iCloud and iOS 5 explained

Traditionally, this is the time of year when Apple launches its latest iPhone, but well have to wait a little longer till we see the iPhone 5. Instead, Apple has launched a couple of products that could be just as significant to the future of mobile – iCloud and iOS 5.

iCloud is a prime example of what Apple has done best over the last few years – taking new technologies and turning them from buzzwords into consumer-friendly products. Cloud computing is an area that, driven by the push to mobile, is set to grow, and Apple has made a strong leap towards leading the space, certainly in terms of consumer-friendliness. 

iOS 5, despite Apples fanfare, is a less mind-blowing update – its real strength is its support for the iCloud service. However, it does bring a number of new features, including an Android-style notifications centre, and a messaging service called iMessage that allows all users of Apple devices to instant-message for free, BBM (BlackBerry Messenger) style. But will iMessage enter the vernacular among today’s youth in the way that BBM has. As in: “BBM me when you know what time you’re going to be there.”

Somewhat alarmingly for the mobile marketing world, iOS 5 also offers Safari Reader, which promises to make web pages easier to read on mobile by removing “all the clutter”, which we believe includes ads. But Apple hasnt been terribly forthcoming with the details on this, as we reported yesterday.

iCloud explained
iCloud is an online service that allows you to store content remotely on the internet, and access it with a range of devices. With iCloud, consumers will get 5GB of data for free, on which to store documents, photos, and music. iCloud will also sync with all your devices – so your iPhone, iPad, and Mac (or PC) will always be up to date in terms of changes to the remotely-stored data. Additionally, iCloud will automatically push changes to your devices.

You will be able to buy additional storage beyond the 5GB limit for an as-yet-unannounced premium.

Music is a big driver in the dawn of the iCloud service. Apple has struck a unique deal with the record labels to allow it to stream one copy of a song to multiple users. This means that you can upload the information behind your iTunes music collection to the iTunes iCloud. Thanks to Apples iTunes Store, Apple will have most of the music in your collection. So rather than upload your whole catalogue to the iCloud, Apples servers will use your iTunes information to verify that you own a given track, and push it to you.

The New York Post has reported that Apple has paid big bucks to the record labels to keep them happy, in order to get the iCloud music services up and running. The paper reports that Apple has paid the four major labels between $25 – $50m each to encourage them to back the initiative.

Apple will charge users $24.99 per year to use the service (UK price not yet confirmed). Compared to the likes of Spotify, which costs £9.99 per month, this price appears pretty favourable – especially as Spotify is far from being profitable at this time. Spotify does, however, allow you to listen to music you dont yet own.

The advantages
All the Apple stock soundbites – “It just works”; “Its so easy” – apply here. iOS 5 working with iCloud, will do all your data syncing automatically. Itll even copy your photos taken on your device up to the iCloud, and give you 30 days to store them somewhere in the physical world.

The standard Apple mentality applies here too – the system is pretty much locked into the Apple ecosystem. At this point, its not clear exactly how many file formats iCloud will support – its been demoed exclusively with Apples formats. But, as far as we can tell, it works with those file formats (Pages for word processing, Numbers for spreadsheets, Keynote for presentations, AAC for music) seamlessly.

The disadvantages
Its the old Apple chestnut – the locked-in nature of Apples ecosystem is both its strength and its weakness. Services such as Dropbox may still offer the most flexible way to store and share documents online.
Security is another big issue. Security firms are already worried about the prevalence of consumer devices being used in enterprise environments, and with all this automatic syncing going on, it will be a challenge for business IT departments to prevent sensitive data from getting into Apples iCloud, and from there into the wrong hands, via a device theft or a hack.

And in terms of the consumer, video streaming is still not possible. This may be rolled out later – and could well indicate that Apple will find movie studios are even tougher nuts to crack than the record labels in terms of licensing. And let’s face it, the record labels havent been terribly accommodating to the digital world until now.

So what does it mean for mobile?
As weve said, Apple has taken services and technologies that have been buzzwords for some time and brought them to the consumer in an easy-to-use form. However, its ease of use involves compromises, and services such as Dropbox, Spotify, and Google Docs wont be turning out the lights and throwing in the towel just yet.
Pushes to educate users about mobile cyber security are likely to be further stepped up, as the automatic syncing is wide open to offering thieves even more access to personal information than before, without people even knowing what theyre sharing.

In terms of content licensing, we could be on the verge of a real change. If, say, Amazon offered the same financial sweeteners to the record labels as Apple allegedly has, would there be an argument that the content should be opened up for the sake of healthy competition? Without knowing the details of Apples deals, we can only guess.

The Notifications Centre in iOS 5 is similar to the way Android does it, although with Apples app approval process, it is likely to work with many more apps. And this central notifications hub may be something proximity-based and other marketing campaigns could really exploit.

As ever, Apples fanfare is impressive, and the product does have real value. But its open to being technically trumped by open platforms. The question is – do consumers want easy or capable? As for iOS 5’s ad-stripping capabilities, and the challenges they present for the mobile marketing community, given Apple’s reluctance to talk about them, we’ll just have to wait and see.