Apple has revolutionized the portable music industry with the iPod, changed the face of the music industry with the iTunes store, and upended the mobile industry with the iPhone and iPad. As applications and services move from the desktop to the Web, companies like Microsoft, Google, and Amazon are in stiff competition to create innovative web-based applications and storage solutions.
Apple recently announced their iCloud service, which will disrupt the Web services market, and change the way our PCs, Macs, tablets, and smartphones share data and interact with the Web.
What is the iCloud?
iCloud is Apple’s new web-based storage service, which is seamlessly integrated into both iOS5 (to be released later this year) and a myriad of other applications, including applications from third-party developers. This service will allow you to synchronize your entire iTunes music collection, your photo collection from iPhoto, your documents from iWork, and productivity apps including iCal and Mail.app with all of your compatible devices.
How does iCloud Work?
Apple has built iCloud functionality directly into many of their apps and iOS5. When you take a photo from your iPhone, it can automatically synchronize with iCloud, and be pushed to your iPad and Mac. You can stop worrying about keeping all of your devices in sync once they are all linked to your iCloud account.
Once you connect your device to the internet via a wired or Wi-Fi connection, all of your files will be automatically synchronized. The Backup feature allows you to store your personal data, along with music apps and books purchased from iTunes. You can restore all of your data directly to your device from iCloud, or move it to any new devices you buy.
Is This Just for Apple Devices?
Apple has opened up development to third-party developers, which means that there will eventually be iCloud compatible apps for Windows aside those developed by Apple. Eventually iCloud development could spread to other platforms including Linux, Android, and BlackBerry.
If you switch back and forth between a Windows PC and your Mac, it will not be long before you can keep both of them in sync with iCloud.
How Much Will it Cost?
You get 5GB of backup space for free, and there will likely be different pricing tiers based on how much data you want to store in iCloud. For $24.99 a year you get the Scan and Match feature, which scans your iTunes music library and adds any songs that are available in the iTunes library to your iCloud account.
It does not matter if you purchased the songs from iTunes, from another music store, or ripped the CDs. All songs added to your iCloud account using the Scan and Match feature will be at 256kbps (DRM-free AAC files) regardless of the quality of your original track. There is a limit of 25,000 songs, but iTunes purchases do not count against that limit.
When Can I Start Using It?
The Scan and Match feature, otherwise known as iTunes Match will be available in the fall. iTunes 10.3 is available right now, for Macs and PCs with iTunes 10.3, and it will allow you to download music you’ve previously purchased to all of your devices.
There is also a beta available now, which requires iOS 4.3.3 on the iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, third and fourth generation iPod Touch, the iPad and the iPad 2.