Tag Archives: iCloud

Timeline of Apple’s Online Services

[I’d like people’s help in completing a timeline of Apple’s online services.]

[Update: deleted the WordPress shortcode, which seems not to be working.]

As kind of a followup to yesterday’s post about some early rumours and speculations about the iPhone, I thought about posting some info about Apple’s online services. Part of the reason is that Asymco’s Horace Dediu has frequently talked about what we could call “Apple’s data play”, for instance in this post about the iCloud data centre in North Carolina. I was also thinking about Mike Davidson’s comments about Apple’s presence (and “dominance”) in such diverse fields as hardware, software, licensing, and commerce. The trigger for this post, though, was from this Steve Jobs comment, which appeared in a recent NYT piece about the Apple Maps fiasco:

The MobileMe launch clearly demonstrates that we have more to learn about Internet services

The overall context for this quote as well as a number of discussions about Apple is the consensus that Apple does a poor job with online services. MobileMe and iTunes Ping are often used in these discussions and it seems clear to most people (including Apple executives and insiders, it sounds like) that the “computer company turned consumer electronics vendor” has a lot to learn about online services.

The reason I find this so interesting is that Apple seems insistent on pushing at least some of its online services. A bit less of a “betting the farm” strategy as Google’s “Emerald Sea” initiative, but an intriguing strategy for such a large and still-successful company. Dediu’s frequent reference to Clay Christensen’s concept of “Disruptive Innovation” might apply, here. Apple might be “disrupting itself into” an online services company, at least in part.

There are several things I find intriguing about this strategy.

As opposed to most other enterprises’ “online plays”, Apple’s model tends not to be based on ad revenues. The divide between Google and Apple couldn’t be stronger when we talk about ad-supported free/freemium services as opposed to paid services or services attached to other purposes. It’s likely an irreconcilable difference between fans of  both teams.

Online services are clearly not Apple’s strong suit. It often sounds like Apple is missing a “magic touch” with online services, the same way other companies are said to lack Apple’s design sense. This is more similar to Google+ given the consensus that “Google doesn’t know how to do ‘social’”. But it’s still surprising.

Though Apple may not have a “knack” for online services, it’s been trying to do it for quite a while. I keep thinking about eWorld as a precursor to the whole thing. It’s one thing for a company to try its hand at something new or to pivot into a strong business. It’s another thing entirely to shift more energies into something which has so far proven to be mostly a lost cause.

Adding to my thoughts on this was a podcast conversation (I think between John Siracusa and Dan Benjamin, though it might have been between Marco Arment and John Gruber) during which comments were made about those Apple employees working on online services.

So, basically, Apple’s online services have been on my mind. But I couldn’t find an exhaustive list. Tried Wikipedia but it doesn’t really separate online services from other things Apple does. And I ended up thinking about what would define “online services” in Apple’s case. Everything Apple does which incurs some bandwidth costs would be my working definition. Basically, it’s something to do with Apple investing in data centres and such. Some of these seem like very small costs (hosting data about podcasts, instead of the podcasts themselves, for instance). Given Apple’s size, these costs and the infrastructure behind all of this can be quite big.

So I started listing some of these services and organizing them in a sort of timeline, first in MultiMarkdown format in nvAlt, then in a Google Spreadsheet. I then discovered Vérité.CO’s Timeline.JS which takes a Google Spreadsheet and makes it into a visual timeline.

A few notes:

  • It’s a quick draft and I didn’t really check any of the data points.
  • In most cases, I only added months and, in the case of “AppleLink”, I only put years.
  • I took most dates from diverse Wikipedia pages, not necessarily backtracking on the whole process.
  • On at least one occasion, there was a discrepancy between two dates.
  • Sometimes, I took the date of the service’s announcement while I used an actual launch date for other services.
  • I only added a couple of pictures to show that it can be done. Many of the relevant pix are likely to be under copyright or to constitute a trademark.
  • I tried to be as exhaustive as I could be, but I’m sure I forgot stuff.
  • Some things may not sound like they qualify as part of “Apple’s online offering” but I think they’re still relevant. My rule of thumb is that if it goes to Apple’s servers, it’s an online service.
  • I separated some services from “suites” like iCloud or iTools, partly because some of those services haven’t been kept, which is important to see in a timeline. There are several services missing, here.
  • None of this timeline is meant to be editorial. I was just curious about what Apple has been doing online since the 1980s. The reason I care can be found in my earlier notes. I consider myself neither an “Apple fanboi” nor an “Apple hater”. I just find the situation revealing of something happening in the tech world, which has an impact on the Geek Niche.

