Can Apple Turn an iCloud into the Next Killer App?

The "cloud" has become the most overhyped term since Web 2.0 --- but Apple may well turn that hazy concept into a consumer blockbuster service, if its recent hiring of the top Microsoft cloud executive is any indication.

Apple recently hired the General Manager of Microsoft's data center operations, Kevin Timmons, the man who's responsible for Microsoft's data centers that power the company's cloud-based services. In all likelihood, he'll be a key part of Apple's push into the cloud.

Timmons' hiring may mean that Apple has targeted the cloud as the Next Big Thing. If so, we may see the launch of an entire new consumer market, one that Microsoft and Google have tried for years to create, but have so far only fitfully succeeded.

Google Apps and Google Docs haven't caught on with consumers, although some enterprises and government agencies use them. Similarly Microsoft's Windows Live has not been a raving success, either.

Overall, when it comes to cloud computing for consumers, there's lot of good technology, some good ideas, terrible integration, terrible packaging, and poor user interfaces.

All that is good news for Apple. Apple, despite public perceptions, hasn't been a cutting-edge innovator for years. Instead, the company is brilliant at taking half-formed ideas with solid underlying technologies, focusing on what's key to consumers, engineering them beautifully, wrapping them up with a big bow, then marketing them to consumers like nobody on earth.

Before the iPod there were plenty of MP3 players, for example. Then Apple came in and created the mass market with the iPod. Before the iPhone there had been plenty of smartphones, notably the Blackberry. Then the iPhone came in, and everyone on earth needed a smartphone. Tablets have been around for a long time --- Microsoft has been talking about them since the Paleolithic Age it seems. Then Apple came in with the iPad, and yes, once again, launched a new market.

Apple could well do the same thing with the cloud, because the time is ripe for a simple-to-use, well-designed cloud-based service. People's data is scattered among PCs, laptops, smartphones, and tablets. With the ubiquity of 3G, 4G, and WiFi, we're in the age of always-on Internet access. Those are two prerequisites for the development of a consumer-based cloud service.

It's too early to know if the hiring of Timmons means Apple is committed whole-heartedly to a consumer-based cloud service, or whether the company aims instead at a more business-centered approach. But if it does target the cloud for consumers, a year from now we could see a whole new Apple consumer service...iCloud, anyone?

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