Apple WWDC: Everything we know about iCloud

By Jonny Evans

There's sure some big iCloud gathering up there in the San Francisco skies. The new free (to Lion users) service will be unveiled by Apple [AAPL] CEO Steve Jobs at WWDC next week. It will comprise a range of services, including streaming music, movies and TV; social networking and computer services, such as sync.


[ABOVE: GoogleMaps this week 'magically' began offering us images of Apple's giant new North Carolina data center.]

Hey, you, get onto my cloud

Apple confirmed it intends discussing iCloud on Monday, and overnight the official registrant for that domain changed to confirm Apple has taken control of the domain. Apple acquired the URL for a reported $4.5 million from Xcerion.

[This story is from Computerworld's Apple Holic blog. Follow on Twitter or subscribe via RSS to make sure you don't miss a beat.]

If you've been watching events since Apple's acquisition, you may recall that the team's earliest focus was on video services, no surprise then that Apple has also been signing-up Hollywood studios to the service, hinting that some movies and televisions shows will also hit the iCloud at some point.

Music streaming features will define the iCloud. The Wall Street Journal has confirmed Apple has indeed reached deals with all the major labels to offer digital locker services.

The addition of support for other media within iCloud streaming makes absolute sense, said Gartner analyst, Mike McGuire: "Just offering music wouldn't get a lot of iTunes subscribers interested. It would have to be a multimedia subscription service, including movies, TV shows and music to create a more compelling experience than what's already out there."

Apple will share 70% of iCloud revenue with involved music companies, a source familiar with the matter told The Financial Times.

Trending hashtags -- an Apple/Twitter partnership

Twitter integration will certainly become a trending topic. We know Apple and Facebook couldn't find a way to meet minds over the Ping social networking service launch, but Apple and Twitter think different. Twitter has launched a new service for image and video sharing, and this seems set to be included within Apple's future operating systems.

[ABOVE: Twitter's promo video for its new feature. Just love the Twitter-branded MacBook.]

"Today we're starting to roll out a completely new version of Twitter search. Not only will it deliver more relevant Tweets when you search for something or click on a trending topic, but it will also show you related photos and videos, right there on the results page. It's never been easier to get a sense of what's happening right now, wherever your curiosity takes you," says Twitter.

Over then to Techcrunch, which claims:

"We've heard from multiple sources that Twitter is likely to have a big-time partner for such a service: Apple. Specifically, we're hearing that Apple's new iOS 5 will come with an option to share images to Twitter baked into the OS. This would be similar to the way you can currently share videos on YouTube with one click in iOS. Obviously, a user would have to enable this feature by logging in with their Twitter credentials in iOS. There would then be a "Send to Twitter" option for pictures stored on your device."

That's destined to put a lot of Mac users on the mainline Twitter track, particularly iPad users, who already use the Web an astonishing 53 times more than Android tablet users do, according to Net Applications.

The REAL social network

Facebook v Apple? Maybe. As I understand it, Apple's operating systems will see company creating a mesh across different services through partnerships (as with this one with Twitter, or Facebook and Flickr within iPhoto) and through its own invention -- potential extension of its Ping service and the introduction of yet more such services across its systems and apps.

For example, developer reports have suggested Apple is developing a 'Find My Friends' feature within iOS, which could enable users to easily locate their contact's social networks and other media streams.

At time of writing, MobileMe is the glue which binds the Find My iPhone service together, it is possible this will be extended to include a Find My Mac service within the iCloud/Lion set-up and that this will let you delete your Mac's drive remotely even in the event no one is logged into your machine -- that's the kind of security which can only enhance Apple's already growing Mac sales.

iCloud will also offer features to underpin Mac sales. I'm expecting contacts, calendar and sync; Dropbox-like file sharing; remote Mac access; rock-hard data exchange security; the capacity to temporarily use applications on guest Macs, so long as you are logged-in to your iCloud account and more.

Everything everywhere

I'm predicting a full realization of what cloud services can be -- albeit subject to bandwidth restrictions and with gray areas as to legal rights and ownership of data -- consider, though, that of the major firms, Apple takes personal user security far more seriously than Google, Facebook or Microsoft. And don't argue with that statement, as in time we'll all agree this to be true.

Driving the new system will be Apple's billion dollar data center in North Carolina. On this, Richard Doherty, an analyst with Envisioneering Group, told USA Today, "This may be the most powerful data center ever, outside of government. It will be able to handle millions of streams per minute without any network hiccups."

"Six percent of Internet traffic by 2015 will be generated by one device-the tablet," said Suraj Shetty, vice president of marketing for Cisco. That 6 percent represents more traffic than all the Internet usage in 2006, he said, and "by a device we didn't have last year."

There will be 15 billion network connections in 2015 from these Internet connected devices, up from seven billion in 2010, a Cisco survey claims.

Apple's iCloud services will drive this Internet usage spike -- only time will tell if the company's execution is sufficiently miserly with bandwidth for mobile data services to adequately support them.

Something for nothing?

So how much will this cost? Not too much. Apple seems set to ship Lion at an affordable price ($29, some say), most likely via the App Store.

The company also seems set to offer Lion users a few months free trial of the new iCloud service (which will no doubt prompt the usual Apple-haters to dismiss the trial as yet another of the company's 'public betas').

It isn't a free-for-all. iCloud will cost non-Lion and Windows users $99 per year. Music streaming services seem set to be made available -- at least eventually -- at an additional charge.

European users shouldn't expect all the iCloud features to be made available to them from the get-go. Apple has not been reported to have reached the maze of different distribution deals it will need to deliver its new media services in Europe, though this will happen, I'm certain of it. Why the certainty? Because Apple has filed for a European trademark for its services.

What else from WWDC?

What we see so far is that iCloud is a powerful force for both Apple's Lion and iOS 5 platforms. This means that a large chunk of the show focus will be on the fourth-generation online service, and it seems set to be the user-grabbing proposition to boost Mac and iPhone sales alike.

This also means developers will likely see themselves invited to build in iCloud hooks to their applications, with Apple once again fielding the proposition that if you invent the fundamentals correctly, third party developers can effectively help bring them to the mass market. After all -- why else has Apple not yet revealed what sessions will be available at this year's event?

It is appropriate the focus of this year's event will be on software -- after all, software is all that Apple actually does manufacture itself, everything else is farmed out....

Don't hold your breath for an iPhone 5. And don't be surprised to see communication features of some kind appear within some iPod models come September, as the iPhone nano rumors are perhaps realized within a re-vamped iPod range...

If there's a one more thing at WWDC this year, I'm hoping it will be in the form of some upgrades to the Apple TV, which hosts a processor which, will capable, seems sadly underused, at least at present. Console gaming, anyone?

So, what else are you expecting? What would you like to see? What would annoy you about the service, and what make you happiest? Please let us know in comments below. I'd also very much like to invite you to follow me on Twitter so I can let you know when I post new reports here first on Computerworld.  

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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