What iCloud Is & Why It Changes Everything [Mac]

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what is icloudPerhaps the biggest announcement made by Apple at the recent WWDC was that of iCloud, but many people are understandably not sure what it is. Is it a streaming media service? Is it a Dropbox clone? What’s this about wireless syncing? If you find yourself a little confused and wondering why you’d even want iCloud, and how much it’s going to cost, then read on to have all the answers revealed!

A Free Replacement for Mobile.Me

First and foremost, iCloud is a free replacement and upgrade for the aging Mobile.me service. For those of you who don’t know, Mobile.me is Apple’s current paid-for cloud service which gives you 5GB storage space, and automatically syncs your contacts and calendars across devices. For $99/year, it’s a bit crap really – but I have been paying for it, as the @me.com has become my main email address. iCloud is going to be free for the most part, and includes a @me.com email address.

Is iCloud a DropBox Killer?

iCloud will include 5GB of storage for your documents – so is it going to be a DropBox killer? Probably not in the big scheme of things, but for many people like myself it will certainly be a viable alterntive. Remember, iCloud will be a built-in core service of all Apple devices – so you won’t need to mess around with separate apps to access cloud documents. Using iCloud, the syncing of your 5GB of documents will be entirely automatic. Following Apple’s new philosophy of “no need to save”, this means you can be editing a presentation on your Mac, then literally seconds later you show it on your iPad. It just works.

what is icloud

Photo Stream

Since most of us have a significant bit more than 5GB of photos, iCloud syncing of your entire photo collection isn’t really feasible. However, Apple has figured out a great solution for that too. Photo Stream consists of all the photos you’ve taken in the last 30 days, and doesn’t count towards your 5GB limit. Having your photos wireless sync like this is actually pretty amazing when you think about it – take a picture, and within seconds it appears on your other devices.

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Wireless Syncing

Apart from syncing everything that Mobile.Me users currently get (mail, calendar, contacts) iCloud will also allow you to sync books, music, and applications across devices using the cloud. Of course, you can do this by just plugging in a cable right now, but with iCloud you will be able to do this wirelessly, anywhere, automatically.

What’s The Deal With Music?

First up, iCloud is NOT a streaming media service. It is not designed to hold all your music in the cloud so you can play it anywhere over your Internet connection. For some with large collections, this will be a bit of a disappointment.

The basic service includes all of your past and future iTunes purchases – so when you buy something from iTunes, it will get pushed to your devices. However, that still leaves the question of your mountains of music that you didn’t purchase in iTunes – what about that? Well, you can always sync it as usual with your home PC. However, what about if you want your existing library to sync wirelessly, automatically, with every device you own? Under normal circumstances, you might think this requires you to upload your entire collection to your iCloud drive, and then purchase additional GBs to store it all – and this is indeed the way Amazon and Google have handled their cloud music services. Apple has decided to not handle it like this – instead, they’ve launched iTunes Match.

Instead of uploading all your music, iTunes will attempt to scan and identify all the tracks, and “match” the content in the cloud. Any tracks it doesnt know will be uploaded as is. As these songs are then stored on a central server, the same copy of the song will be served to everyone – saving on storage space enormously. The idea is really ingenious – why waste storage space for every individual user when you can just catalogue everything and serve the same song multiple times?

The savings are passed onto you, the consumer – iTunes Match costs only $25/year and allows up to 25,000 tracks to be matched online from your collection. If you think this is expensive then remember – Mobile.me used to cost $99/year, and it had no music facilities at all.

But thats not all.

apple icloud

Get Of Jail Free Card & A Quality Upgrade to Boot!

When your content is matched, it is matched to a high quality 256kbs DRM-free legitimate copy of that song. Once matched, you can then choose to REPLACE your local- possibly pirated and bad quality – copy with that legitimate one from the cloud. Yes, you can download the high quality DRM-free “official” version of the song, and replace that dodgy one – for up to 25,000 songs. If you stop your subscription, you keep the song – it doesn’t disappear.

Think about that for a moment – Apple, and the music industry – have just offered you a complete get out of jail free card – a chance to turn your ENTIRE music collection into a 100% LEGIT and high quality one, for just $25. To me, this is a fundamentally amazing paradigm shift that shows the music companies are indeed looking forwards.

what is icloud


I’m sure some people are going to remain sceptical of the whole thing. I mean – do you really want Apple (and the music companies) to know that you have 25,000 illegal songs on your PC? Apple has stated that while no personal information on who owns what song will be sent to the music companies, they will recieve reports on how many people in total own a particular track. But I’m interested to know how they might handle say, pre-release tracks – which the msuic industry generally gets quite worked up about. If Apple scans your machine, and finds something it shouldn’t – what will happen? Personally, I don’t think they would ever release personal information, even if you were downloading illegal tracks – you’re still paying for the service after all, and something like that could potentially turn millions of users away from the service.

Perhaps this really is a win-win situation all around thats going to completely change the computing experience. What do you think? Am I over-reacting about this whole thing? Has Apple really just offered to upgrade your pirate music collection to something legit?  Let us know what you think in the comments.

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