updated 06:25 pm EDT, Sun June 5, 2011
iCloud may be new paradigm for iOS devices
Apple's plans for its iCloud launch could make it more of a fundamental platform shift for Apple than just an upgrade to its existing service, a new clue has given out at the last minute before WWDC. One source for the historically reliable John Gruber said not to see iCloud as an extension of MobileMe but instead to "think of iCloud as the new iTunes." Instead of routing most syncing through a desktop app, much of it would happen through the Internet and let iOS devices work independently of a computer.
The full details were still unknowns, though hints both official and otherwise have popped up in recent days. Apple itself accidentally made a reference to automatic app syncing that would likely be an iOS 5 feature. Talk of a music streaming service is so widespread as to be virtually confirmed as well, although its exact details aren't certain. More extreme rumors have mentioned iCloud being used for home folder sync where a Time Capsule could serve as a host.
Other online-only features not explicitly tied to iCloud have been mentioned at the same time, such as a long-requested demand for over-the-air firmware updates that would finally obviate the need to plug into iTunes to start using an iOS device right away. The issue has become more prominent both for iPad owners wanting to reduce the need for syncs as well as iPhone owners in countries where computer ownership is rare.
A broadly encompassing service of the kind mentioned to Gruber would most likely have to have a free component. Rumors have so far circulated that light syncing would be free, such as for apps, calendars, e-mail, and other basics. Music, because of licensing costs and bandwidth, might carry a fee.
The sudden swing towards the cloud is widely considered a counter to criticisms leveled against Apple by Google during its I/O 2010 day two keynote. Google claimed an Android edge over iOS because of its experience with the cloud. Even from Android 2.2, users could buy an app on the web and have it sent directly to a phone. From the start, the platform has always had syncing for contacts, mail, and others without having to pay anything more.
iCloud isn't expected to directly duplicate Google's efforts but could move beyond them by wiping out hassles such as the need to upload one's own music or find a separate music store.