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iCloud is a bigger deal than the new iPhone

All eyes will be on hardware, but it's the invisible stuff in the background that matters

October 4, 2011 06:02 AM ET

Computerworld - Apple's big iPhone event later today has naturally generated a retinue of rumors, almost all them focused on hardware. Will Apple announce one new iPhone or two? Will the next-generation device retain the basic iPhone 4 shape and design? What about the prospect for voice-activated assistance software?

This much we know: The new iPhone will run the next version of Apple's mobile operating system, iOS 5, which Apple is expected to release any day now in tandem with the new hardware. Developers have been working with iOS 5 since it was unveiled in June at the Worldwide Developers Conference, updating their apps and integrating some 200 new features. Most users who update will almost certainly appreciate updated notifications, location-based reminders and Twitter integration.

Cutting the cord

However, the biggest news today won't be the iPhone, or even most features new to iOS 5. It's the arrival of cord-cutting technologies like wireless iTunes syncing, over-the-air system software updates, and most importantly, iCloud, which will allow iPhones (and iPads) to finally stand as independent computing devices.

Put simply, iCloud is a collection of services that will back up your data to Apple's servers automatically. Every picture you shoot, every document you create, every point you score, all your bookmarks and contacts, every song or movie you buy, every ring tone, text messages and even the layout of your home screen get backed up to Apple's servers.

Even better? iCloud scales. If you have other devices, iCloud makes sure those devices receive your data, too, without you having to lift a finger. It's invisible.

Internet everywhere

We live in an age of the perpetual Internet connection. With Wi-Fi, wired networks and advanced cellular data networks, we live in a time where -- unlike the old dial-up days -- persistent connections are increasingly vital to our daily lives. On devices like the iPhone, Internet access isn't optional -- users have to have at least a minimal data plan. And that ubiquitous connection is what makes the iPhone and iPad so appealing. It's perpetual, always with you wherever you are. Post-PC devices like the iPhone don't just work better because of the Internet; they absolutely need the Internet to function.

Much of the functionality we're accustomed to on our computing devices these days is based on the assumption of a perpetual online connection, with entire industries popping up to offer Internet-based apps, storage and interaction. But those services -- I'm thinking of Facebook, Google Docs, or DropBox -- work differently than iCloud. They require an active approach to being online. You have to install Drop Box, or actually go to Google's sites to use the apps, or log on to FaceBook to post an update. In other words, you must go out of your way to use those services.



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