Friday, 10 June 2011
Apple launches it's iCloud: Is this the Future of the Internet?
Apple announced the launch of iCloud this week, it's version of the cloud concept which the internet has been moving towards for quite some time now.
If you're unfamiliar with 'the cloud', it's essentially the idea that instead of storing programs and files on a computer, they're kept online. Users then do everything they would normally do offline through their browser, whether it's editing photos and text, listening to music, watching videos, or anything else usually done locally.
This is the next digital revolution and has a vast amount of benefits and repercussions for all who use the internet.
For starters, it removes the need for up and downloading. Instead, files are accessed and used while still on the internet, saving masses of time, not to mention bandwidth.
Those files are stored on the huge, fully backed-up servers of the providers, which are far more secure and unlikely to be lost or damaged than an individual's hard drive or iphone. A fatal error destroying a computer will no longer mean losing anything.
So, a user will no longer need to store their own information. This in itself has it's own ramifications. Without the need for storage or the power to run programs, devices will only need to run a browser. Laptops and mobile phones can become far simpler, much more lightweight and cheaper, in effect nothing more than a 'window' into the web. This should help increase uptake of the internet with those yet to succumb to it's lure.
A user's digital possessions will be accessible from wherever they can get an internet connection, so available across all their devices, whether work based desktops, laptops or their mobile phone. Sharing those possessions should be easier too, though doing so with copyrighted materials may have restrictions.
That sharing could have a big affect on Social Media, which to a large extent is all about exchanging information. With Google and Amazon also having their own versions of the cloud, should a Social Network be introduced around one of these, the potential to share could eclipse that of facebook and offer a real challenge to it's superiority.
That's presuming facebook doesn't already have a cloud in it's future plans and in fact, it's present form would already offer a suitable front end interface by which to access a cloud, so don't be surprised if this happens.
facebook also gives an indication of how the cloud will affect online marketing. The current advertising platform on facebook is renowned for it's precise targeting, using the information a user includes in their profile to display adverts specifically tailored to their interests. With the cloud, it goes one step further, with every digital item a user owns being available for analysis in order to determine how to target them.
This also reveals perhaps the biggest worry and stumbling block in moving towards a cloud based landscape; that of privacy. As long as facebook, or indeed the internet, have existed, there's been concerns about others seeing private data. No matter how many assurances the big internet companies give on this matter, there'll always be people who keep something back, not trusting the cloud's security.
A fully cloud orientated internet would certainly impact on illegal downloaders, with illegal files often easily identifiable and therefore unlikely to be accepted into corporate clouds. The backing of iCloud by the four biggest music labels indicates that this may well be on the agenda.
With itunes being central to music on iCloud, this is indeed one of the criticisms levelled at the new service, which in many ways falls short of the full cloud concept described above. It all seems rather geared towards encouraging more people to use their other 'iproducts', with BlackBerrys, Android and Windows phones being incompatible. There's also limited free storage for items not bought through Apple or it's affiliates, video isn't included and while a music collection is available and synchronized between a user's devices, they still need to download to listen, with no streaming.
Apple has the usual modus operandi of waiting for others to lead the way, then improve on what has come before. They've done the same here, with Google, Amazon and others already having introduced their version of the cloud, and iCloud certainly being an improvement on those, but it's not really the definitive cloud that many have been hoping for.
Whether that complete idea of the cloud is a little too free and uncontrollable for corporations to fully monetize has stopped them going the whole hog or they've planned for that and will introduce new features remains to be seen. Apple and other technology companies do tend to stagger the release of functionality, with several improved future versions often already developed before even unveiling the initial product, so the latter could be likely.
But with such heavyweights as Apple and Google getting behind it, at least a limited version of the cloud is now here and no longer a future dream. Whether the true cloud concept remains that dream or becomes a reality, will depend on if the corporate clouds can still make enough money through it or if some enterprising non- rofit company designed an effective and popular version.