How Apple Will Draft Everyone Into The Cloud. Or Else

Pity the poor programmer whose software doesn't automatically sync every digital thing you own across all of your devices instantly. Thanks to Apple, if you're not in the cloud soon, you're buried.

apple cloud

People have been yammering for years about how, eventually, everything is going to have to move to the cloud. And yet, while some consumers have moved in that direction, many have not.

That's about to change. The introduction of Apple’s iCloud will create a tipping point that will have a profound impact on consumer software and services.

Like it or not, where Apple goes, everyone else eventually follows. It happened back in the 1980s when Apple introduced the first home computer with a graphical user interface (GUI). Before that, consumers had to use command lines to interact with their computers. But once Apple introduced the GUI, other computer makers soon followed suit.

It also happened with digital music. Sure, MP3s existed before iTunes. But the end-to-end system soon created a tipping point. And it happened with tablets. The hardware industry had been toying with tablets for over a decade before the iPad. But look at the avalanche of tablets that has since ensued.

And so we at Fast Company expect the same to happen with the cloud. Apple has just introduced an attractive system for a whole range of things consumers care about. Sure, cloud solutions previously existed for some of the things Apple introduced Monday--like documents (Google Docs) and music (Amazon). But it is the comprehensiveness and elegance of the iCloud system that will unleash a tipping point.

Soon users will become used to how much easier their lives become with iCloud. All my stuff is everywhere I want it to be, instantly. I download a song from iTunes, and it’s instantly on all my devices. I put down the book I was reading on my iPad at home, get on the subway, open up my iPhone, and presto, the book is not only on my phone, it opens up to the exact place where I stopped reading on the tablet.

Documents, photos, email, contacts, calendars--users will get used to moving fluidly between all of them on different devices

And as soon as consumers become used to things acting this way, they’ll start actually expecting things to act this way. And when that happens, beware any software company that doesn’t deliver the same experience. In the new world Apple will create, to ask a user to manually sync files between different devices will be the equivalent, back in the '80s, of asking a bunch of home computer users used to interacting with GUI’s, to use command lines instead.

The new will no longer be the cherry on top. It will be the baseline.

Moving to the cloud certainly won’t be easy for software companies. It will involve a lot of hard technical work. Many will have to rip apart their existing programs and completely re-architect them to deliver the new experience. Apple itself, CEO Steve Jobs told developers at the WWDC keynote on Monday, had to rewrite MobileMe, the company’s previous stab at syncing across devices, “from the ground up” to create iCloud.

But as difficult and expensive as that work will be, very soon it won’t be optional. The smart companies will be the ones that start moving in that direction sooner rather than later, whether they’re happy about it or not.

[Image: Flickr user mollyali]

E.B. Boyd is FastCompany.com's Silicon Valley reporter. Twitter. Email.

Read More: Apple's Putting Your Music, Documents, And Photos Into iCloud

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8 Comments

  • madclark

    The iCloud is an awesome concept.  I wonder about the chokepoint of bandwidth and location.  If you are outside of a metropolitan area how available are those files and records?  Is the iCloud going to be just a transfer medium or will it be a repository for all of your files/music/information?   If the iCloud is the repository, then is your device/s just a workstation/s? 
     
    The strength of the Apple brand to date has been the seemingly seamless integration of devices.  The iCloud would appear to strengthen that position.  But the drawback of Apple has been “innovations” spaced out in 4-6 month increments (i.e. iPhones and iPads that have $400-$700 price tags) that are much more Company friendly than they are customer friendly. 
     
    So what leverage will the iCloud add to that formula of costly “innovations” that are Company centric not customer friendly?

  • Jeffery Chapman

    (not withstanding my appreciation for Matt Carlstrom's comment below, which adds helpful context re Apple...)

    Wow.  The love affair between some Fast Company writers and Apple is a little gag-me-with-a-spoon-ish.  Talk about re-writing history - I tire of this stuff.
    Microsoft built the computer world and is the foundation for basically everything happening in the computing/software systems arena...  oh, wait, except for iTunes, which is a pretty clunky program.
    Of course Apple has game-winning personal i-devices but you can be sure that anyone developing cloud-based offerings are doing so from a PC platform... oh, wait, except for Apples running Windows, which is of course Apple's claim to fame in the computer arena.

    The main problem with Apple is it single-user focused and network handicapped so it is hard to imagine them leading the way in Cloud development.  If they do, they'll be developing it in a Windows environment.

  • Bob Jacobson

    What about carrier constraints on broadband traffic?  Apple may have the content, but they have the means to (a) limit carriage, as Comcast does arbitrarily (it imposes a 250 GB/month cap -- go over it twice and your service is cancelled); or (b) charge exorbitant rates for greater carriage, a possibility now that the FCC has essentially punted on net neutrality, letting the carriers decide how to parse their bandwidth.

    The ICT industry seems to be working at odds here.  As a user, I am mightily confused.  Too bad there are no adults in senior positions able to compose meaningful, comprehensive policies in this regard.  This isn't a market issue, anymore.  This is about how societies march forward, all together or some in the lead and others following, way behind.  Right now, the USA -- ironically, given it's the home of the new technologies, but historically not a surprise -- is on the path to decline, with no clear vision moving forward.

  • Matt Carlstrom

    I have read probably a dozen articles on this topic... Invariably, they'll be half of the folowing comments ripping the author for being a Apple Fanboy...  The issue is, as is so aptly put here "Like it or not, where Apple goes, everyone else eventually follows"  No one is saying that Apple was first with any of this.  The iPod was not the first Mp3 player, nor was iTunes the first place to download music.  The iPhone was certainly not the first "smartphone".  The iPad was not the first tablet by any means. However, when Apple does drop in to a field, iPod, iTunes, iPhone, iPad they do it better than anyone else.  They set the standard for everyone to follow.  

    It's like being a 3200 m runner, rarely does the person leading after the first 4 laps win... And the one who does win, has everyone else chasing them...

  • John Kottcamp

    Ah, did everyone forget about Facebook.  In its view of the world, everyone will have all their content on their Facebook account.  Oh and yes, Amazon's cloud service has already proven itself, so I don't believe that the world belongs to Apple, at least not yet.

    And one last thing, Apple also announced a deal with Twitter but not with Facebook, perhaps Facebook also doesn't go along with the idea that where ever Apple goes, the world will follow

  • Christopher Jordan Wallace

    "where Apple goes, everyone else eventually follows."

    This couldn't be more inaccurate. Apple is the great follower. It reinvents other industries and companies original ideas and executes them more fluidly.

    The major set back of Apple's iCloud is a $25 fee for playing music you already own. This, like mobile me, will disappear in five years. DropBox and Amazon already do the same thing without cost. Without the limits of hardware names-useful on any manufactures device.

    The interfacing usage between Apple's product is the key. It will win users over and keep failures like iTunes alive and well in the future.

  • Michael Brown

    quote: "...where Apple goes, everyone else eventually follows"

    Ahhhhhhh, no.  On this one, it's "Where Palm goes..." 

    Because Palm was the first to introduce a cloud based OS.  The WebOS was introduced two years ago with the Palm Pre and Pixi - and continuing with HP's Veer and soon to launch Pre3 and TouchPad. 

  • Bob Jacobson

    The fact that no one remembered that fact is testimony to the power of the Apple brand.  Who owns Palm now?