When Apple CEO Steven P. Jobs announced iCloud this week, the future of personal computing — at least for Macintosh users — radically changed. Apple executives labeled this future the “post-PC era,” one that will bring fundamental changes to the ways people watch video, listen to music, store photos or prepare documents.
Coming in software updates by this fall, Apple’s iCloud, which will be free to users, means computers (Macs, Windows and Apple’s portable devices) will be connected wirelessly, and software and user data will be stored and transferred on the cloud (actually Apple’s new data farm in North Carolina). Users will no longer need traditional personal computers and instead can use devices like Apple’s iPads, iPhones and iPods.
It’s a major shift in connectivity that will affect anyone who uses personal computers. Under Apple’s iCloud, all computing devices will be independent from each other — tied together only via the wireless cloud. The new system will be invisible to users, who have to do nothing operationally.
“We are going to demote the PC to just be a device. We are going to move the digital hub, the center of your digital life, into the cloud,” Jobs told software developers at Apple’s annual conference.
Once these new services begin, users of iOS devices — meaning iPads and iPhones — can operate fully without a computer. Users will no longer need to plug an iPad or iPhone into a PC to activate it. iCloud will automatically sync and backup photos, music and documents. All software will be updated over the Internet.
The cloud has implications for broadcasters. On one level it validates the government’s claim that a vast amount of additional broadband bandwidth is needed in the coming years. It also allows personal video to be stored on the cloud and viewed anywhere — further breaking territorial boundaries.
While user-made video will go to the cloud for storage like other data, Apple did not address how videos of television programs or movies will be handled. That is perhaps because it has no deal with content providers. However, iCloud will eventually have to deal with the implications of copyrighted content.
Jobs demonstrated iCloud using Apple’s word processor, Pages, along with Numbers and Presentations. Apple’s calendar, contacts and e-mail are also compatible. But there was no mention of staples like Adobe Acrobat or Microsoft Office software, including Word and Excel.
Aaron Levie, chief executive of Box.net, an online storage company, wrote in his blog that iCloud’s lack of such compatibility could be problematic for business customers, who often use a variety of file formats.
“The first issue with iCloud is that it will be optimized to work with other Apple products,” Levie wrote. “The de facto difficulty with Apple is that they are laser-focused on their own ecosystem. This is fine in the consumer world, where we tend to have considerable flexibility in selecting our own software and hardware. But in the enterprise we’re typically using devices, platforms, operating systems and software that come from an array of vendors — and not always of our choosing.”
Apple said customers would be able to store documents that use iCloud Storage APIs, or technical specifications. Perhaps other major companies will make their products available using those rules, but Apple only announced those specifications at the news conference.
In any case, iCloud shepherds in a new era of wireless networks. With Apple’s announcement this week, the company is helping make irrelevant the same personal computer that Steve Jobs helped invent 30 years ago. In a short time, the PC will become just another device for addressing a wireless cloud of content.
Scott Forstall, Apple’s senior vice president of iOS software, summed up the company’s belief during the press conference. “We are living in a post-PC world.” He noted that a number of iPad owners don’t even have a PC in their home. “Now, if you want to cut the cord, you can,” Forstall said.