iCloud Predictions

Last October I wrote about the potential of MobileMe:

When MobileMe re-branded and re-launched in July 2008 it was somewhat of a disaster. In an internal email to Apple employees, Steve Jobs said that “The vision of MobileMe is both exciting and ambitious.”

In its current state as “exchange for the rest of us” MobileMe seems neither exciting nor ambitious. As a web-app, me.com is beautiful and extremely functional. But I for one never use it. Instead I use the native OS X apps. And iDisk? Well, that is also collecting dust.

What would be exciting is an open service that bridged the gap for all the data which is shared between our Macs, iPhones, and iPads. What could be more ambitious than killing the USB cable?

Software development is no longer a contained relationship between a single piece of hardware and the software installed on it. Just as people who are serious about software should make their own hardware, people who are serious about mobile software should make their own cloud.

We know Apple is serious about mobile software and hardware, and it looks like they are getting ready to prove that they’re also serious about the cloud.

There have been many rumors about an iTunes digital locker, a rebranding of MobileMe, and a major software / hardware announcement in the fall. It is exciting to think that in the next several months we may see some significant new software products from Apple.

And so, as any respectable Apple-centric blogger knows, it’s part of the job description to post wild speculations about what we think will happen and when. Below you will find my iCloud predictions.

iCloud

Here’s an unordered list of what I think iCloud will look like in 2011:

  • iTunes Music Locker: Available at a subscription cost, you can use iCloud to store your songs and movies in the cloud and then stream them to any computer or device running iTunes or iOS, such as your Mac, Apple TV, iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad.1

    I see this as being one of two premier features of iCloud touted at WWDC. I also imagine it will be one of the main focal points of the September iPod event.

  • Syncing of 3rd-party app data: Free for everyone with an Apple ID and part of the iOS 5 SDK announced and made available on June 6.

    I see this as being the other premier features of iCloud when announced at WWDC. Because this will allow 3rd-party developers to use iCloud as a server so users can sync an app’s information between multiple iOS and Mac devices.

    It will be great for Developers and could replace what Dropbox has become for apps like 1Password and the multitude of note-taking applications that use Dropbox for sharing of text documents.

    This feature will also be huge for the average user. All they’ll need is their Apple ID and they can set up their app to sync with their other iOS devices.

  • Contacts, calendar, and bookmarks: Just like it works in MobileMe right now, but it will become free for everyone with an Apple ID.

  • Find My iPhone: Will continue to be free for everyone with an Apple ID, just like it already is.

  • iBooks Syncing: Will continue to be free for everyone with an Apple ID, just like it already is.

  • Email: The @me.com email addresses will still be available but at a subscription cost like they currently are within MobileMe. However, I suspect the cost of a subscription will be less than the current pricing of MobileMe’s $99/year.

  • File-storage: 2 GB for free and meant for sharing and accessing your documents on multiple computers and iOS devices. More than 2 GB for a price.

    I don’t think iCloud will be a Dropbox killer as nerds and power users like us might think. It may be one day, but Apple is focusing on making mobile apps and data stay in sync more than they are worried about improving how nerds and power users like us move, share, and sync our large working docs.

    In short, it’s likely that we will keep on using Dropbox just like we always have been.

  • Wild Card: iWork.com and the iWork suite: I have no idea if Apple will address the nightmare that is file-syncing and file-sharing of iWork documents between your Mac and iPad. I could totally see them making this simple and cloud-based as soon as Lion or as late as iOS 5, but I could also see them completely ignoring it for now.

iCloud Pricing

My guess is that there will be two pricing plans for iCloud: free and paid.

The free features, available to everyone with an Apple ID, will include the basic syncing services (contacts, calendars, bookmarks, 3rd-party apps) and small amount of file storage for sharing documents between devices.

The paid service will include the above, as well as the iTunes storage and streaming, email addresses, and extra storage. And I bet the price is dropped from $99/year to something closer to $49.

Rollout Schedule

Here are my wild guesses of when I see these features being rolled between now and the end of the year:

  • June 6: iCloud announced at WWDC; new beta of Lion; beta of iOS 5 and corresponding SDK

    At the June 6 keynote of WWDC I suspect we’ll see a preview of iOS 5, an announcement of iCloud, and an explanation of how integral iCloud will be in bringing OS X and iOS together.

    It’s also likely that the iOS 5 beta will be made available for devs, and the updated SDK will allow for 3rd-party devs to utilize iCloud in their apps, and allow users to sync their app data between multiple iOS devices using their Apple ID.

  • July / August: Lion Ships

    Lion is scheduled to ship this summer we may see it in July, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it shipped in early August. Apple has never shipped a version of OS X in June or July — 5 of the 7 major public releases of OS X have shipped in the fall (August, September, or October).

    I expect that iCloud will first become available to the public as part of Lion and include the basic OTA Mac to Mac syncing and perhaps OTA Mac to iPhone syncing.

    It’s probably that the iTunes locker will ship with iTunes on Lion. While it seems to make more sense that this feature would ship in September along side the music-centric iPod event, I think Apple is chomping at the bit to get iTunes streaming out to the public. Who knows, maybe it’ll come as a major update to iTunes in June.

  • September: iOS 5 Ships

    Since the September iPod event is always focused around iPods and music, in some ways it makes sense that this is when the iTunes Music Locker feature is rolled out. But, as I said above, I think Apple wants iTunes streaming out sooner than the Fall.

    I think the September event will focus on iOS 5 and will be the final stage of the iCloud rollout. This is when we’ll see the iTunes streaming come to our iPhones, iPads, and iPod touches, and hopefully our Apple TVs as well.


  1. Something else interesting about iCloud and the storage of our online media is that it would make Solid State Drives much more reasonable. I would not be surprised if the MacBook lineup got a refresh sometime this fall after Lion comes out and all of Apple’s notebooks begin shipping with SSDs as the default.
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