Apple has a habit of changing our lives. They did it in the 70's with the Apple I & II, by aiming to make computing available to everyday people. That same focus leaped forward in 1984 with the advent of the Macintosh. The original iMac mitigated the intimidating aesthetic of computers, breaking up some of the presumptions of everyday folks that computers were beyond them.
Then Apple started creating a bond between our computers and ourselves. They truly started to become personal when Apple heralded the idea of the digital hub. Your computer suddenly became the keeper of things most precious to you: your photos, your music. The video of your child's elementary school play.
The iPod came, giving you a medium to carry a copy of your digital hub everywhere. First, it started with music, something that can move the passion within our souls. Then it added photos, so we could show our friends and family a favorite picture. Then videos were integrated. Iteration after iteration brought more and more of our personal lives with us everywhere.
Then another leap — the iPhone. The ability to remove an abstract interaction with these precious digital memories — no more keyboard and mouse, no more click wheel. You simply touch, swipe, pinch, tap. A natural interaction that a two year old can learn, and also the elderly who were too afraid of the complexity of computers.
The iPad expounded that dream even more, and whether you like the catchphrase or not, something magical did indeed happen. To quote John Gruber:
It’s a shame, almost, that we squandered the term “personal computer” 30 years ago.
A Digital Divide
Somewhere along the line, amongst the magic, some of the smoke and mirrors that the audience is never supposed to see became apparent. It became too difficult to maintain the illusion of these multiple devices working simply and with little maintenance. The digital hub became the digital burden.
It became too much for a person with multiple devices to remember which device had synced back to their digital hub on their computer at what time and with which content. Complexity tainted the promise of simplicity.
A Lofty Solution
Monday, Apple changed the game. Where the computer served as the digital hub for the last decade and, for a time, worked well, the new hub belonged somewhere else. Technology finally allowed for the rest of us to have something special. A hub that exists in the lofty domain of the "cloud".
Apple's forthcoming iCloud serves as the new hub, and your computer is just another device among your iPhone and iPad in this new vision.
The promise of iCloud takes something that happens on your iPhone — a new photograph, for instance — and effortlessly transmits it to iCloud, which then pushes it to your other devices. The same goes for a new music or book purchase, a bookmark, a freshly composed document. It all happens in seconds, and the user never has to think about what is stored where.
A lofty promise, indeed.
Commitment to the Promise
This isn't the first time Apple has attempted cloud services. I vaguely remember iTools in Mac OS 9. I was young and didn't care enough at the time. I also remember .Mac throughout the better part of my life as a serious Mac user, though I never had a need to subscribe. MobileMe is the most current release of iTools/.Mac, and it was this iteration that finally lured me into Apple $99/year subscription.
The promise of MobileMe was push email, contacts, calendars, and bookmarks. It also provided access to iDisk. For me, MobileMe has been a solid investment. It accomplishes the email, contacts, calendars, and bookmarks syncing between my mac, iPhone, & iPad. That is what I bought it for, and it lives up to the promise for me. iDisk, however, is a disaster. I don't use it for much, and Dropbox is what I turn to for that functionality instead.
Many other folks I know or follow think differently of MobileMe. They hate it. It doesn't live up to the promise in their eyes. Apple itself thinks of it as a failure. Steve Jobs even poked fun at it in the keynote.
It was this juncture in Jobs' keynote that we see that where MobileMe was a bolt-on product that Apple put just enough effort into, iCloud will be a first-rate service that Apple will put everything it has behind.
The commitment was revealed in iCloud's availability and pricing. Where MobileMe was adopted by a small percentage of Apple's user base due to its $99/year cost, iCloud is intended for all users to adopt with the low price of free. This fact alone shows that Apple must be committed to iCloud's success. Apple can't afford to have it fail. Apple's reputation with all its customers will be tarnished if iCloud doesn't live up to its promise.
I, for one, look forward to iCloud with great anticipation. I had a very good run with MobileMe, and if it worked that well without Apple truly focusing on the service, then iCloud should be astounding.