Apple’s Steve Jobs extended his company’s technology in a new direction today by announcing iCloud, a service that means music, photos, and documents saved onto an Apple device will soon appear almost instantly on any other Apple product that a person owns.
“Apple’s iCloud works in the background to keep music, photos, and documents in sync across all Apple devices, mobile or otherwise,” said Jobs. He announced the new service at the annual WWDC conference, an event aimed at developers who create software for Apple products. New versions of Apple’s desktop and mobile operating systems, OS X Lion and iOS 5, respectively, will contain iCloud and move it to the heart of the company’s. Lion is to be released next month and iOS in the fall.
Contrary to many expectations, iCloud will not make it possible for people to stream music purchased on iTunes over the airwaves from any device—leaving it short of a feature found in recently launched services from Amazon and Google. However, iCloud’s capabilities extend beyond music and will become a central feature of all Apple products. Apple’s previous cloud service, MobileMe, “no longer exists as a product,” said Jobs.
When an iCloud user takes a photo or saves a document with an Apple device, that file is instantly uploaded to iCloud over either Wi-Fi or the cellular network. That person’s other Apple devices then automatically download the file as soon as possible. That means someone taking a day trip can take photos on an iPhone and then flip through them on their iPad as soon as they return home. Contacts and calendar items will behave in the same way. Users will get five gigabytes of free storage for documents, mail, and apps. Photos will only be stored in the cloud for 30 days.
After iCloud rolls out, music purchased on iTunes will also automatically appear on every Apple device associated with a person’s Apple account. It will be possible to selectively download previously purchased music to any device, too. “This is the first time we’ve seen this in the music industry—no charge for multiple downloads,” said Jobs. This is likely possible due to the deals Apple reportedly struck with the major record labels in recent weeks.
Music ripped from CDs will also find a home in iCloud, with future versions of iTunes, for a flat rate of $24.99 per year. It will scan music files and then offer up high-quality replacements from the iTunes store. The service will accommodate a maximum of 20,000 songs.