Latest Mac OS X Lion Beta Includes iCloud, Apple’s Big Bet

One of the most anticipated new features coming to Mac OS X Lion is iCloud, the Web-based service that will replace Apple’s MobileMe. The latest update for Lion (10.7.2) is now available as a beta build for developers, and it reportedly introduces iCloud integration (in addition to a few bug fixes).

This is a good sign that iCloud will indeed be coming sometime this fall, as Apple’s Web site states, much to the delight of the Mac faithful who have been eagerly waiting for the new cloud service to drop.

MobileMe was a nice play by the Cupertinos to bring some online services to their users in the form of Web-based email, contacts, and calendar that synced with the user’s desktop; a small amount of cloud storage; and other handy extras such as the ability to remotely track and wipe a lost or stolen iPhone. It almost seems a shame that Apple is killing off MobileMe, but really, iCloud looks like it will take the best of MobileMe, add much more functionality, and reframe the whole thing to fit Lion’s new look and feel. 

iCloud is more than just a neat new Thing That Apple Has Made, though. Apple is a hardware company first and foremost, and iCloud represents a major shift in focus toward providing a massive suite of online services, including mail, contacts, calendar, storage, documents, music streaming, backup and restore capabilities, and app management. (For evidence that such a transition is no picnic, look no further than Microsoft--primarily a software company that is still trying to fully figure out the cloud.)

The impending launch of iCloud of course also comes at a time when Steve Jobs has stepped down, which raises a few faint question marks over Apple’s future. (Again, one only has to point to Microsoft post-Bill Gates to see how difficult it can be for even a hugely successful company to continue on without its legendary leader.)

Apple also must compete in the online space with the likes of Google (which ironically is an online services company that is now branching into hardware), and that’s no cakewalk, either.

Of course, Apple isn’t betting the whole farm on iCloud--in addition to a robust computer business, it still has the iPhone and iPad, and sales thereof are only going up--but if iCloud doesn’t deliver, the company is going to feel it. This should be an interesting fall.