June 13 2011
Iterating to iCloud
In the week leading up to Apple's WWDC keynote last Monday, everyone seemed convinced that Apple's big announcement, iCloud, would be a cloud-based streaming service. (In fact, NPR reported that after the event before amending the article.) But music streaming would be such an odd service from Apple. They make money on hardware. All their other businesses fuel their hardware business. How would music streaming fit into that story?
As it turned out, iCloud is not music streaming. It's a wish list of features to fix what's broken about iOS. Think about it from Apple's perspective. Their online service has never been a success. MobileMe offers an excellent interface to mail, contacts, calendar, and photos; iDisk has never been exceptional; Find My iPhone was their first hit because it leveraged their unique hardware. But at $99/year, only Apple fanboys (like me) and a minority of non-techies opted to pay for the bundle of services. MobileMe just wasn't very compelling compared to the multitude of free services from Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft. In that respect, MobileMe was a fresh coat of paint on .Mac, but the underlying business simply wasn't exceptional.
I wonder if Apple's executives sat down last year to brainstorm a better online service. You can imagine the sort of wish list they would come up with. Anyone who owns an iPhone or iPod understands the frustrations with syncing.
- sync app data between devices, because I don't want to start Angry Birds over again
- sync music between devices, because I forget to plug my iPhone into my computer
- sync and backup magically, because I don't own a computer
- include MobileMe for free
- in fact, make the whole service free at some level
Out of these frustrations, you can see a service forming. It would be a massive service but a compelling one. The iOS ecosystem has been hampered by its own success, and this service would solve many of its current problems and fuel further growth. And that's the key: fueling hardware sales.
So, Apple announced iCloud. Lion and iOS 5 are evolutionary steps, but iCloud is revolutionary. As Ben Brooks put it, iCloud is Apple's magnum opus. Kudos to Apple for understanding their business and its problems so well and for attempting a comprehensive solution. I wish more companies were as self-aware and motivated.