I’m no longer a full-time gentleman of leisure: I’ll be writing two blog posts a week for Discovery News. My assignment is to give an out-of-the-weeds take on tech topics, explaining what they might mean to you and if they deserve a purchase, a download or a sign-up.
(I’m doing this on a freelance basis, so Discovery won’t the only place to find my work. More on that as I know it.)
My first post for the Silver Spring firm is a look at Apple’s iCloud news. I wrote “news” instead of “service” because so much of iCloud remains open only to developers testing a beta version. Most of its features won’t ship until its iOS 5 mobile operating-system upgrade ships this fall; some will require extra work by third-party developers.
But Apple did give an exceptionally detailed presentation on this upcoming set of Web-based services at last week’s WWDC event (the iCloud show starts at about the 79th minute of Apple’s keynote video). And from that and subsequent writeups, two things jumped out at me: This service will be far more device- and app-specific than other cloud services, and it also seems to have left out Web access to your content.
That is, while Google Docs and Amazon’s Cloud Player, to name two competing cloud services, each require nothing more complicated than a Web browser through which you can edit a spreadsheet or play a song, Apple will make you run an app on your Mac, PC, iPhone or iPad to do those things. Its core strategy appears to involve replacing in-browser access with connected apps.
(No, Apple didn’t specifically say “we won’t let you get at your iCloud info in a browser.” But its unwillingness to mention iCloud Web apps in a nearly 40-minute introduction to the service should be as telling as its failure to note the addition of turn-by-turn navigation to the iPhone’s aging Maps program. The only hint of Web access came when Steve Jobs said iCloud’s e-mail would not include ads–but to omit a Web-mail interface would be a special sort of insanity. Update, 6/13, 2:38 p.m. Joshua Topolsky got Apple PR to confirm that it will retire all of the current MobileMe Web apps when that service closes on June 30, 2012, without any plans to replace them: “You will no longer be able to log in and check your mail through a browser, change calendar events, or edit contacts.” Update, 6/26, 2:31 p.m. Eleven days after Topolsky’s article, Apple posted a Q&A on the MobileMe-to-iCloud transition that promised Web access to iCloud’s e-mail, contacts and calendar services this fall. Left unanswered: How a company that prides itself on elegance as much as Apple does could make such a mess of its message.)
Apple’s service should work much better at the machine-to-cloud intersection, because it, unlike Google or Amazon, knows what software will be waiting there. The one part of iCloud that I could test, iTunes in the Cloud, worked just as advertised: It took only one tap on our iPad2 to download a song I’d bought in my Mac’s copy of iTunes to that tablet. Then I bought another song on the iPad’s version of iTunes; within 10 seconds, it was downloading on the Mac.
But if I’d wanted to listen to my iTunes collection on a friend’s computer or a work machine without downloading it at all, I’d be out of luck.
And what if your hardware inventory includes more than Macs, Windows PCs and iOS devices? What if there’s an Android phone or a Linux computer in the mix? What if you can’t install Apple’s software on your work PC? Computing life isn’t always as tidy as it might look in a Steve Jobs keynote or in an Apple Store.