At the Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco this week, Apple introduced iCloud, a set of free new cloud services that work with applications running on numerous devices automatically. In addition to being able to send content to iCloud automatically and wireless from your iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Mac, the service also works with your PC.
iCloud’s robust features could make it a game changer as it takes on competing offerings such as Microsoft’s Office365 and Google’s Small Business Apps. Users can sign up for iCloud for free on an iPhone, iPad or iPod touch running iOS 5 or a Mac running Mac OS X Lion with a valid Apple ID. The service is also expected to be an attractive alternative to upstarts like Dropbox, Sugarsync, Evernote and others that offer free accounts.
“Today it is a real hassle and very frustrating to keep all your information and content up-to-date across all your devices,” said Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO. “iCloud keeps your important information and content up to date across all your devices. All of this happens automatically and wirelessly, and because it’s integrated into our apps you don’t even need to think about it—it all just works.”
Apple will be putting an end to MobileMe, which was an unsuccessful service that provided virtual folder capability and email for $99/year. With iCloud, Apple is giving users a suite of free apps that includes mail, contacts, document and file sharing. Apple will provide each user with a 5GB free storage, and purchased music, apps, books and Photo Stream will not count against the storage limit.
For $24.99, iCloud users can also get iTunes Match, a service that replaces music with a 256 kbps AAC DRM-free version if a match can be found in iTunes Store. Matched music will be available in minutes (instead of weeks to upload your entire music library), and uploads only the small percentage of unmatched music.
Apple expects plenty of interest in free iCloud services and has data centers ready to handle demand. By integrating personal productivity applications, email, and storage at no cost, Apple appears poised to become a leader in cloud computing services. And, at the very least, this new service will help Apple customers forget about the much maligned MobileMe service.