Apple’s iCloud aims to ‘demote the PC’
Steve Jobs, still gaunt from his battle with a rare form of cancer, interrupted his medical leave to unveil Apple Inc.'s new venture in the cloud.
In what the Apple chief executive described as a major shift in how millions of people would store and organize their music, documents, photos and emails across multiple devices, he showed off an online service that will let Apple users access their digital media from anywhere.
Jobs, who introduced this iCloud service at the opening day of Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco on Monday, said people could no longer rely on the personal computer as their digital hub.
“Keeping these devices in sync is driving us crazy,” he said. “We have a great solution for this problem. 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.”
Apple, the world’s largest distributor of music, is giving consumers access to all the music saved on their hard drives — no matter whether they copied it illegally — for $25 a year, with the music industry’s consent. Jobs said that was a first.
Apple is also pushing consumers to store their information in the cloud to capture even more of people’s digital lives. It’s a bid to keep its dominant position in the smartphone and tablet markets as it faces rising competition from devices powered by Google Inc.'s Android software, analysts say.
And just as it did with the iPhone — a latecomer that went on to revolutionize the smartphone — Apple may ultimately be the company to popularize cloud computing and, in so doing, gain an edge over competitors Google and Amazon.com Inc.
“Apple will set the tone for the way consumers will view what a cloud service should be like in the future,” Creative Strategies analyst Tim Bajarin said.
But Apple is jumping into cloud computing at a time when the concept is under rising scrutiny. Last week’s hijacking of hundreds of Google’s Gmail accounts, including those of senior U.S. government officials, underscored the vulnerability of information stored on the Web.
In Google’s case, a user can access to dozens of online services through a single account. Should hackers trick someone into handing over his or her password, they gain access to the person’s files, calendar, contacts and any personal information stored or sent through email.
Although Apple’s services have a pretty good track record for security, experts say iCloud could further protect sensitive information by offering an additional authentication step such as a security token that pings the user with a new passcode to log in. Google and Facebook offer such a feature.
“If somebody steals your password, they still need to get that code,” said Tin Zaw, a security expert based in Los Angeles, “and that code can only be used once.”
The latest attacks on cloud computing will not deter consumers and large organizations from using the technology because of the advantages it offers, analysts said.
The iCloud service, which replaces a previous $99-a-year service that let people synchronize their emails, contacts and calendars, also gives users access to documents, apps and photos through a new service, Photo Stream.
Apple is also making it easier for 200 million iTunes users to download and listen to their music collections on any device rather without having to manually upload every song in their libraries. It can do that because it reached deals with the four major record labels and music publishers to license their recordings.
Apple’s new technology, iTunes Match, scans a user’s hard drive looking for songs and authorizes the user to listen to iTunes’ copy of any song it identifies — regardless of whether the user bought the song from iTunes. The only songs the user must spend time uploading are the ones that are not in iTunes’ library.
In a dig at Amazon and Google — which have not reached deals with the music industry and require users to upload every song in their libraries to the Web before they can listen to them on multiple devices — Jobs said Apple’s service works in minutes, not hours or days.
Apple will split the $24.99 annual fee for the iTunes Match service with record companies and publishers.
Jobs’ decision to make what was only his second major public appearance since taking an indefinite medical leave in January signaled the importance he is placing on Apple’s move into the cloud. He called the idea, which first emerged at Apple a decade ago, its “next big insight.”
James Brown’s “I Got You (I Feel Good)” played right before Jobs walked onstage. Jobs, looking thin in his signature black mock turtleneck and blue jeans, was met with a standing ovation as thousands of software developers snapped photos of him with their iPhones and iPads. One yelled “We love you,” to which he replied that it “helps.”
Jobs did not discuss his health, which he has said is a personal matter. He shared the spotlight with other Apple executives but was animated as he introduced iCloud, walking back and forth onstage, although he descended the stairs from the stage slowly.
“We think this is going to be pretty big,” he said.
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