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Floating on an iCloud


Let’s see, iPod came first, followed by iTunes, then it was iPhone, next came iPad and now it’s iCloud.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs, who’s been out on sick leave since January, made a rare appearance Monday in San Francisco to announce a number of new products, including iCloud, at the annual Worldwide Developers Conference.

So what is iCloud, anyway? For starters, you should know it has nothing to do with those white things floating overhead. Instead, iCloud is the name Apple has given to a massive collection of servers housed in a newly-constructed and massive building in North Carolina.

Cloud computing is nothing new. We’ve been using a cloud utility called Dropbox here at the Rocket-Courier for a couple years. Put a word processor file in Dropbox and it’s available anywhere in the world where’s there’s internet service. I could put this column in my Dropbox file while working here at the Rocket-Courier office and when I go home at night I can easily access the file. If I’m at home working and someone at the office makes a change to a document in my Dropbox file, I see the changes almost immediately. We store all sorts of things in Dropbox. It’s convenient, safe and available pretty much anywhere.

Apple has integrated cloud computing with some of its most popular programs and hardware. It’s betting that it’s innovative enough to provide tough competition for Google and Amazon, which offer similar services. Although most of the new features won’t be available until fall, one of the biggest impacts of iCloud will come to iTunes, Apple’s popular music program. Basically it will work like this: Buy a song on your iPad and it will automatically be pushed to your computer, Mac or PC, via iCloud. If you like, the same song can be made available on your iPhone or iPod Touch via iCloud. In fact, your entire music collection can be housed and backed up on iCloud and distributed to your computer, phone and iPad.

If you use Apple’s word processing program, which is called Pages, all documents you produce will automatically be saved in iCloud. Other word processors, like Microsoft Word, won’t do that automatically unless Microsoft opts to add that capability to an upcoming version.

iCloud also stores and transfers photos. Snap a photo with your iPhone and in an instant it’s also on your computer. You can store up to 1,000 photos on iCloud and leave them there for a month. Apple provides 3 gigs of storage for free, and you can purchase more if you need it. Obviously Apple’s hoping that you’ll need it. Books that you purchase through Apple’s iBooks app are also synced between your devices via iCloud.

Calendars and contacts also sync automatically between iPhones, iPads and your computer via iCloud, however, this is already available via Apple’s MobilMe service which will eventually be replaced by iCloud and shut down.

iCloud will arrive when Apple debuts what it calls iOS5, which is the operating system for iPhones and iPads in the Fall. Jobs also detailed a number of other new features that will come with iOS5, including texting for the iPad, which been highly requested.  Another new feature will be an updated version of Reminders for the iPhone, which includes a smart GPS function that makes your grocery list appear on the screen as soon as you pull up to your favorite grocery store. The new software will also untether the iPhone and iPad from your Mac and PC. Previously to update software on these devices you had to connect it to your computer. Now they will be able to take care of updates on their own.  There’s a new app called newsstand, where subscriptions to electronic newspapers are downloaded automatically and waiting for you to read. The new iPhone/iPad software will also include a built-in link to Twitter. In all, there are over 200 new features coming in the fall for the iPad and iPhone, and it will run on all but the very first version of the iPhone.

Along with all the new stuff for the iPhones and iPads, Jobs also debuted Apple’s new operating system for its computers, which it is calling Lion and will be available next month. One of the coolest things about Lion is that you no longer need to buy it on a DVD, just download it from Apple’s App store. It’s going to sell for $30 and once you buy it, you can install it on any computer you own without buying additional copies.

Lion comes with 250 new features, and I’ll tell you more about them next month when I get my copy.

In the meantime, I can’t wait for that GPS reminder app. I’m anxious to stop wrapping that piece of string around my finger to remind me to stop at the store for milk. Or was it bread?




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