So, here goes.

Here’s the Google Spreadsheet (editable by anyone):

Apple Online Services

Here’s the timeline through an embed code:

Here’s the embed code:

<iframe src='http://embed.verite.co/timeline/?source=0AjnWdp-FPwEKdHVqOXhWVlZuZjZYajN5QnExcExuVmc&font=Bevan-PotanoSans&maptype=toner&lang=en&hash_bookmark=true&height=650' width='100%' height='650' frameborder='0'>


iCloud Reality

This post is a follow-up to both the WWDC 2011 keynote and my previous post, in which I used iCloud as inspiration for some “cloud computing” dreams.

“Whoa!”, you say, ”two posts about iCloud within 24 hours? This guy must really about iCloud!”

Actually, I don’t care about iCloud itself. Now that it’s been announced, I can say that I’ll welcome it, as a replacement for MobileMe and enhancement to the “iTunes ecosystem”. But it’s not that major a thing, in my mind.

Point is, I don’t blog because I really care about specific things. I blog because it’s fun to do.

In this case, it’s pretty easy to do. Nothing groundbreaking in this blogpost, but it’s a neat context for blogging, in my mind. Almost like a writing exercise. And a placeholder for further thoughts on “cloud computing”, Apple, and mobile devices. I do “care” about all of these things in the sense that I’m curious to see what might come out of them. But my universe probably won’t collapse if these things all take an unexpected turn.

Why don’t I blog about Android? Well, mostly because I don’t have an Android device and don’t plan on getting a smartphone or a new tablet in the foreseeable future. I do follow Google news (especially through TWiG but also through some generalist tech blogs, like TNW) and there are some things I find interesting, in what Google offers. But that’ll have to wait for another day. (I do have a blogpost in mind for “What I Like about Google”.)

So… iCloud, eh?

Well, pretty much as rumours predicted, overall. Which is neither awe-inspiring nor so disappointing. I’m looking forward to some features which made it in and somewhat lukewarm about several of the things they announced. Not overwhelmed but not really underwhelmed either. So I’m “whelmed”.

An announcement about which I have positive feelings isn’t about iCloud: Mac OS X Lion will be available for download in July, at a reasonable price (30$). Since my 2006 Mac mini doesn’t support Lion, the news may not impact me that directly but it does mean that I’ll be able to install it on the MacBook of the person about whom I really care. And it might mean that we’ll see updated Mac minis in July. So, timing should be good, for me, in terms of getting a new computer before the semester starts.

Speaking of Lion, I’m rather puzzled by the announcement (rumoured a few days ago) that the server version will come at an extra cost. Guess I had misunderstood a previous announcement that Server was included in the normal version of Mac OS X to mean that it would be included at no extra cost. During the keynote, it was announced that Server would be an App Store purchase, though no price was mentioned. Looking on Apple’s site as I’m writing this, I find out that Mac OS X Lion Server will cost 50$. Not free, but not as bad as I feared, until a minute ago.

Now, about the iCloud and iOS5 announcements…

One thing I find remarkable (and which also applies to Mac OS X Lion) is how precisely rumours end up matching the actual announcement. For a company which is known as being so tightly sealed, it’s kind of unexpected. What’s more awkward, though, is that it doesn’t seem to have that much effect on dulling down audience reactions. Almost everything which was announced today has at least been rumoured yet the crowd was very enthusiastic at some points. Now, it’s a very specific crowd, which comprises a number of die-hard Apple enthusiasts (after all, their business may depend on Apple, to a fairly large extent). But I must admit I was surprised by some of these reactions, especially pertaining to iOS5. I can understand that the new notification system may be a big “wow factor”, to many of these developers. It might help them make their apps more useful. But I was genuinely surprised that tabbed browsing got such a positive response. I personally don’t miss tabbed browsing on iOS4 and almost wish we could keep the current approach to switching between preloaded pages. But members of the audience seemed quite happy about the change. Of course, their reactions are shaped by many factors, as in a tv show. But I felt like one who didn’t get the joke. “So, y’all wanted tabbed browsing, all this time? Ok…”

The announcement of a PC-free feature of iCloud was quite similar. I understand that it’s pretty neat, and it does correspond to a lot of things Gruber has been saying for a while. But how big of a deal is it, for developers? What am I missing, here? I’m sure I’ll be told, soon enough. Or the audience reaction was exaggerated because of other factors.

