iCloud Is A Bigger Deal Than You Think: It's The Future Of Computing

Remember life before mobile phones? It's hard, because they are so ubiquitous and essential. iCloud marks a similar turning point, a transition from an old way of doing things. It makes computers easy for everyone, by making computing disappear.

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Of everything Apple is rolling out today -- and it's rolling out a hell of a lot of stuff -- there is no bigger deal than iCloud. Forget Siri or Find my Phone or Notifications or any of the other numerous updates and enhancements that iOS 5 brings to the party. None of it matters compared to iCloud. For some of us, iCloud means we're never buying another computer, and for the rest of us, iCloud will be the end of computing as we have always known it.

For many decades, computers were something that only engineers used. In the 1980s, they became available to anyone who could afford one, but still required a lot of specialised knowledge. By the '90s, they were to the point where you didn't have to know much to achieve common tasks -- but doing anything even remotely unexpected could mean a call to tech support for most people. In the past 10 years, they've leapt forward again and become easier than ever, but have still remained folder and hierarchy based. You have to have at least some basic understanding of how information is organised on them. iCloud ends all that.

There are no more file systems and folders to manage. It doesn't matter where you save something, you just start an app and there's your data. Here are your pictures, your music, your documents and movies. Here are your apps and maps and all the things you care about. You don't need to look for them, or move them from place to place. There's no more syncing. No more backups. No more dragging and dropping one thing from one place to another. All you have to do now is hit the power button. That's it.

iCloud transforms our machines into little more than a variety of screens we'll use to peek at data, in much the same way we use screens to peek in at TV shows. There's nothing to learn, and nothing to manage. iCloud makes your computer and its file system completely unnecessary. Sure, you can still use one if you want to. And everything will just show up there -- your music, your photos, your documents. Or you can ditch it, and just go iPhone or iPad only. And all your files will still have a home, a secure home in the cloud, and will still sync automatically to your devices.

In 2001, Steve Jobs announced Apple's digital hub strategy. The Mac would be the centrepiece tool to connect and control all of your digital devices. It sounds obvious in retrospect, but it was that strategy that took Apple from nearly dead to being the biggest goddamn company in the world.

And as it grew, it changed. It went from being Apple Computer, to Apple Inc -- the company dropped the computer, but you still needed one. The hub remained essential, and the hub remained a computer in your home that that managed the flow of your data and gadgets via wires and cables and ports. You had to have a computer, and some knowledge of how to use it, to keep track of all the electronic things you produced and consumed.

But now the hub is gone. Or rather, it's moved offsite, so you don't have to think about ever again. Now it's somewhere in a climate-controlled building in North Carolina, under fluorescent lights and acoustic ceiling tiles, humming and clicking and sounding a bit like Kid A. It's a series of redundant servers that connect to your phone, your tablet, your computer, and even your television via radio waves and antennas: things you'll never see or care about.

Those servers move the documents from your desktop onto your iPad, the pictures you snap with your phone onto your Apple TV, and make sure the music you buy on the go is waiting for you in iTunes when you get home. You don't need a desktop, or a mouse, or any knowledge of where things are. That's what's so great about the cloud, not that you can store things remotely, but that you don't have to worry about where those things are. At all.

Of course, Google has been working towards this same end goal for some time now, and has in some ways gone even deeper into the cloud. When you get a new Android device or a Chromebook you can simply log into your Google account and all your emails, contacts, music, documents voicemails and photos are there waiting for you. But Google requires some setup and knowledge about how to use its services, and it still makes you push and pull. To take full advantage of Google's cloud services, you have to be something of a power user. You have to know what you want to accomplish in advance. And if you want to use them offline, well, sorry.

What iCloud is doing is making these highly advanced functions available to anyone. You don't have to know you can sync everything, it just happens. Updating your phone? Done. Downloading mobile photos? Done. Backing up your files? Done.

Sure, a lot of people were doing this stuff before with Dropbox and other third-party software. But your dad probably isn't going to do that. At best he may look for a "make all my stuff work together" button -- if he even knows that his stuff can work together. Apple upends the process by taking over the hub completely and making all that syncing and organising both invisible and, more importantly, automatic. Everything is action-focused. Just do your tasks, and it takes care of the rest.

Once you've got an iPhone, it says, just take a picture, and we'll make it show up everywhere. Just plug your phone into the power outlet at night, like you always do, and we'll back it up for you. We'll make sure your documents are never lost and your calendar is always up to date. We will organise your digital clutter for you. We will end fragmentation, and make sure that each and every bit you care about is always exactly where you need it -- which is to say directly in front of you.

And it's able to do this because, somewhat counter-intuitively, iCloud doesn't live purely online. Unlike Google's cloud services, iCloud is also local. It gets that you want stuff with you, now. And so instead of forcing you to call it up, it pushes it to you in the background. It is the interim step between purely device-based apps and purely Internet-based services. iTunes Match, for example, is designed to transition us away from the downloading model while still giving us downloads. Again, it knows how to do this stuff so average people don't have to.

