Apple iCloud Aims To Make Music, Data Truly Mobile

In true Apple fashion, the computer giant held off until the end of a more than two-hour presentation Monday to open the curtain on Apple iCloud, its long-rumored cloud service that propels Apple's cloud strategy.

Unveiled by Apple CEO Steve Jobs at Apple's WWDC 2011 in San Francisco, iCloud is Apple's new cloud syncing service, akin to what Amazon is looking to do with Amazon Cloud Player and Amazon Cloud Drive.

According to Apple, iCloud stores music, photos, apps, calendars, documents and more in the cloud and automatically wirelessly pushes that content to up to 10 devices. Jobs told the crowd at WWDC that the iCloud service is compatible with iOS devices, PCs and Macs.

Apple's cloud strategy has been under close watch lately, with several key developments fueling the rumor mill over whether Apple has the chops and the wherewithal to make a splash in the cloud game. The buzz around Apple's cloud plans intensified in April when the companybought the domain and the iCloud name from a Swedish cloud storage player.

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Jobs called the PC era broken. He said having different media like music, photos and video spread across different devices, like a PC, a phone and a tablet, created a dependency on devices. Jobs said that the cloud now becomes the hub.

Jobs said iCloud moves well beyond where Apple's cloud direction started with MobileMe, which came under heavy fire.

"It wasn't our finest hour, let me just say that. But we learned a lot." Jobs said of MobileMe, according to several live blogs from WWDC 2011. With the launch of iCloud, Jobs said, MobileMe has officially breathed its last breath.

According to Jobs, with iCloud and a new Photo Stream capability, if a user snaps a photo on their iPhone, it is automatically stored in the cloud and can be pushed to other devices automatically, without user intervention. "It just works," he said, citing the iCloud tagline. According to Apple, a user's last 1,000 photos will be stored on iOS devices and in the cloud, and images will be kept for 30 days unless moved to a specific folder. Content can also still be stored locally.

Jobs said that Calendar, Mail and Contacts are all now iCloud apps, meaning contact edits go to the cloud first and then are pushed wirelessly to other devices. Same for calendars, if a user makes a new calendar event, it stores in the cloud and is distributed to devices and changes are pushed to others with whom a user shares a calendar.

Additionally, any apps bought in Apple's App Store are now synced between devices via iCloud, same goes for iBooks, which will now also sync across vand arious devices.

Next: Apple iCloud Gets iTunes, Backup, More

Apple iCloud also offers cloud backup. The service backs up iOS devices to the cloud once each day. And new iOS devices automatically sync to the iCloud when users type in their Apple ID and password. The backups, which are done over Wi-Fi include photos, videos, settings, apps and app data.

And like Apple's other cloud competitors, namely Google Apps, iCloud saves Pages documents to the cloud that are created on the iPad. Those documents are pushed to other devices that have Apple Pages installed. iCloud also saves Numbers and Keynote to the cloud, as well.

iWork can also store documents in iCloud. iCloud pushes documents automatically, and documents get updated on all devices. To make this happen, there are new iCloud storage APIs for developers.

It has also been speculated for months that Apple was preparing a cloud-based version of iTunes. According to Jobs, iTunes in the cloud is available now and adds the ability for music that has already been downloaded by a user to be "re-downloaded" to another device. Meanwhile, new purchases in iTunes will automatically appear on all devices. Users can manually re-download, purchased music to other devices or adjust settings so it's automatic when iTunes is opened on a different device.

Apple also showcased iTunes Match, which lets users store their entire music collection, including music ripped from CDs or purchased elsewhere, in the cloud while also converting it to high quality 256 kbps AAC files. Music stored with iTunes Match can also be accessed from any device. iTunes Match costs $24.99 per year.

According to Apple, users that sign up for iCloud get 5 GB of storage for free for mail, documents, Camera Role, account information, setting and other app data. Purchased music, apps, books and Photo Stream do not count against the free storage limits.

Apple said iCloud will be available in iOS 5, which will be released this fall.