Speaking of Gruber. A statement of his, made before the keynote, got some people thinking (including myself):

Don’t think of iCloud as the new MobileMe; think of iCloud as the new iTunes.

I’d say it’s a bit of both. While iCloud does make iTunes optional in some cases, it doesn’t completely negate any need for it. On the other hand, iCloud will officially replace MobileMe.

What’s happening to MobileMe?
Effective June 6, 2011, if you had an active MobileMe account, your service has been automatically extended through June 30, 2012, at no additional charge. After this, the MobileMe service will no longer be available.

What will happen to the content I have on MobileMe?
Apple has announced a new service called iCloud which will be available this fall and free for iOS 5 and OS X Lion users.

Sounds to me like as direct a replacement as possible. And it makes all the sense in the world. No news on “Find My iPhone”, but I’d be surprised (and disappointed) if it were abandoned, the way eCards were abandoned in the transition from .Mac to MobileMe.

Not that Gruber was wrong or that his advice was misleading. It’s just that MobileMe users are directly impacted. As one of those rare people who purchased a MobileMe license since the iPad came out, I do welcome the news. If this hadn’t been announced, I probably wouldn’t have renewed my MobileMe license (due at the end of this month). So the timing is right, for me. While it was expected, based on rumours, it’s a “classy move”.

It must also mean that Apple isn’t finding much value in selling MobileMe, anymore. One might say that iCloud is more valuable as a selling point for iOS5 and OS X Lion devices than MobileMe was as its own revenue stream. We’ve heard from Apple Store employees (and I heard from other people dealing with Apple retail) that Apple was pushing MobileMe whenever it could. In this sense, the change is clueful.
In fact, there’s something about free, in this case. Now that MobileMe is free, I might actually start using it more.
As mentioned in my last post, I haven’t been making intensive or extensive use of MobileMe. I did use the “Find My iPhone” on occasion and the synchronization has been somewhat helpful, despite the fact that I use Gsync. But I wasn’t really using the other features, including email, gallery, and iDisk. Now that I know how it’ll fit in the coming year, I find it somewhat easier to “invest” in these tools.

That’s the rational argument, and it might not actually hold so well. For one thing, we still don’t know how seamless the transition to iCloud will be. And some MobileMe features have been left undiscussed. So, counting on the MobileMe to iCloud transition might be ill-advised.

There are some less-rational motivations behind my possibly-intensified use of MobileMe. One is that I feel almost an obligation to give free services a chance. And, though MobileMe itself hasn’t changed, doing more with it might give me a taste of what’s is likely to happen with iCloud.

Although some MobileMe features have not been mentioned in terms of iCloud.

One glaring omission is iWeb. As mentioned before, the web publishing application hasn’t been updated along with other parts of iLife (most notably, iPhoto, iMovie, and GarageBand). Unlike the other pieces of the iLife suite, it almost requires MobileMe to provide significant value (although you can also publish via FTP). I was daydreaming about iCloud becoming a webhost and it’s conceivable that Apple might follow that route at some point in the distant future. But, right now, it sounds like iWeb’s value proposition has become less interesting than it ever was. It’s possible that iWeb-created sites maintained through MobileMe will continue to be supported beyond the transition to iCloud. But it sounds unlikely.

And there might be a missed opportunity, here. As is often the case, with technology companies, iWeb sounds like an afterthought, for Apple. Maybe it’ll be like Apple TV and go from a “hobby” to something closer to the central strategy. But I doubt it. In part because iWeb doesn’t really fit in the “Digital Hub” vision which, as Jobs finally reminded us, has been central for Apple for the better part of the last decade.

