Apple is set to unveil a sleeve of cloud services called iCloud. Apple boss Steve Jobs will make the long-awaited announcement June 6 at the Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco.
However, Apple already went out of its way to quench speculation about its upcoming announcement at WWDC by saying what will be introduced at the conference, so chances are next to none on more information about iCloud by Monday – which leads me to five big questions about the upcoming iCloud services.
1. What’s included?
The iCloud suite is meant to replace MobileMe, Apple’s current Web services offering, which includes e-mail, calendar, photo sharing, remote storage, Find My iPhone and bookmark syncing. It’s unknown whether Apple will keep all the current services or will retire some of them, but two main additions are expected: music and movie streaming from the cloud.
2. How will music streaming work?
Google’s and Amazon’s rival cloud music services work on a simple, yet-not-very-efficient premise: you upload you current song library to the servers, and from there you can stream your music files to your phone, or through the browser on a PC.
Apple’s service though, is said to work differently, because the company is working with licensing agreements from music labels. Instead of having to upload your songs (a lengthy process depending on network speed and library size), Apple may mirror your iTunes library straight away, and even stream better-quality audio than some of the files you might already own. But will you be able to mirror non-iTunes-purchased songs (e.g. from Amazon’s MP3 store, or pirated material)? Will streaming work over 3G or will it be Wi-Fi only?
3. Free or for a fee?
Probably the biggest unknown about iCloud is whether Apple will charge for the services. MobileMe costs $99 per year, but rumors this year suggested that Apple would offer at least a core part of the iCloud suite for free for an introductory period. So, will music and movie streaming, something that Apple is said to have paid for in licensing deals, be free as well? After all, you are supposed to already own the music, so why pay for it twice?
4. Mac OS X Lion-only?
Will Apple keep iCloud a Mac OS X-only affair and keep Windows users out? Reports suggest Apple could bundle iCloud for free with every new copy of Mac OS X Lion, the company’s next OS iteration, also due for an update at WWDC. So will Mac OS X Snow Leopard and Windows users be able to access the new suite of cloud services, or will they have to pay a fee ($99 per year, as with MobileMe) for access?
5. iOS 5-only?
Apple’s third announcement at WWDC will be iOS 5, the next-generation OS to power iPhone, iPads and iPod touches. Some of the improvements to iOS 5 are expected to the notifications system — but will Apple make it compulsory to have iOS 5 in order to benefit from iCloud? If so, what will happen to the millions of iPhone 3G and 3GS users (iPhone 4 excluded), who won’t be able to upgrade to the latest major OS update?