iCloud: First Impressions

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I like Apple products.  There, my bias has been shared right up front.  I don't like them because they are "Apple", and I don't like them because I live in a distortion field of unreality.  I like them because they give me a stable OS (UNIX) that I don't have to compile and configure every day.  It just works so I can move on with my life.  So when iOS 5 and iCloud was announced, I was impressed.  Now that I've had a couple of days to digest the announcements, I'd like to share my thoughts. For iCloud, this was a long time coming, and I'm really impressed with what will be available in Fall.  Why?  Because once you purchase something, you should always have access to that regardless of whether or not the original media had been backed up.  For instance, if a catastrophic hardware failure takes out your music collection, you should be able to download it again for free.  This has not been the case with any music distribution channel of which I am aware (please correct me if I'm wrong).  I don't blame Apple or the distribution companies, but rather the record labels.  This concept of having access to purchased material is great, and I love it. I also like the idea of the cloud being a central hub, as opposed to the processing center.  Part of this is because of the lack of a persistent high-speed connection required for computing to run in the cloud instead of locally, where as file repositories and syncing do not need to be persistent.  Can't get a signal?  Your computer will still work, all your apps are available, and all your files are available.  Let them update to the cloud later, it doesn't matter that much.  This will perhaps change in the future when persistent networks are more ubiquitous and reliable, but until then let me have a local OS with cloud accessible items. So what specifically do I like about iCloud?  

  1. Access to Purchases:  This is awesome, and something I have wanted for a long time. 
  2. Song Matching:  This is nice, because there are lots of people out there who have "borrowed" or "backed up" music they haven't specifically paid for, and they now have a chance to protect themselves from the auspices of "piracy".  I don't like the fact that I would have to pay to access music that I have already purchased in CD form, but from a piracy standpoint, this is a win for the record labels by giving pirates a chance to come clean without threat of prosecution. 
  3. Documents in the Cloud:  I already use Dropbox for this, but the space is limited for the types of files I use.  but being able to edit on any device and then have it updated, ready to go elsewhere without having to specifically tell it to save to Dropbox?  That's a win.  I will, of course, still use Dropbox (how could I not?), but now I would no longer need to use it for documents.  Here is hoping that Microsoft embraces iCloud with an Office for iPad/iPhone release, and integrate it with Office 2010/2011 or later.  Otherwise, I might just permanently convert to iWork.  
  4. PC-Free:  This has been a goal of mine since the PocketPC first came out.  I had an old NEC MobilePro 400 with Windows CE 1.0 on it, and I loved it.  Since then I have had PocketPCs (one with Familiar installed), an iPod Touch, and an iPad, and each one I have tried to go PC-less with them.  There was always something that would stop me with each one.  The PocketPC didn't have networking on it by default.  the iPod Touch was too small to do any real work.  The iPad still needed to be tethered for file transfers.  But now no more with iCloud (activation is also taken care of with iOS 5, but that is another post).  We are now finally living in a post-PC world that began with those first pioneers, championed by several companies like Google, and made mainstream by Apple.  
  5. Photo-Stream:  This is awesome, because it means I don't need to worry about transferring everything to the Mac and then to my iPad for additional editing.  It may only keep 1,000 photos at any given time, but archiving them on the Mac isn't the problem.  Generally it's getting it from one device to another.  That's now taken care of. 
  6. Backup:  Backing up your device is critical.  One reason why I often didn't use a computer to take notes in college, despite being able to type at about 80 words per minute, was because of the chance of a hard drive crash.  Now that the iPad is working as a great device for note taking, or recording the lecture, having a back up is critical.  Having it back up to the cloud for free is even better. 
  7. Shared Calendars:  Having a family calendar that everyone has access to is something I have been trying to get running at home.  To date it has meant having a Mac OS X Server running with iCal Server to get it working properly.  With iCloud, it's no longer necessary.  That means $50.00 less in cost with OS X 10.7 Lion, and that's a good thing.  
  8. The Price:  Free is always a good thing, but even if you are matching your music, $24.99 a year is far better for the amount of music my wife and I have than, say, $200.00 a year.  And that is only if I want to bother, which I am still up in the air about.  We shall see. 

So that is my list of what I like. Is it all exclusive to Apple?  Probably not, as I'm sure everyone else has something similar or can set up something similar with a lot of coding/compiling/chanting in binary with five black candles burning.  But with Apple, it just works (those parts that are in beta anyway, we shall see what happens in Fall), and that's what I like the most about Apple and their products.  I'm optimistic that there will not be another "MobileMeGate".  But what about the missing features?  Here are some things I'd like to see: 

  • Video Purchases:  We have audio, what about video?  I'd like to see purchases for TV and movies be available on all devices without needing to back them up.  I'm sure Apple is just waiting for approval from the Studios for this one, and if it's like anything else with those guys, it will be pulling teeth.  From a T-Rex.  On speed.  Hopefully they can reach an agreement by Fall, but I'm not sure I'm that optimistic.  
  • Video Files:  We have Photo Stream, what about Video Stream?  Can I backup my videos to the cloud when I take them, and have them sync to other devices?  Nothing was said, so I guess we will have to wait and see. 
  • Video Viewing from the Cloud:  If I purchase a TV show or movie, I may not really want to store it locally, just watch it whenever I want on my Apple TV.  As part of the whole "Move away from cable" plan, this would be a huge bonus.  I'd like to be able to stream my purchases from the Cloud in future.  Again, just like purchase syncing, this may be like pulling teeth, but would be awesome. 
  • Audio Listening from the Cloud: Same as watching video, but I'd like to have access to listen to my audio I purchased without having to download it first.  Streaming your audio playlists from the cloud to devices like the Apple TV would be awesome, and I would love to see it happen. 

Who knows what final announcements will be coming in Fall for iCloud?  Perhaps I'll get to see what I want.  But for now, what I'm getting is plenty for me to enjoy the cloud with my Mac devices.  Anyone else have an opinion?  What do you want to see in a cloud environment for your platform?