Speaking of the digital hub… In a way, it was a very telling part of today’s presentation. It does demonstrate a clear vision for something which been carried out through iLife and the whole “iTunes ecosystem”. The picture of a Mac surrounded by PDas, digital cameras, and other peripherals requires some adjustment, to accommodate for iOS devices and wireless connections. Bul the idea has remain relatively unchanged, as we prepare for the so-called “post-PC era”.

Yet this “digital hub” notion shows some weaknesses, in terms of imagining the future of “cloud computing”, the alleged target of the iCloud announcement. Not that I have any idea whether or not Apple will succeed “in the cloud space”. I wouldn’t bet either way. But Apple’s “digital hub” shows a few signs of constraining the imagination.

For one thing, hubs are a rather specific way to organize things. The laptop or desktop computer is now “just a device”, and there’s a lot of insight hidden in this conception of “devices”. But it’s also more hub than spoke. Regardless of how important Apple products have been for road warriors, the notion is still that users have specific places where some devices remain. Several parts of the iCloud announcement make it possible to overcome this model, but I’d argue that the model remains dominant in the minds of many Apple employees and customers.

A better way to put it, perhaps, is that Apple is transitioning away from the digital hub model into a much more fluid structure. Addressing the digital hub model might have been a way to pave the road to an ethereal future, with “cloud computing ” and seamless integration of multiple devices. But I have my doubts. For instance, description of WiFi iTunes Sync in the iOS5 video has a mention of physical proximity to a machine running iTunes. It confuses me a bit, since it also sounds like it’ll be possible to use iOS5 devices without any access to a machine running iTunes, It might be that the description is inaccurate (you can sync your devices through “iTunes in the cloud”, wherever you are). Or the two types of synchronization are different, in that one pairs your iOS5 device with a given Mac or PC while the other lets you use your iOS5 with iCloud content. But I tend to link my confusion to a clash between two models. It’s more likely that I just “don’t get it”, and it all makes sense in the grand scheme of things. I’m fine with that.

In other words, feel free to disagree. Maybe the iCloud announcement means that the “digital hub” era is over and that what comes next bears only limited resemblance to the Mac surrounded by peripherals. Or the restrictions are more important than I imagine and the “cloud” is but a surface enhancement to what remains a decidedly “hub-centric model”.

Time will tell.

One part of the iCloud announcement that I find positive is about document sync. I recently started using iWork and iWork.com as a significant part of my workflow. Several things are missing from this, including an easy way to synchronize documents across iOS and Mac OS X devices. Unless I misunderstood, it sounds like iCloud will make this process seamless. I have my doubts as to how it might work in practice (synchronization is a relatively difficult problem, when there are multiple instances of the same context). But it might still be a time-saver, for me. In a way, it’s almost like taking away a pain point.

At the same time, no mention has been made of collaboration, in any way, shape, or form. As it stands, iWork.com makes it possible to share documents but collaboration is extremely limited in that case. In fact, unless I’m mistaken, it’s not even possible to allow public downloads of these documents. Unlike, say, Slideshare. In this sense, GDocs is very likely  remain a much more desirable solution for any form of collaboration. And since GDocs doesn’t handle iWork documents so well, sharing document for further collaboration will long remain a sticking point,in my workflow.

What’s more promising, though, is document sync as a replacement for some uses of Dropbox. I’m sure the GoodReader developer(s) have been giving iCloud a lot of thought. After all, the app can already use iDisk, Dropbox, WebDAV, GDocs, and other “cloud services”. I also hope that Jesse Grosjean at Hog Bay Software will add iCloud to TaskPaper sync, along with Dropbox. And I’m guessing that other apps will spring out, making good use of iCloud’s document sync. The WWDC crowd sounded fairly enthusiastic about this. And I’m sure advantages over iDisk are painfully obvious to several people. I’m mostly glad that it’ll be available for free to all iOS5 and OS X Lion users.

(By the by… I’m assuming that iCloud will be free to iOS5 users without Mac OS X machines and to OS X Lion users without iOS devices. It’d be very surprising but also very frustrating if it weren’t the case. Official mentions I’ve seen didn’t address this and I’ve learnt to be wary of assumptions about that which “goes without saying”, in Apple announcements.)

