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Everything You Wanted to Know About iCloud

Steve Jobs and his buddies at Apple have just wound up their keynote presentation at WWDC 2011. The legendary Reality Distortion Field was at full power today as many new features were announced for the Mac Lion OS and iOS 5. Perhaps the most anticipated portion of today’s precedings was the announcement of iCloud, Apple’s new cloud service.

Jobs prefaced the iCloud announcement by saying that the tech landscape has moved into a post-PC world. From now on, he said, Apple will consider the computer as just another device — the same as an iPad or an iPhone. iCloud will take the place of the computer at the center of the so-called “digital lifestyle,” moving all our valuable data seamlessly between the devices we used to access it. Jobs stressed that iCloud is not an online drive for storage, but outlined a system that pushes and pulls data between all devices, including computers.

The phrase Jobs echoed throughout the entire announcement was, “it just works.” These features are intended to be seamless and fully integrated, so new users will have no problem picking them up, and existing users won’t have to adapt to them.

Read on below, for a look at we can expect with iCloud.

iCloud consist of nine core apps, many of which were already supported by Apple’s Mobile Me service. All these apps are free, as are the services. The core Mobile Me capability now rolled into iCloud include:

  • You can now create and share calendars from any device. When you create an event, or a calendar, the cloud pushes it to every device.
  • Calendar now supports calendar sharing; create a calendar, add whom you wish to share it with, and new events are automagically beamed to the cloud, and pushed down to all recipient devices.
  • Changes to contacts in your address book on any device will be pushed to every other device.
  • Mail will also take advantage of the cloud, syncing inboxes and folders across all devices.
  • iCloud will provide 5gbs of storage for Mail, Calendar, and Contacts. This is a major change from Mobile Me, as iCloud is NOT simply a storage drive. Readers will recall, that with Mobile Me customers received 10 gb of iDisk space. There was no word on the status of this service during the announcement.

In addition to this core Mobile Me -style structure, iCloud will also support many new capabilities for the App store, iBooks, and back ups.

  • The iOS App Store is now on the cloud. You can see a list of purchased items, and download them to any device.
  • New App purchases will be pushed to your devices as well.
  • iBooks is on the cloud: Purchases and bookmarks will sync between each device with iBooks.
  • Your mobile devices will back up wirelessly on the cloud automatically. That backup will be pushed to new devices as well.
  • Back ups will include most, but not all, of your mobile data: Purchased iTunes music, apps, and books.

Ever the showman, Steve Jobs broke down the following as the “final three” of the core apps in iCloud. These include the most speculated features of iCloud.

  • Documents can now be pushed via the cloud through iWork. Documents and changes made on any device will be sent to the cloud and pushed down to each device.
  • Pages, Numbers, and Keynote supported. The current version of iWork already in the hands of users has these capabilities. Presumably they will be switched on when iCloud goes live.
  • Pictures will be synced device-wide through Photo Stream.
  • Photo Stream takes photos taken with your devices, and uses iCloud to push them out to every other device.
  • These photos will not be stored on iCloud. Rather, each mobile device will have access to them for 30 days. If you want a picture to permanently remain on your mobile device, simply move it into an album on that device.
  • Computers will store all your photos. Mobile devices and iCloud will store the last 1,000 photos for 30 days. None of your pictures should be lost, since iCloud will push them out as soon as any of them connect to a WiFi network.
  • Photo Stream will work with both PC and Mac. On Mac, the photos will be pushed into iPhoto. For PC users, they will appear in the MyPhotos folder.
  • Photo Stream will also work with Apple TV.

Easily the most anticipated portion of the iTunes announcement centers around iTunes, and how iCloud will handle music. Apple has presented a somewhat surprising approach to the issue, in sharp contrast to competitors like Amazon and Google. The marriage of iTunes and iCloud takes two forms. Here’s what’s covered in the basic version:

  • As with the App Store, all your previous purchases are now viewable in iTunes on any device.
  • You can download any previously purchased iTunes song onto your device for no charge.
  • New purchases, those made after the iCloud epcoh begins, will automatically be pushed between devices. This includes computers.
  • They insist there will be no charge for multiple downloads; meaning that you can delete and re-download your songs at your leisure.
  • There is a limit of ten devices that can be authorized to download iTunes songs from one account.
  • This service is free.
  • Access to previously purchased songs is part of iTunes 4.3, and is apparently available today in advance of the other iCloud features.

Obviously, many users have CDs that they have ripped and maybe perhaps a few tracks that they “accidentally” downloaded from Napster back in 2000, before they knew it was wrong. For users like you, Apple has a for-pay service built into iTunes. For $24.99 a year, users can access iTunes Match.

  • iTunes Match is not a streaming service.
  • Apple software will scan your music and find those tracks amongst the 18 million currently in the iTunes Store.
  • They will then be treated as purchased music; you can download, delete and re-download. Sort of a “free upgrade.”
  • You will not have to pay for each upgraded track; that cost is covered by your flat $24.99 fee.
  • Apple claims that this service will be better, cheaper, and faster than its competitors.
  • If your songs are not on the Apple store, Apple will let you upload those songs. The assumption was that this would be a comparably small number of songs, and there was no word on storage, or bandwidth restrictions.
  • There was no mention of consequences of ending your subscription; it begs the question, will your matched songs still be available if you opt out of the plan.

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