Apple's iCloud: What's So Special?


By Tony Kontzer

The day after Apple announced its iCloud service, I was at my nearby community pool getting ready to swim some laps when everyone started looking to the sky to gawk at something you just don't see very often anymore--a skywriter spewing out a message. (Some confusing campaign about fruit--more on that later.)

I turn to one of my co-swimmers and, fully expecting to get a shrug before returning to our laps, say, "Y'know, Steve Jobs really missed an opportunity this time--he could have announced iCloud with skywriting." To which the reply is, "I don't get it--the cloud's been around a while, and you'd think he'd invented it."

I share this to make a point about Jobs' uncanny ability to remake entire markets according to his own vision and somehow come to get credit for inventing them. Remember, there were MP3 players before the iPod, smartphones before the iPhone, and a handful of tablets before the iPad. Yet Jobs has clearly done his best to reinvent and revolutionize each of those markets. So, although he has not invented anything with Apple's pending iCloud service, he very well may one day get credit for turning the cloud into something the average person not only can grasp, but actually craves. That would be, in itself, a pretty huge accomplishment.

Let's be clear, though: There does not appear to be anything very revolutionary about iCloud. Essentially an online storage locker for consumers to entrust their music and videos and photos, iCloud won't do anything that can't already be accomplished using services such as Microsoft Live, Amazon's Cloud Drive, Dropbox, or Google's fragmented array of cloud offerings. It also apparently will stop routing email to Apple users' me.com addresses once their free 5 GB of iCloud storage is used up. (And the sudden departure this week of Apple's senior iCloud product manager surely won't boost anyone's confidence.)

This brings us back to the convoluted skywriting message, which read: "Forget the Fruit: Try Tabco." Tabco, for those who aren't familiar (which should be pretty much everyone), is a soon-to-hit-the-market tablet maker whose web site indicates that it is clearly planning to go head-to-head with the iPad whenever its device becomes available.

Tabco, specifically, isn't important at the moment. But the idea that there's a population that's growing wary of entering Apple's closed kingdom, and that upstart vendors sense a kink in the armor, is important. Consider this comment from my aforementioned co-swimmer, an admitted Apple device addict: "I think once Jobs dies, Apple's in big trouble." (I feel it's important to interject that I think Jobs has been incredibly brave and admirable in his public handling of his battle with pancreatic cancer, and I wish him nothing less than a full recovery and a long life churning out those amazing Pixar films.)

Where Apple heads if Jobs does pass is food for thought. If you're weighing a move to Apple gear, it's probably worth envisioning a world without Jobs--a world, more to the point, where the walled Apple garden no longer has its guide; where all the vision Jobs has brought to more than a decade of revolutionary new products will be gone, but the lack of true interoperability remains. If you ask me, it doesn't sound like a great fit for the cloud, one of the main benefits of which is being able to get at one's content from any device, not any Apple device.

The way I see it, iCloud is like the rest of the Apple universe: It's Apple's cloud, where most of an expected user base of 150 million will be Apple minions using their Apple devices to get at content, much of which will have been purchased from Apple.

So long as Jobs continues to successfully battle the effects of his illness, not to mention cut the best content deals, iCloud may be hailed by Apple devotees as the best thing since sliced iBread. But let's be frank: As long as Apple maintains its Apple-as-the-center-of-the-universe approach, the service will remain the iCloud, not The Cloud.


6 Comments for "Apple's iCloud: What's So Special?"

  • Sarah August 27, 2013 2:44 am

    Apple's iCloud puts all of your content in its cloud. So if you doonlwad a song on iTunes from your phone, it will automatically pop up on in the library on your computer. Samsung's S-Cloud was rumored to arrive along with the S3, but didn't make an appearance at today's press conference. Google's G-Drive, though, gets the job done for Android devices.

  • Ben Clonts August 03, 2011 10:48 am

    The only open part of a walled garden is the top, or the clouds. I am hopeful that iCloud will start to address some of the limitations associated with Apple products. We'll see. I used to be a very open source person because I liked the notion of freedom associated with using open products. However, over the last few years I started using Apple products, and dang they a good. Good is proving to be better than open.

  • Tony Kontzer June 27, 2011 8:10 pm

    David, thanks for the post--your argument is convincing, and I'll keep it under consideration. What you're basically saying is that Apple has developed a private public cloud--not a private/public (or hybrid) cloud, but a public cloud that is private, or vice versa--in the hopes of having greater control over the experience. I can certainly understand that strategy--but I still think it's hard to get around the whole "control" part of it, whether users see it as control or not. Tony

  • David June 27, 2011 5:02 pm

    Hi Tony I am an avid Apple user since the late 70's, and as you may already suspect, I tend to agree with Bob McKenzie. It is called iCloud... A clear indication that it is Apple's itteration, and view on an existing, not invented technology. iCloud like all other "i" experiences is designed for those of like mind. The fact that we of like mind appear to be growing at a substantial pace serves to give evidence the SJ's vision of the computing arena is a desirable eventuality. Also the name iCloud announces to the world that it is APPLE's view of the cloud. So nothing under handed there. In light of the well publicized "Cloud" failures with RIM and Amazon, Apple us once again saying... "Perhaps there is a better way".

  • Tony Kontzer June 27, 2011 3:11 pm

    Hi, Bob...thanks for reading and commenting...I'll try to keep my response succinct: 1) A small, but important distinction--this is not an "article", it's a blog post, which is more like a column, but even more casual. It represents one person's (my) observations and opinions, which often can change in time, incidentally. 2) Yes, I do mention Steve Jobs' physical condition because it's pertinent, not just to the future of Apple, but to the future of its many fans/followers/customers. Ignoring it in the context of this discussion would be like pretending 2014 isn't coming even though we all know it is. 3) I acknowledge that Apple designs its products masterfully--they're addictive to hold and use, and they're far more graceful than the alternatives. One day, I might even be a devoted Apple customer. But I still take issue with the way they wall their customers in (albeit willingly and happily) to their proprietary universe and then limit not only what those customers can do with the technology, but how they use/access their content. 4) I will fully admit to having a more critical eye toward Apple than many other companies, because I think it's necessary--this is a company that's redefining the country's cultural norms, and is sucking the nation's young further and further into around-the-clock media consumption. It deserves to have its feet held to the fire. I hope this helps to frame my post in a more revealing light. Tony

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