(Also by the by… Is “OS X Lion” the official name of the OS? Sounds like it. Not sure it’s significant but it could make sense in a “post-PC era”, with the Mac as “just another device”.)

Something iCloud doesn’t do, in this context, is completely replace Dropbox, in most use cases. For one thing, with documents in general as with iWork documents specifically, no mention has been made of collaboration and it sounds like it won’t really be possible to use iCloud to share documents efficiently.

This is where I would have let my mind wander, despite the fact that Apple has a spotty track record in collaboration. Basically, iCloud makes me wish for an integrated solution which combines: real-time collaboration in document editing (GDocs), seamless document sharing (Dropbox), online identity (Twitter/Facebook), and fluid group formation (Apache Wave, née Google Wave). Apple wasn’t going to create this, but the iCloud announcement was a context for me to think about such things.

Google is much more likely to do something like this. GDocs already has many of the required features, and we keep hoping that the “social Web” projects grouped under the “Google Me” label will benefit Google products more generally. But there seems to be an arbitrary separation between work collaboration and “social features”, for some reasons. So I’m not holding my breath. I’m just dreaming of an openly available solution making it even easier to collaborate with diverse people in diverse contexts.

Anyhoo… Back to the keynote.

An intriguing announcement during the iOS5 section was News Stand. It sounds like it’s mostly about the distribution mechanism but I wonder if it may not also mean that Apple is giving publishers some tools to make it easier to create iOS content. Apart from Apple’s relationship with publishers (which sounds more lovey-dovey than some publishers’ rhetoric makes us believe), there’s something about content creation that I really wish could be put in the hands of normal individuals.

In a way, it goes back to the iWeb issue. The rest of iLife can be quite useful, in terms of “user-generated content”. But given the number of professional, amateur, and would-be developers using Apple devices, one might expect some content creation tools, especially in terms of Web content. Tumult Hype is a neat example of an app which could be part of the content creator’s arsenal. But I could just imagine some Apple-crafted software app to handle Web content the way other contents are handled in GarageBand and Logic Studio; iPhoto and Aperture; iMovie and Final Cut Studio. iPhoto is the only one of these which was addressed in the keynote. But they could all be part of a broader strategy, helping people get creative and share their creativity. Given that something as basic as WYSIWYG HTML is very difficult on iOS, the lack of Apple-built Web tools becomes something of a thorn.

Speaking of “user-generated content”… Photo Stream was announced, as part of iCloud. Apart from “iTunes in the Cloud”, it’s one of the biggest sections of the iCloud feature set. Problem is, it’s pretty much a blindspot, for me. I might not be the only one, judging yet again from audience reactions during the keynote. But I’m specifically immune to enthusiasm about photo-related features.

I mean, I’m sure Photo Stream can become very popular. It’s almost stereotypical as the kind of feature which gets “normal people” excited. And by “normal people” I don’t mean non-geeks. I mean people who react positively to pictures. I just don’t have the same relationship with anything visual. I rarely use my phone or iPod touch’s cameras. When I do, it’s mostly about documenting something (à la Evernote) or scanning a QR/barcode. So Photo Stream is wasted on me.

The one feature I was possibly most excited about is one which wasn’t mentioned but that I still think might be part of the iCloud reality: OTA podcasts. I listen to a number of podcasts and synchronization remains an issue. It’s the main (though not single) reason I connect my iPod touch to my Mac mini. I’d really benefit from being able to synchronize podcasts while “on the road”, using any reliable WiFi connection. To be honest, if it’s not included in iCloud/iOS5, I’ll be disappointed. Not to the point of abandoning the platform. But I admit that my expectations are that it’ll happen, and I see it as relatively important.

Much of it is a convenience feature, as I won’t have to go back to my “home base” just to get updated podcasts. But it may change my relationship to said podcasts, as I’ll be getting them more regularly, the way I’m now able to follow a large number of blogs using Reeder and Instapaper. Problem is, podcasts aren’t the type of content iCloud will host and it’s possible that the omission from the keynote was purposeful. Five years after transforming iTunes into the dominant “podcatcher”, it’s possible that Apple may be marginalizing podcasts in a rather serious way. I sure hope the opposite is true, and there’s a lot which could be done to make podcasts (and iTunes U) shine in the iCloud ecosystem.

