Apple Tuesday morning confirmed that it will launch an online service called iCloud next week, about as much of a solid preview as one can ever get from the always-secretive Apple.
The vendor confirmed that "Steve Jobs and a team of Apple executives" (worthwhile to note given that Jobs has been on a medical leave of absence since January) will open the company's Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) with a keynote session next Monday at 10:00 am PT that includes details of "iCloud, Apple's upcoming cloud services offering."
In equally secretive Apple fashion, that's exactly all offered by Apple's press release.
Fortunately, the Apple rumor mill has been its usual self in the windup to WWDC, and there have been a number of signs, any of which could be iCloud. Even among those rumors, though, there are a wide range of possibilities for what iCloud could mean to the business user.
Much of the run-up to WWDC has been focused around iCloud as Apple's cloud-based iTunes service, a way for users to stream their music from the cloud to various devices. The company has apparently been making the rounds and signing up music publishers for the service in an effort to compete with rivals Amazon and Google in the battle for cloud-based music services.
A hosted iTunes service seems an all-but-certainty for a WWDC launch. But would Apple really turn to the iCloud name for a product that would essentially replace its tried-and-true iTunes brand? A much more likely possibility is that while iCloud will include the hosted music option, the service will also include Apple's existing MobileMe consumer cloud-based services. That possibility is strongly supported by the "Castle" code-name found by developers in various files throughout the preview version of Mac OS X 10.7 Lion.
'Castle' would seem to refer to the possibility of a much broader cloud strategy overhaul for Apple, something that will take over a number of Apple's cloud-based offerings, including its MobileMe cloud service and potentially much more.
One could even hope that Apple will acknowledge its small-business users by including some business-friendly features in the new collection of services.
Apple has also confirmed two other WWDC announcements that everyone was expecting but for which the Mac faithful will nevertheless crowd around Internet streams to catch.
Next week's show will feature a final look at the upcoming Mac OS X 10.7 Lion release before it goes live. The show will likely set the release date for the desktop OS, especially given signs showing up this weekend that a soon-to-launch update to OS X 10.6 will prepare the Mac App Store to deliver the Lion upgrade to users.
It's no surprise given Apple's typical once-a-year cadence for updates to the iOS operating system for iPhone and iPad, but Apple also confirmed that it will show off iOS 5 for the first time at WWDC. Pre-preview speculation has focused on the possibility of a new system for notifications and the debut of widgets as well as the possibility of speech capabilities in the wake of Apple's apparent partnership with Nuance.