what Apple knows about your iTunes existence seems split between local devices and its services. iTunes knows which apps and music I've bought, but if I don't remember to transfer purchases from the device to my computer, Apple warns me I could lose what I bought. This is obviously ridiculous. Apple knows which iTunes account and credit card bought which pieces of content. If I'm logged in and have verified my payment information, I should never have to worry about losing music, movies or TV shows again. The iCloud should make this possible.

One thing I've learned from Google, the Chrome OS and Google Docs is that I really do like the idea of writing in the clouds. I start a document on one computer, close it, boot up another in a different location, log into my Google account and continue right where I left off. Apple's mobile devices let us create and capture all manner of content. Why should any of it be trapped on a single device? When I prepare to stop using an Apple device I'm testing, I always worry that I'm about to lose all the photos and videos I captured, despite the fact that I always use the exact same user iTunes ID. Apple's cloud should recognize, just as Google's does, that I will sign into countless machines just to access my cloud-based mail, documents, photos and video.

Even with the introduction of iCloud, this hardware-agnostic vision may be hard for Apple to swallow. Google is not a hardware company, so it only truly cares about you using its cloud-based services from all of your devices, regardless of manufacturer. Apple still very much wants you to buy iPads, iPhones and iPods.

For better or worse, Apple's cloud, or iCloud will be built in Apple's image, one that prefers a closed ecosystem. Though I want iTunes to become a lightweight, web-based client that you can access from anywhere, I worry that Apple will still insist on a hefty installation and frequent updates. Even with the iCloud, I bet more of your iTunes content will be local than on any other cloud-connected service.

It's a shame, really. I'm excited that Apple is ready to embrace the cloud, but I cannot help feeling that the hold will be loose and tentative. On the other hand, if Apple is bold enough to rebrand the cloud as iCloud, then perhaps whatever Steve Jobs unveils next week will be like distant thunder, only a precursor to the storm of cloud-based engagement that is to come.

This article, written by Lance Ulanoff, originally appeared on PCMag.com and is republished on Gear Live with the permission of Ziff Davis, Inc.

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