Buy into Apple's ecosystem, and it's all just done. Seamlessly. On every screen. Your phone, your tablet, your computer, your television. iCloud merges them all and pushes content to each of them. It obliterates distinctions between screens. One data set; many devices. Change something on one, and it flows to all the rest.

And because Apple is giving developers access to iCloud services, you can expect ever-more applications to take advantage of it. To sync up your life and spread it around from device to device. To make it easier to get things done. To make using a computer faster, more efficient, more productive.

The logical end goal of iCloud is, of course, replacing the operating system itself. No more iOS, no more OS X, no more Windows. There are just the devices you turn on or off, and the data they store. iCloud is computing without the computing. And all of it, simply working, for everyone. Even your parents. Even your grandparents. Even your children. Thanks to iCloud, we are all power users now.

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Comments

    What a profound misunderstanding and rediculus overstatment of todays cloud servers. We will no longer need operating systems? We will no longer have to manage files and folders u say.. Just upload via an app and dont worry about putting the photos, videos and music into album structures..
    Dont get me wrong, cloud storage and even cloud computing it good and here to stay, but it's not going to replace everything

      The Author isnt suggesting we wont need Operating Systems, What the author is saying, that a user wont need to care about what their operating system is. The user wont have to worry about whether they are on their mac, or their tablet, or on their PC, their stuff will just be there. No need to worry about getting the correct version of dropbox installed, and setting a folder in the right location to sync to. The goal is to make universal access to your own information as easy as operating a tv and changing channels.
      Turn it on, choose the channel you want (email, music, web etc) and there you go.

      Sure a lot of Technophiles will already be able to do this, but it means the ma and pa users will have greater access to these sort of conveniences.

        There won't be any universal access. It will either be your on cloud Apple, cloud Microsoft, cloud Google or cloud Amazon. And you will need to use their branded hardware or their OS to access their cloud. It wouldn't be commercially viable to provide free cloud access if they didn't sell the hardware or the OS

          That's not true, I can access all my Windoze Live stuff from a Mac or Linux PC. All I need is a browser. You won't get the seamless syncing but you will still have access. Given that a lot of people still prefer an MP3 player that acts as a mass storage device over a slick ecosystem like iTunes or Zune, I reckon a lot of people will be happy to use one service from another vendor's device.
          I know I probably come off as an MS fanboy but I resisted Windoze Live for a long, long time, just because it is MS, but I gotta tell ya, once you surrender you realise how freakin' cool it is. It will never become my primary means of storage/sync/backup but there is a lot of good to be had.

        "The logical end goal of iCloud is, of course, replacing the operating system itself. No more iOS, no more OS X, no more Windows."
        Maybe I misunderstood

          Maybe he just means replacing the fights over which OS is best with fights over which Cloud storage system is best ;)

        Users don't NEED to care about which OS they are using now, it is simply a fact that a lot of us do. Those that don't are those who go out and buy a Mac, because if you did care about your OS, it would definitely be your third choice.
        As it stands, I don't care about my OS, except in as much as it needs to support all the applications I use and care about. i.e. I choose my applications first, then look for the OS that supports them.

    Cloud storage and cloud computing will only ever serve a subset of the global marketplace (Mainly inner city yuppies). The backbone of automatic cloud computing is easy and cheap access to high speed / low latency internet. Imagine if your in a meeting and think hey i might grab my presentation off the cloud and your on a crappy vodafone network and it doesnt work. What about if i'm in a plane or in a remote location how am I going to access my corporate documents/schematics. To say there will be no more computers and operating systems is a very long bow to draw

    iCloud is just the prequel.

    Windows 8 + Next Version of Office + Xbox Live + SkyDrive + Windows Live ID

    That is what is going to make cloud computing mainstream. No matter how much you love Apple, Microsoft still dominate the desktop space and cloud computing isn't going to take off until desktops fully embrace it.

    According to Apple they have sold 250 million iOS devices. Microsoft announced it's approaching 450 million copies of Windows 7. Microsoft has also sold 55 million Xbox 360 consoles as of June 3, 2011. I can't find sales figures for Office.

    When all of those things are working together in the cloud THEN it will be the future of computing.

      You're right.

      Correct. There are plenty of cloud solutions at the moment but Microsoft's Win8 + Azure looks amazing. Can't wait to get a Win8 Slate!

