iCloud is Your Cloud, Only Different This Time

Ahhh, WWDC. There is always something fun to be had, particularly if you are an Apple fan. Today was no exception. From a new Mac OS, dubbed Lion, that will be available in the Mac App Store in July, to the brand new, re-imagined iOS 5 with tons of new goodies for iPhone / Pad / Touch toting devotees, and finally, to the widely rumored and now reality iCloud, Apple is clearly taking it to the skies.

I followed the liveblog here, working around a conference call to get it all in. Hey, I have my priorities in line with my ducks!

Skipping for now the new features in OSX Lion, iOS 5 has some great new adds. Notifications have become more unobtrusive and Android-like. No more pop-ups on the screen that have to be dismissed. Now they will discretely show at the top and disappear until you scroll them back with a downward swipe. Or dismiss them by clicking the “X” next to them. App-specific notifications will show up on the lock screen which opens the app when you unlock the phone. There are widgets for stocks and weather and such in the drop down as well. Another long overdue but still welcome change is the fact that updates and syncing will now occur over the air and without the need for cable-based tethering – Woo Hoo! Messaging between iPhones also has undergone a dramatic change, becoming more Blackberry-like with a native MMS – SMS protocol.  There is a new app, Newstand, that looks to be the iBooks for your magazine subscriptions, with automatic over air updates for new issues. Twitter is now tightly integrated into the OS, with buttons for instant share in the Maps, Camera and Photo apps. Photo editing features too, with some better control over zoom (pinch) and setting focus / light. Mobile Safari will look a LOT more like Safari on your desk top, complete with tabbed browsing, but the really cool new add is a Reading List, which lets you save articles for later reading (think Instapaper). The new iOS also includes a Reminders app, which essentially is a to do list, making all those to do list apps obsolete – it syncs across devices and with calendars automatically. A camera button on the lock screen, a split keyboard for more comfortable iPad typing, and it really is ALL GOOD in iOS 5. Can’t wait until it is available for us consumers in the fall (developers can get their hands on it right now).

Now, for something totally different and new, where there once was MobileMe, there is now iCloud. What was once $99 per year is now free. What was once limited to email, cloud disc space and calendar, now includes photos, documents, music, and apps. When you sign up for iCloud, you get 5GB of free storage, but purchased music, apps, and books, as well as the new Photo Stream, don’t count against free storage. 5GB for mail, documents, Camera Roll, account information, settings, and other app data.That is a few GB more than Dropbox but same as Box’s free cloud storage offering. What makes iCloud nice is the effortless, behind the scenes syncing and back up of vital information – it is integrated into applications and a lot of the magic occurs without much user intervention. All the data to be synced is shared across all iCloud connected devices. For example, take a photo on your iPhone and instantly see it on your iPad and instantly store it in iPhoto on your Mac or in your Picture file on your PC. And it works with both Mac and PC computers, so you really can connect your digital life to iCloud if you choose.

Is there a downside? Well, yes if your focus is cloud-based music storage. iCloud will allow you access to all your iTunes purchased music on all devices with a few button clicks. If you want more than that, i.e. your non-iTunes music stored in the Cloud, you will need to pay $24.99 per year to get the iTunes matching service – your library is checked against iTunes library and matches are made available within the iCloud ecosystem. Or you can manually sync with a cable.😦. And, here is the kicker: there is no streaming. You still have to download the media onto the devices, so storage is still an issue, particularly with big music collections like mine.

Guess I will stick with Google Music, with 20,000 songs streamed from the cloud, for free.

Save for these disappointments, the new iOS and iCloud features are still exciting and will push mobile and Cloud computing forward a substantial distance. I can’t wait for Fall, and it is hardly Summer!

UPDATE: There are a few new iOS 5 features that I cannot believe I failed to mention yesterday. That is what I get for cooking dinner and writing a blog post at the same time. Probably my most used app, Mail, is getting some great new features.

Your inbox is about to receive some great new features. Rich text formatting with bold, italic, or underlined fonts. Control over indents within the text of the message. The ability to drag email addresses and rearrange names in address fields. The ability to flag important messages, add and delete mailbox folders on the fly and search the full-text, including body, of email messages. Combined with iCloud’s free email account synced on all your devices, the new Mail app is starting to approach desktop functionality. Calendar, the second most used app on my iPhone, is also getting some tweaks. You can now see year view on iPad and week view on iPhone or iPod Touch. Tap and drag to create events and adjust time and duration. Add, rename, and delete calendars directly from the device. View event attachments without leaving the Calendar app. And, of course, use  iCloud to share calendars with friends and family, with the same information synced to all devices. I can’t wait to try the multi-tasking gestures on the iPad with the new OS – you  can use four or five fingers to swipe up to reveal the multitasking bar, pinch to return to the Home screen, and swipe left or right to switch between apps. Very cool indeed! I also like the automatic WiFi sync – plug in your device and automatically and wirelessly backs up to new content to iTunes.  

There are more features, over 200 new I believe, but these are the top features for me. What are you looking most forward to?

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