MobileMe is dead, long live iCloud
. That's what we now know after WWDC 2011's keynote by Steve Jobs. Unexpectedly: iCloud will be free ... partially.
Unlike MobileMe, which carried a $99 annually price point, iCloud will be free, until you get to the music portion. More on that later.
iCloud sounds a lot like Google's cloud-based services. It's designed to make it simple to wirelessly store and share music, e-mail, photos, calendars, and other data between iDevices and desktop computers. It includes backup services, as well, with daily wireless backup of an iDevice. APIs will be made available to developers, so third-party apps can leverage the cloud, too. Users will receive 5GB of free storage on Apple's servers for mail, documents, and backup, but iTunes-purchased music and iBooks don't count against that limit.
Music has a price, however. Music bought "from iTunes" can be transferred to the cloud for free, and shared with your devices. If you have lots of music from your legally purchased CDs, or even Amazon MP3, "iTunes Match" is Apple's solution.
"iTunes Match" will scan and match tracks in Apple's servers against an end user's full collection, for $25 annually. This scenario also means that iCloud Match users won't have to upload their tracks, as they are forced to do with Amazon.com's Cloud Drive and Google's Music Beta services (because neither of those companies could make deals with the music labels).
That means that iCloud could scan and match your tracks in minutes, while it might take days on Google's or Amazon.com's services. Apple CEO Steve Jobs, making the keynote, was quick to point out that fact.
In addition, those tracks in the cloud will be available immediately at 256 Kbps, even if the originals were lower quality. Jobs didn't forget this advantage, either. [One question is what will happen to those higher-quality tracks if you decide to drop your iCloud subscription, yet had them downloaded to a device or computer.]
Most had expected iCloud to have some sort of subscription fee, since Apple managed to acquire deals with the big 4 music labels and music publishers. It does, but apparently only for music not directly purchased from Apple.
You can also optionally have songs that you buy on iTunes be downloaded to all of your other devices or computers. An example might be buying a song on your iPhone and having it show up on your iPad later.
The iCloud Documents app keeps files in sync across multiple iDevices, pushing updates to your devices. Apple also introduced PhotoStream, which will keep your entire camera roll in the cloud. It will use iPhoto on the Mac, the Pictures directory on Windows, and will be integrated into Apple TV.
However, iCloud will only store the photos for 30 days; iDevices will store 1,000 photos, while Mac and Windows PCs will store them all.
When will iCloud launch? Well, since Apple linked a notification page
for it to one for iOS 5, as well, it means Apple
is looking toward fall, when it said iOS 5 would launch (otherwise, obviously, it would have made two different sign-up pages).
We'll see if Amazon.com and Google can sign licenses with the music industry before them, so they can equalize things in terms of features.