Three key things about Apple's iCloud

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With the unveiling of its iCloud service Monday, Apple is hoping you’ll like the new MobileMe.

During his Monday keynote presentation at the Worldwide Developer Conference, Apple CEO Steve Jobs acknowledged that MobileMe, Apple’s previous online media storage locker, was not the company’s “finest hour.” However, he pledged that Apple would more than make up for past shortcomings with the new iCloud service that will store documents, pictures and music within the cloud and automatically push them out to all devices that utilize iCloud. To give you a sense of what implications this new service has for both the consumer and the enterprise world, here are three important things you should know about the iCloud:

One: The iCloud is effectively replacing MobileMe and adding a lot more features

MobileMe was a subscription-based service that synced a user’s contacts, calendars and e-mail across multiple devices. Apple is now integrating all of these functions into iCloud and making them available for free. What’s more, it’s adding a host of other features to go with it. Among other things, you’ll get:

  • The iCloud Storage that gives you 5GB of free storage for e-mail, documents and backup. The Storage service also automatically pushes out any updates or changes you make to your documents out to all other devices where they’re stored. So if you save an iCloud document on your Mac, any changes you make to it will automatically be synced to your iPad. Apple says users can pay money to purchase more storage space, although the company has yet to release pricing for that yet.
  • The iCloud Photo Stream that wirelessly pushes any pictures you take with your phone or tablet onto all your other devices. Apple says that it will keep all pictures within the cloud for 30 days, which Apple says will leave you “plenty of time” to log onto the iCloud with all your devices to get them synced.
  • iTunes in the Cloud lets you sync up all the music you’ve purchased from the iTunes store and push it out to your devices. Apple is also offering iTunes Match, a software program that scans over music in your iTunes Library that you haven’t purchased from the store and tries to find a match for it on its online database of more than 18 million songs. Unlike other iCloud services, however, this one isn’t free and will cost you $25 per year to maintain.

Two: iCloud will indeed impact the enterprise, so get ready for it.

Yes, most of the features mentioned above are geared toward the consumer market rather than the enterprise market. But as we’ve seen over the last few years, workers who have consumer-centric devices will want to have access to work e-mail and data on their iPhones, Droids, and Evos as well as their BlackBerrys. So if you’re working in an IT department, now’s a good time to figure out ways to wall off sensitive corporate data from being tossed into the cloud. After all, let’s say that Jimmy the Engineer meant to upload pictures of his kids’ graduation onto the iCloud but also accidentally uploads pictures of his company’s new device prototype onto the iCloud as well. Then if a hacker somehow gets access to Jimmy’s iCloud account, well, it could be bad news.

“No doubt you’re going to see significant security issues with people uploading different things to the cloud,” says Nemertes Research analyst Andreas Antonopoulos. “You saw that over the weekend with the Chinese hackers who hacked into government officials’ Gmail accounts. Why were those people using Google for e-mail when they’ve already been issued secure BlackBerrys?”

In other words, IT departments are going to have to find a way to deny permission to sync sensitive corporate documents or pictures over the iCloud.

Three: It’s likely to draw more people into the Apple Borg.

Apple’s goal has long been to use the computer as a hub for all personal and home entertainment applications, whether it involves listening to music, watching movies, surfing the Web or making phone calls. With iTunes, the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad, Apple successfully branched out to create a line of popular products that acted as complimentary add-ons to its laptops and other computers. Giles Cottle, a senior analyst at Informa Telecoms and Media, notes that Apple’s success has come even though it has eschewed the open-source philosophy of companies like Google, whose Android mobile platform can be modified by device manufacturers to be customized for different devices.

“Apple’s tight control of its device ecosystem means that iCloud is much more likely to, as Steve Jobs puts it, ‘just work,’” writes Cottle. “Apple’s total control of the device and content ecosystem has been heavily criticized in the past, but, if iCloud works as well in practice as it did in today’s demo, it’s a stunning validation of the power of closed ecosystems.”

Forester Research analyst Frank Gillett, meanwhile, thinks that Apple’s strong standing among consumers will make cloud computing a consumer staple in the same way the iPod made portable digital music a staple. What’s more, he thinks potential Apple competitors will have a tough time catching up.

“With the trifecta of iCloud, Mac OS X Lion, and iOS 5, Apple takes the lead in personal cloud implementation and vision, with the broadest support across a user’s Macs, Windows PCs, iPhones, and iPads, and deep support for third-party developer integration into iCloud,” writes Gillett. “Google is worth watching as a number two player, but will struggle to match Apple as it tries to move the world’s apps into the Chrome browser. Microsoft, with no articulated vision for personal cloud and Windows 8 expected sometime in 2012, lags significantly. So Apple has lots of time to keep building momentum for its ecosystem of devices and cloud services.”

This story, "Three key things about Apple's iCloud" was originally published by Network World.

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