How sweet to be a Cloud
Floating in the blue!
It makes him very proud
To be a little Cloud.
How sweet to be a Cloud
Floating in the blue!
Thus sang Winnie-the-Pooh, when he was devising his strategy for getting access to essential resources – the honey in the bees’ nest in the tree. But it could have been Steve Jobs’s theme tune last week.
I finally sat down to watch the keynote session led by Steve Jobs from Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference this week: the one with the much-trailed announcement about iCloud. And to write: with a background of plasterers and plumbers in the house, and a digger reconstructing the drive outside!
In a keynote lasting nearly 2 hours, and viewable online, there was a lot of other stuff first. I’ll skip over it briefly: you can watch for yourselves or read other more detailed reports, but it provided context. Gartner’s Brian Prentice has said that “Apple’s vision of personal computing has unleashed a massive, pent up demand amongst people … But they are just one of many companies having success in reaching out directly to the user …”. It’s interesting to see Gartner finally and fully embracing the message that some of us have been preaching for years. Think King Canute: he knew he couldn’t hold back the tide but he had to go to the beach and demonstrate it to his sycophantic wise men. But this has been the other way round: the kings have been trying to hold back the tide, but even Gartner’s analysts now see that it’s not a winnable battle.
On the other hand, looked at from a corporate perspective: what iCloud will do is to bring to the consumer market the benefits that corporate infrastructure has provided its users for decades. Lotus Notes, with its replication and synchronisation capabilities, meant that I could access the same resources from anywhere, my own machine or not. I could read and reply to email, without having to copy stuff manually from one machine to another. I could update a meeting agenda, or modify a document, or publish a new application, ditto. It all just worked. But, to date, there’s been no consumer equivalent of maintaining multiple copies of data in sync across multiple devices. Even if you use a purely web-based email, you’ll still download documents or want to send one you’ve prepared earlier. And it’s not on your phone: it’s on the desktop Mac back at base.
Enabling that, it seems to me, is the vision of iCloud.
Phil Schiller said that the PC market shrank by 1% last quarter, while the Mac market grew 28%. OS X is now 10 years old; the next version, Lion, is due soon and there was a review of new features. The iPhone experience is feeding back into OS X: pinch, swipe and touch will arrive on Mac trackpads and in consequence the scrollbar will be much less in evidence. So will the menu bar, which has been fixed at the top of the Mac screen since time immemorial! Another iPhone idea that’s now (since January) on the Mac is theApp Store; Lion has it built in. Spaces (the multiple virtual screen feature, for Windows users who don’t have it) has the ability to move application windows from one Space to another or, even, to a new one. A new Resume feature means you can restart the machine just as you last left it: no need to restart everything separately. New visual paradigms and built-in search for handling mail. And more: take a look at the video, at around 6 minutes in. Oh, and you’ll go to the App Store for Lion. In July.
Then, there was a focus on the iPad, iOS, and the iPhone. But I skipped over that. At about 80 minutes in, Steve Jobs is back on stage to talk about iCloud (about 30 minutes’ worth). The primary rationale: the recent proliferation of types of device, and the complexities which arise if you create, buy or download digital material on one of them and need to maintain sync with the others. Even without media, it’s complex enough; I sync my address book and calendar between my main Mac and my phone (not an iPhone), but I draw the line at trying to keep these, and email, in sync between these two devices and my Macbook. What is Jobs offering? All the devices have comms built in. If the “centre of the universe” is the cloud rather than my iMac hard disk, then automatic sync can be enabled.
iCloud “stores your content in the cloud, and wirelessly pushes it to all your devices”. And it’s “integrated with your apps” so it’s all automatic. “It just works”. Jobs did take the hit of the failure of MobileMe; “not our finest hour”, he said; but, while MobileMe has been canned with immediate effect, the new service harnesses the hard learnings. There are new features such as calendar sharing: familiar in the enterprise, but now brought to the consumer market. Cloud-based replicated mail – with no ads. Integration of AppStore purchases across your devices: one purchase automatically available to all your devices, including the ones you haven’t bought yet. iBooks: again integrated, and where you’ve got to is kept in step between devices. Time Machine becomes cloud backup, and makes it easy to initiate a new device.
