There’s always something to howl about

Peering into Apple’s new iCloud service, to be rolled out tomorrow, to see how much closer we might get to virtuoso virtuality.

Steve Jobs is going to do the keynote presentation at the Apple Worldwide Developer Conference tomorrow. Surely part of his motivation is to show Apple’s shareholders that he is still in charge. But Jobs wouldn’t be doing this if Apple didn’t have some cool new toys to show off.

Systems designer Kevin Fix speculates about what might be on the agenda:

I get the feeling that the announcements at next week’s Apple WWDC are going to represent the same kind of fundamental shift in Apple’s offering that the iPod did in 2001.

I don’t have any inside info, and I make a point of not trying to pry secrets from my friends who work at Apple, but the rumblings are huge. ‘iCloud’ could mean anything, but given the complete failure of MobileMe over the last decade there’s no way Apple would introduce it on such a pedestal unless it’s incredible. My guess is that iCloud is to MobileMe as iPhone was to Newton: a complete, deep, polished solution after an underwhelming market failure.

Apple took a long time to get the Internet. Geeks were still installing FTP clients and web browsers for years after Apple belatedly included TCP/IP and PPP to their OS and, when Apple finally did integrate the Internet into Mac OS, it was in a very tacked on kind of way. A browser, an app for making web pages, eventually a few vertical online stores. I think that’s all about to change.

The scene has been building for a long time: The iPhone blurred the line between using a local device and being online. Chromebooks propose to eliminate the line completely by using an OS that expects to be online all the time (though still has limited functionality when the wireless cord is cut). Dropbox is a huge hit because it provides the most seamless way to use native apps while still writing to the cloud. Google and Amazon are tripping over each other (and the music labels) trying to roll out virtual music lockers.

My guess though is that these vertical solutions will seem pretty thin by the end of next week.

What, specifically, might we expect?

  • Seamless remote access to any data kept in your Documents folder, and synchronization across machines
  • Universal login using your Apple account: Walk up to any Mac, sign in as a guest using your Apple account credentials and you’ll be brought to the same desktop you get on your personal machine. Files will be downloaded from the cloud (or your home network) on demand, and you’ll have access to all the apps you’ve purchased via the Mac App Store, downloaded and installed on-demand, and removed securely, along with your data, upon logout.
  • Apple will announce that by early 2012 every screen they make will be touch-enabled, including the entire Mac line, and while it will be several years before OS X apps require touch, there will be universal gestures that will be useful in today’s apps from day one, and more gestures that tomorrows apps can choose to support to augment the pointer-and-keyboard model.
  • Realtime, continuous syncing of iOS devices will mean never having to plug your iPhone or iPad in to your computer again, or even the need for a computer for syncing at all.
  • iOS runtime within Mac OS to allow iPhone apps to run as Dashboard widgets and iPad apps as first-class desktop apps.
  • Task-level integration between iOS and Mac OS. If you have a spreadsheet open in Numbers on your Mac and you open Numbers on your iPad, the document you were working on will open up. Realtime synchronization will be integrated as an OS-level service available to developers.
  • Built-in screen sharing of Mac OS to the iPad, to do lightweight actions on your Mac from your iPad.
  • Your canonical music library exists in the cloud. Your Mac, Windows, or iOS device can sync with all or part of it in the same way that your iOS devices sync with your computer’s iTunes library today.
  • Unification of the App Store to encompass Mac, iPhone, iPod, AppleTV and iPad apps. Ability to make a single purchase for all the environments the app supports.
  • Stripping out the App store from iTunes. iTunes will be the media storefront and the App Store will be the resource storefront.
  • Continuous media play across devices: Play music on your mac, then with a tap shift the music to your iPhone when you’re on the go. A sizable portion of the playlist will quickly transfer over so there’s no reliance on continued wi-fi access or 3G streaming.
  • A major theme will be the concept that a task doesn’t reside with any particular device, but instead with the person, so shifting devices doesn’t mean you have to shift or restart tasks. Devices will simply be windows into what tasks you’re currently doing.
  • The only new devices announced at WWDC will be updates to facilitate the new software functionality. Some have speculated on new Airport base stations built around iOS to make VPN easy and mainstream. This seems very likely. It will be important to have one device that is always on and available, and Airport is a sensical bet.
  • AppleTV + App Store updates probably aren’t there yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised to hear announcements in order to get developers building apps.

