Apple's move into "cloud computing" -- announced Monday at the company's Worldwide Developer Conference -- was hotly awaited. Now that CEO Steve Jobs has taken the covers off iCloud, the Apple user stands to gain.
A consumer-oriented service, iCloud aims to let people upload their stuff to a secure site shared by all of their Apple devices, including MacBooks, iPads, iPhones and iPods.
"Keeping all those devices in sync," Jobs said, "is driving us all crazy."
In my own case, my own music collection is spread out among a half-dozen Apple devices and it's a real mess.
But let's back up so everyone is on the same page. Cloud computing basically means using resources on the Internet instead of your hard drive. There is little question the computing world is headed that way; the fabulously successful Google Docs is a great example of cloud computing. Instead of going to the computing store and purchasing an office suite on CD-ROM, you can head to a website and simply use it and store your documents safely online to be retrieved anywhere.
Now, what if you could do that with any content? Documents? Music? Video? Why do I have to remember on which hard drive my stuff is located? Why can't I have access to everything I own at any time? Why isn't the music on my iPad the same as the music on my iPod?
Of course, one issue with cloud storage is the time spent uploading and downloading, the so-called "bandwidth factor." And there's potential expense if you are using your cellular connection.
Apple is trying to solve that when it comes to music with an innovative idea called "iTunes Match." Any song you have purchased from iTunes is saved online, preventing you from losing your song purchases if your hard drive dies, for example. But what about the 4,000 songs you have ripped from your personal CDs? You don't want to upload them to the cloud, do you?
Apple instead scans your iTunes and matches them with 256kbps AAC files that it already has on file and will keep those in your name. In other words, if you have REO Speedwagon's "Ridin' the Storm Out" on your hard drive, it will simply move its version of that song to your folder online and not force you to upload yours. There is a 25,000-song limit, still amazing for $25 a year. There also is a limit of 10 devices, but I doubt most consumers have more.
As consumers get more comfortable with computing devices that don't even come with an optical drive like a CD-ROM, and with getting their applications online, cloud computing will becoming more commonplace.
The computing world and business users already are in the clouds. The only question for some time has been when the consumers will catch on. For Apple, I think that time is now.
James Derk owns CyberDads, a computer services firm in Evansville, Ind. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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