Head in the cloud
And I haven’t mentioned the biggest re-think of all: the latest reboot of Apple’s online service, iCloud. MobileMe wasn’t a bad product, though it always had a hard time competing with other web services that offered most of its functionality for free. But for Apple to settle all family business, it had to die.
When you set up an Android phone or one running HP’s WebOS, getting up and running is incredibly easy: enter in your user name and password. Your e-mail, contacts, and calendars are automatically configured, and if you’re replacing an old phone, all your old data is automatically restored. The iPhone and iPad experience was much more complicated, because Apple couldn’t count on MobileMe being there for every iPhone and iPad user—only the ones who paid $99 for the privilege.
With iCloud being free, everything changes. Not only will this allow Apple to stop asking you to plug in your iPhone to a Mac before you use it, but it makes set-up vastly simpler. You can put in your Apple ID and automatically gain access to your address book, browser bookmarks, e-mail, calendars, and the rest. It boots one of iOS’s longstanding weaknesses right out the door.
More importantly, deeply integrating iCloud into OS X and iOS means that it’s now part of the hardware/software synthesis that is at the core of Apple’s ability to build great products. I’m not sure Apple has ever understood what it means to be an online-services company, selling various online features off on the side of Apple’s core business. But iCloud isn’t going to be some ancillary part of Apple: it’s going to be everywhere, part of the experience of every iPhone, iPad, and Mac user.
Given Apple’s shaky history with online services (eWorld, iTools, .Mac, MobileMe), this might be cause for some serious concern. But I think iCloud will end up being a big success, specifically because it’s now front and center, rather than off to the side. There’s nowhere for it to hide; iCloud will be just as much a part of Apple’s products as the operating systems and the physical hardware. The iCloud experience will be subject to the same brutal scrutiny as all the other aspects of Apple’s product-creation process.
There might be some bumps along the way, but I believe Apple will get this right. In fact, Apple must get this right.
We shouldn’t forget the Mac. Though a lot of people argue that most of Apple’s energy is devoted to the iOS these days, the fact is that the Mac continues to vastly outpace the rest of the PC market in terms of growth. And with OS X Lion—due in July—Apple is showing that it’s still innovating on the Mac.
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