Apple’s iCloud: First take

So after literally years of hype (the period of time that has passed since we learned that Apple was building a giant data center in North Carolina) Apple has finally launched its iCloud service. Here is our first take:

Early bird does not always get them worm

Apple was not first to launch a cloud-based storage and content service: a host of start-ups, not to mention Amazon and Google, have made similar plays. And as it turns out, almost nothing that Apple announced yesterday can be claimed as a first by the company. Many of the features – calendar and mail syncing – are offered by Google. Literally hundreds of companies offer document storage. And even Jobs’ big “one more thing” moment – iTunes Match – was not new. For $US25 a year, iTunes Match allow users to play all their tracks – whether sourced from iTunes, another retailer or BitTorrent – via iCloud, without even having to go to the trouble of uploading them. A nice feature, granted, but also something that has been offered by Sony’s Qriocity service for 6 months already.

iCloud is more than the sum of its parts

Not that any of this will remotely bother Apple, of course. Lest we forget that there were several inferior suitors to the MP3 player crown before Apple blew the competition out of the water with the iPod. First does not necessarily equal best. It’s the fact that iCloud brings all of these compelling features together in a compelling, easy-to-use and intuitive manner – rather than the features themselves – that is at the heart of the service’s proposition. The basic user proposition of cloud services – being able to access your photos, documents, video and music everywhere – is fairly straightforward. But it was always going to take someone like Apple to really educate mass market consumers about their value. We are, it appears, on the cusp of that moment.

Apple does not care about being a music retailer

Once again, a lot of the pre-game hype was about music in the cloud, and once again, music played only a minor part of the announcement, with the now almost-mythical iTunes subscription service failing to materialise.

I’ve raised eyebrows in client meetings in the past by suggesting that Apple simply does not care about retailing music, but yesterday’s announcements hammer this point home. Apple has sold US15m songs via the iTunes store over an 8 year period– pocket change to a company like Apple. iTunes Match’s pirate-friendly features are presumably the reason that the firm has had to pay a rumoured $US150m worth of advances to the labels before it launches. It may also explain why Universal – usually the first of the four majors to embrace new service opportunities – was so cagey about this one.

For Apple, though, it’s a great result. Quite simply, iTunes Match will aid Apple in its ultimate goal of selling more iOS devices than any iTunes subscription service would, and more selling music via the iTunes store does today.

Closed approach=cloud superiority

Most crucially, Apple’s tight control of its device ecosystem means that iCloud is much more likely to, as Steve Jobs puts it, “just work”. There is another comparison with iTunes worth making here. When not bathed in the Apple limelight, and when viewed as a stand-alone product, iTunes is a fairly flawed piece of software. It can be slow, unintuitive and certainly lacks the simplicity and user-friendliness of other Apple products and software.

But iTunes has soared, because of its tight integration with the iPod. And as Apple’s Scott Forstall revealed yesterday, 200 million iOS devices have been sold to date. iCloud’s integration with those 200 million devices virtually assures the success of the service; it would have to be a turkey of Ping-sized proportions to fail.

Apple’s total control of the device and content ecosystem has been heavily criticised in the past, but, if iCloud works as well in practice as it did in today’s demo, it’s a stunning validation of the power of closed ecosystems.

Tags: ,

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.