But, again, I’ve been learning not to get my hopes up.

iCloud Dreams

Got lots more to blog, including something about “received knowledge”. And a list of things I love about Google. (I’m also getting started on “logical punctuation”, as you may already be noticing…)

But, at the risk of attracting trolls and Apple haters, I thought I’d post some notes from a daydreaming session. In some ways, it’s easier to write than the rest. And it’s more “time-sensitive”, in that my thoughts will likely sound very silly, very soon.

But I don’t care.

So, yes, this post is about iCloud, which will be officially unveiled in a few hours. No, it doesn’t mean that I expect anything specific from iCloud or that I trust Apple to deliver something awesome.

Contrary to what some people seem to think, I’m no Apple fanboi. I use a number of Apple products and I find several of them to be close to the ideal in my workflow, but I don’t have any sort of deep involvement in “the Cult of Mac”, Apple Inc., AAPL, or even Apple-focused development. I use the tools and like them, but I don’t think Apple will save us any more than will Facebook, Dell, Google, Amazon, Twitter, HP, or Microsoft.

[Automattic, on the other hand… 😉 ]

So, back to iCloud…

According to many, “cloud computing” (whatever that means) is a domain in which Apple has been relatively weak. I tend to share that opinion, despite the fact that a number of tools that I use have to do with either “the cloud”, Apple, or both. What might give trolls and haters some ammo is that I do have a MobileMe subscription. But there’s a lot I dislike about it and the only features I really find valuable are “over-the-air” syncing (henceforth “OTA”) and “Find My iPhone”. And since I use GSync on my iPod touch, MobileMe’s OTA isn’t that incredibly important. Depending on what iCloud may be, my MobileMe renewal (which comes up in a few days) could be a very hard sell. I don’t regret having it as it did help me retrieve my iPad. But it’s rather expensive if it’s the only thing it does. (Then again, so is insurance of any kind, but I digress…)

So, I’m no MobileMe poweruser. Why would I care about iCloud?

In some ways, I don’t. Or, at least, I didn’t. Until very recently, though I saw rumours about Apple’s new “cloud services”, I was only vaguely intrigued about it. I did think that it might solve my MobileMe issue. But I treated these rumours with a lot of skepticism and a rather low level of interest.

Yet, today, iCloud has been giving me a drift-off moment. Like Android did, at some point.

It’s not that I have predictions to make about iCloud. I’m not even speculating, really. But it got me to think. And, I admit, I enjoy thinking.

Without further ado (about nothing), my fanciful thoughts stemming from a short daydreaming session about iCloud…

The main thing people seem to be expecting  (based on rumoured negotiations with music publishers) is a music streaming service similar to Music Beta by Google or a digital file storage service similar to Amazon Cloud Drive. Both of these are quite neat and I could see myself using something like this. But it’s not exactly what makes me dream. While iTunes integration might make Apple’s version of a music streaming service somewhat more useful than the others. Besides, rumours have it that, through agreements with the recording industry, iCloud might sync music without requiring long uploads. It’s quite possible that this only works with tracks purchased on iTunes, which would upset those whose expectations are high, but could already be useful to some.

Where I’m beginning to drift off, though, is when I start thinking about OTA for podcasts. It’s been high up on my wishlist, as a feature, and you might say that it’s a pet peeve with iOS devices for podcatching. Having to sync my iPod touch to my main desktop just to have my podcast list up-to-date is a major hassle. Sure, there are apps which sync podcasts OTA. Problem is, they can’t add podcasts to the native iOS media player, which is a dealbreaker in my case. (As absurd as it may sound to others, one reason this is a dealbreaker is that I now listen to everything at doublespeed. Hey, it’s my podcast library and I listen to it as I want, ok?)

So, OTA podcasts would constitute a significant enhancement to my experience. Nothing absolutely required and possibly not that significant for others, but it’d really help me in more ways than one could imagine.

Thing is, syncing my iPod touch isn’t just about podcasts, even though podcatching is my main motivation to sync. After all, I don’t listen to podcasts yet I still sync my iPad. So, what else? Well, backing up is the main other thing, and it might be one of the core reason for Apple’s implicit insistence on syncing. That’d be classic Apple. Data loss can be such a big problem that they’d “do what they can” to prevent users from losing data. Far from perfect, in my experience (I ended up having some problems when I lost my “iTunes Library” file). And quite annoying when it meant that the sync would take a very long time to finish at precisely the point when I’m trying to leave home. But a classic Apple move, even in the way Apple haters may mean it.