I got confused about Documents in the Cloud (90 minutes in). There’s automatic replication of documents, and updates, between devices using the same principles. Not needing to keep versions in step manually when working away from base on another device does sound good. It wasn’t clear whether this is limited to Apple’s iWork office suite (now available for the iPhone too); but then it appears that the Documents feature integrates PCs as well as Apple stuff. The story is to “let the app manage its documents”, but that’s where we started. When I have a project I may have text documents, and spreadsheets, and presentations, and PDFs, and other stuff all related to the project. And I want to keep them together. I want to go to one place and see the stuff that relates to that project. That’s what a folder is for.
And finally, iTunes in the iCloud; no additional charge to re-download to additional devices for historic purchases; new purchases will “appear” on all of them. A new subscription feature, iTunes Match, will match from the iTunes library any music you’ve legitimately purchased (on CD) and make this available to your other devices too.
Customers get 5GB storage in iCloud: and purchases, music and photos don’t count towards it. All this does make me wonder how much local storage is going to be needed on all these devices as content is pushed equitably to all of them. I guess storage is still getting cheaper and more compact, so perhaps that’s not an issue. Though iCloud won’t keep your Photo Stream for ever, even in their new enormous data centres. That’s too much, even for the cloud.
How sweet to be a cloud … Now some reactions.
In the ten days since the WWDC keynote, there’s been time for comment to gather. And as I’ve already hinted, Gartner no longer ignore all things Apple, nor counsel clients to avoid them like the plague. Read Brian Prentice’s blog: I think he sees iCloud as finally being the tipping point to get the personal device denialists in enterprise IT to realise the need to think creatively about the possibilities. He calls it DTTU (“Direct To The User”) and says “… enterprise IT organizations are some of the most resistant departments to change. Conversely, when change becomes absolutely unavoidable they display an amazing ability to craft intelligent, finely-tuned governance controls to deal with the new reality.” iCloud won’t go away, and can’t be legislated against in the enterprise. It’s time to start adapting, he says. And it’s a free service: how’s that for taking cost out of the bottom line?
There is an outline of some of the standard issues, quite succinctly put, at CIO.com; and we’ve covered them in depth – and the plus side too – in workshops at the Corporate IT Forum. CIO.com also link a slideshow (from PC World) about iCloud, but I’d recommend taking the time to watch Steve Jobs because this is a bowdlerized and very limited summary.
Presumably not by coincidence, Forrester on the same day as Jobs’s keynote released a report called “The Personal Cloud: Transforming Personal Computing, Mobile, And Web Markets”. I can only see the summary. But I rather suspect that Frank Gilett didn’t foresee Apple making iCloud a free service built into the OS. In a report aimed at vendors, this report “forecast[s] the number of users and paying subscribers to personal cloud services through 2016”. Jobs himself had a go at both Amazon and Google, in the context of the music download business (Mike McGuire of Gartner deals with that one too). There’s little in the Forrester Community.
CIO.com rehearses some of the standard enterprise concerns about consumerised services; they’re real ones, and the summary is good. But follow Brian Prentice in your approach, if you’re in enterprise IT. It would be good to know if Gartner are starting to do some of that thinking. The CIO.com article links to a short slideshow, originally from PC World, which outlines what iCloud is about. But its coverage is very selective and limited. You’ll do much better to take the half hour to watch Steve Jobs directly!
But I was surprised at how little real analysis there is in my regular sources. Looks like the industry – vendors, users and enterprises – is holding its breath for the official launch, to see what happens. You will do better searching Twitter; there are some links there to useful comments.
But for me, it finally begins to make sense. Lion’s integration with iCloud is a single, coherent picture; nothing’s merely an “add on”. And it’s free, so what’s to lose?
• Apple WWDC Special Event, video, 6 Jun 2011, from apple.com (iCloud starts around 80 minutes in)
• iCloud on apple.com
• Welcome iCloud – Now Prepare To Meet Your Enterprise IT Detractors, Brian Prentice, Gartner blogs, 9 Jun 2011
• The Personal Cloud: Transforming Personal Computing, Mobile, And Web Markets, Frank Gillett, Forrester Research, 6 Jun 2011 (subscription or purchase required for full report)
• Apple iCloud Draws CIO Concerns, CIO.com, 14 Jun 2011
• iTunes in the Clouds, Mike McGuire, Gartner blog, 7 Jun 2011
• Corporate IT Forum event: Deploying iPads and other post-PC devices, 27 Jan 2011 (subscription required)
• Twitter feeds: http://twitter.com/#!/search/iCloud