A lot of this is obvious once you start thinking in a cloudly way. I’ve been whining for years that I want my identity and my files to be that same across all my Apple computers — iPhone, MacBook Pro, iMac and now iPad. If you’ve been working with Gmail, Google Docs or DropBox, you’ve seen the alpha versions of these ideas. If Fox is right that Apple will extend the cloud down to your own individual hardware and software, this will be a complete game-changer. Sell your Microsoft stock, at least, and maybe also your Google shares.

Why does this matter? Because your computers exist to leverage and amplify your intelligence, not to anchor it to particular locations. If you can work on any one of your files from any one of your computers (or anyone else’s) from any location, your office is now wherever you are.

There’s more: Teamwork becomes that much easier. There’s a lot to hate about Gmail, but one of its best benefits is that you and your assistant can both work on your email from wherever either of you happen to be.

Think of having your CRM database in a state of constant synchronicity for every member of your team. The same principles would hold for any other databases you use.

I don’t know that Fox is right, but I hope he is. In the iPad world, we can already see the idea mashing up with the social graph. A hugely robust cloud-based computing metaphor gets us that much closer to open-source-style media mash-ups.

As with everything else Apple does, this could be a complete game-changer.


9 Comments so far

  1. Teri Lussier June 6th, 2011 4:33 am

    >Think of having your CRM database in a state of constant synchronicity for every member of your team. The same principles would hold for any other databases you use.

    That would be wonderful.

  2. Greg Swann June 6th, 2011 8:08 am

    Or: The lockbox code you thought was in the email in your phone is in fact in the email back on your desktop computer. Treating the user and not the software as the mission critical element will be a huge boon for everyone.

  3. Greg Swann June 6th, 2011 11:35 am

    Lots of good stuff. It will be a while before we can figure out how prescient Mr. Fox turns out to be.

  4. Greg Swann June 6th, 2011 2:07 pm

    Here’s a nice video summary from Apple of many of the new features in iOS 5. And here’s a video for OS X Lion. No video for iCloud, but document-level support will be available by API to third-party developers. In other words, if this takes off, cloud-based document storage will become the norm.

    This is still baby-steps, but this represents a paradigm shift in computer science: In the world before the microcomputer, hardware was the product. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs brought us a world where software was the product. With today’s announcements, we move that much closer to a world where the end-user’s data is the only product that matters, and the hardware and software are simply interchangeable components.

    Mark this day in your memories. You probably didn’t notice, but your whole world just changed.

  5. wade June 6th, 2011 8:17 am

    This would be awesome!

    I have a PC at my house, office, and a laptop and I’m forever trying to keep them synced.

    MS Outlook is my biggest challenge.

  6. Scott Cowan June 6th, 2011 11:22 am

    @Wade- You can try to keep your Outlook .PST file in the cloud. Then you can point your devices to it and they will all use the same files. This way you are updated and in sync. There was an article on how to do this on Lifehacker a couple of weeks ago.

    @Teri I love this idea. I have that problem still as does Wade it seems. I use Outlook Business Contact Manager for my CRM. I think I will be looking for a new solution as I continue to move more and more of my world onto my iPad.

    @Greg I agree 100% I think that we are in for some very exciting progress in the very near future.

  7. Teri Lussier June 6th, 2011 2:14 pm

    >You probably didn’t notice, but your whole world just changed.

    Two words: “No Ads”

    The heavens have opened. The choir is singing.

  8. Greg Swann June 7th, 2011 9:57 am

    An excellent overview from All Things D.

  9. Greg Swann June 7th, 2011 9:59 am

    A query for folks who might be paying attention: Are the people who write about real estate tech on other sites getting this? They missed the boat on the iPhone and the iPad, so nothing would surprise me, but the announcements yesterday matter most to people like us who work from the road.