      Good news! It is working OK now. I installed the Win 8 Dev Preview on a second PC over the weekend, using my WindowsLive ID as my log-in. I set it up, grabbed a desktop background from the vendor's folder (Medion) and it was all nice and cool. Next time I started my Sony netbook, again using my WLID, I not only got all the settings I had just made on the Medion PC but also the background picture that didn't even exist on that machine.
      I can open and edit Office documents without downloading them to my computer (I don't even own an Office license) and I can share work and personal files with friends and colleagues via SkyDrive. Best of all, MS don't charge me anything for the ease and convenience of all this (with 25Gb of storage all for me).

    Except for the massive data costs in syncing wirelessly in Australia, not to mention the upload and download times when I want to watch my movies etc... not to mention the fact that the app needs to support iCloud... funny, it wont stop me needing the laptop for developing.

      Doesn't a lot of it work by moving the data between devices while they are on the same wi-fi network? And doesn't that mean that most of the icloud activity won't affect download limits? Or have I completely misunderstood something here? (entirely possible!)

    Cloud has been the big thing in IT recently, but i guess it will take Apple to popularize it for the public. Like most things Apple does, they never do it first they just take something that already exists and put a glossy repackage on it.

    And yes, Office 360 in the cloud looks amazing. Windows Azure too.

    Read network outage and panic.

    My switch died yesturday and I can tell how bad it is that I keep all my files on NAS's...can't see a bloody thing.

    It'll be great until you can't get it...

      Did you even read the article? Or perhaps have you used dropbox ever? Your local data syncs to the cloud, you never lose it locally it can just go anywhere.

      Dropbox is amazing and has changed how I use my computer.

    So everyones OK with buying some music and then paying some more to store it and listen to it and then getting smacked by the mobile companies for data usage. External hard drives are cheap ,usb memory is cheap and SD cards are cheap.

    I love that everyone jumps on cloud computing like it's the new Messiah!

    1. not net connection, no stuff.
    2. so connection, slow stuff.
    3. expensive connection, expensive stuff.
    4. private stuff, hacked, then, surprise! public stuff.

    I understand the benefits of cloud computing, or rather, of-site storage and auto-syncing, but this love of someone else taking care of all your stuff is mental, I can't wait for the first day iCloud is hacked like PSN etc, we'll see how much people love of-site managed storage then, since when did apple or like become the most trust-worthy gate keeper of your digital life?

    when are we changing the name of this blog to Applemodo? this is just plain stupid now. iCloud is the future haha, could you be any more of a stupid fanboy?

    I just don't trust apple with my data. I mean their data that I made, paid for and use.

    "To take full advantage of Google’s cloud services, you have to be something of a power user"

    Stopped reading this dribble there... I know plenty of completely tech-illiterate people who have been able to get on just fine with Android devices and Googles Online services without needing help.

    Yeah, Mat needs to take the blinkers off. I'd love him to tell me how I open After Effects and all the things I might need are "just there", because I might need video, I might need still images, I might need Photoshop and Illustrator files and I might need audio files in any of several formats, none of which Apple will have the faintest hope of serving up for me unless I spend a lot of time showing it how.
    If organising photo albums on places like Facebook or MySpace is any indication, I'll take a file system over iCloud any day of the week.

    iCloud is useless until 1) iTunes Match is up and running, and 2) you can increase your iCloud storage to >64GB. Otherwise how can you back up your complete iPhone 4S 64GB? And you currently still need to re-sync your non-iTunes-purchased music and movies from your computer.

    sounds like a great way to steel someone's life, just hack the cloud servers and Facebook and you can be anyone you want.
    an easier life is not always a better one, this is why I disagree with some of the late jobs ideas, great man but sometimes to narrow minded and to much belief in him self.

    Oh, please!

    What, you angling for a gig as a writer of Apple keynotes? iClous is kinda cool, in a geeky, look-at-this-cool-feature kinda way. Oterh than that, it's of moderate consumer appeal to consumers who aren't heavy data users.

    Come back when Cupertino have a viable solution for enterprise iCloud, and I might listen to you.

    Until then I'll assume that either (a) this is a pretty awful attempt at satire; or (b) your a brain-washed Apple-nut.

    No...

    I don't want to have to be connected to the internet just to access my files.

    Could someone please discuss how this is going to affect my 200MB data plan? This all sounds great, but I do not want it if it will significantly increase my cell data use. Do not want to up my plan.

    I thought of a simple and completely obvious comparison to make. My 3G internet costs me $29 a month for 12Gb. That's about $2.40 a gig. Now, instead of relying on the cloud, if I take responsibility for my own data, as any man should, I can buy a 500Gb back-up drive for around $70, which is $0.14 per gig. At USB 3.0 speeds, working from a back-up drive is also a helluva lot faster than my wireless will ever be.

    To summarise, the cloud is more than an order of magnitude more expensive and any convenience advantage it may have is totally negated by it's relative slowness, so how exactly is it the future of computing?

    I know that was an overzealous (but well written) post, but I just want to go out and hug a PC gamer who's just read this. The poor things.

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