How the Apple iCloud compares to Google's cloud

One takes an app-based approach, the other is Web-based

Apple and Google now dominate the world's smartphone and mobile device markets and both are now pushing quickly into the cloud. While Apple this week finally acknowledged the cloud as the future of computing -- and will finally allow iPads and iPhones to be set up and backed up without being tethered to a computer running iTunes -- many Google fans accurately note that Apple's iCloud doesn't bring a lot of new features to the table.

The truth is that Apple seems a little late in endorsing the cloud as the new center of our digital world. After all, cloud computing has played a growing role in the tech industry for years.

Apple, however, has characteristically taken a common concept, pared it back to the core functionality the company sees as important to its users, and taken pains to deliver those features in as effortless and seamless way as possible. The result is a service that offers a striking contrast to Google's approach to cloud computing and mobile devices.

Google's Web-based approach

Google's concept of cloud computing is largely Web-based, as are most of the company's initiatives. This has some distinct advantages. Chief among them is that any device with a Web browser and an Internet connection can access the vast majority of Google services: GMail and the related contact manager; Google Calendar; and Google Docs, where you can view, edit and collaborate on Office-style documents. Google's system also allows you to purchase and read ebooks, for instance, or listen to your DRM-free music (once its been uploaded).

The sheer number of services that Google offers is staggering.

Although many applications can directly interact with your Google hosted data, the services are always designed for simple Web-based access. Google made this abundantly clear when it created Chrome -- a browser that prevents other companies from walling off access to Google's array of services. Essentially, Google took the Web-based cloud concept even further with Chrome OS and the upcoming "Chromebooks" that run no local applications save an OS that's really nothing but a browser.

Among the advantages: Access to your data isn't device dependent in any real way. Yes, you can run the Docs app on your Android phone or Galaxy Tab but you can also access documents stored in your Google Docs account using QuickOffice on your iPad or Firefox running on a PC in your local library.

This approach isn't limited to Google. Amazon has taken a similar tack with the Kindle and Amazon's own music service. Dropbox can be accessed using the company's Web site, from software installed on a PC or Mac, through dedicated mobile apps, or with third-party apps like mobile office suites that serve other purposes, but store documents in your Dropbox.

iCloud
Apple CEO Steve Jobs talks about the iCloud service at WWDC. (Reuters / Beck Diefenbach)
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