So OTA synchronization of the whole iOS device, and not just podcasts or music, would be a definite plus, in this perspective. If it does end up coming with iCloud, it’d provide support to the idea that the tethering of iOS devices to desktop computers is really about ensuring that users back up their devices…

…and stay up to date. Firmware updates aren’t that frequent, but they’re probably a major part of the equation for Apple.

But not so much for me. If OTA podcasts were available, I’d still sync my iOS devices on occasion, through whatever means necessary. In fact, were I to use an Android device, a backup app would be essential, to me. So still not much dreaming from the backup aspect of iCloud.

Although… Sync is much broader than preventing device-specific data loss and making sure your device has the latest firmware.

For one thing, it does encompass some of the aforementioned OTA functionalities in MobileMe. Useful, but still not dreamworthy.

We get a bit closer to a “dream come true” if we talk about Xmarks, a bookmark-sync service originally meant for Firefox.  Sure, it sounds incredibly prosaic. But OTA bookmarks would open up a wide range of possibilities. This is about a qualitative difference from going OTA. In the case of backups, it’s about avoiding an annoyance but, arguably, it’s not really about changing something major about our behaviour. (Then again, maybe it is, with people who don’t back their devices up.) Point is, with something as simple as bookmarks, OTA is “disruptive”. At least, it gets me to daydream. One reason is that:

…no matter how fundamental they have been for the Web, links and bookmarks have yet to find their full value.

Hmm… Ok, perhaps a bit hyperbolic… So let me rephrase…

There’s still a lot to be done with URLs and, as simple as they are, I love thinking about links. Maybe I’m just obsessed with URLs.

As it so happens, I have a full list of thoughts about “link processing” and I’ve already blogged about related topics (on more than one occasion, in different contexts, going back to relatively early blogposts). And I even think social science can help.

I mean, think about it! There’s so much you can do, with links! Much of it is obvious, but I’d argue, rarely discussed. For instance, it’s very clear that we can post links pretty much anywhere. Doing so, we’re sharing their “content”. (In a semiotic sense, links are indices. I wish we can move from the “semantic Web” to the “semiotic Web”. But that’s another issue.) Sharing a link is the basic act of the social Web. It’s so obvious and frequent that it seems not to require discussion”.

Another obvious thing about links: we can measure the number of times they’re followed. In 2011, more than thirty years after hypertext has been introduced as a stable concept, much of the Web’s finances still relies on “clickthroughs”. Seems important.

And there’s a lot of processing which can be done with URLs: shortening them, adding them to “to do” lists, checking them for validity, keeping them in link libraries, archiving their “content”, showing them as external or internal links, preventing them from “rotting away”, showing the wordcount or reading time of the item they “target”, display them as QR codes, abuse them, etc.

As you can notice, it’s easy to get me on a tangent simply thinking about URLs. What’s this have t’do with iCloud, you ask? Probably not much, in terms of the actual service which will be announced at Moscone. But I’ve been dreaming about iCloud as a way to integrate Diigo, Instapaper, Delicious, reddit, digg, Slashdot, StumbleUpon, Spurl, The NethernetXmarks

Hey, I told you I was dreaming! Something as simple as managing, processing, sharing, and archiving links in iCloud could lead to just about anything, in my imagination.

And speaking of Xmarks… It’s now owned by Lastpass, a company which focus on password management. IMHO, some Lastpass-like features could make their way in diverse products, including iCloud. Is this far-fetched? Possibly. But secure handling of passwords can be a major issue in both of Apple’s new operating systems (Mac OS X Lion and iOS5). From “keychains” to SSO, there’s a lot of work to be done which relates to password management, in my mind.

Which leads me to think about authentication in general and the rumours about “deep Twitter integration in iOS 5”. (Not directly related to iCloud, but who knows?) Again, something which can send me (and others) on drift-off moments. What if this integration suddenly made iOS devices more useful in terms of social networking services? Something to ponder, if one has a propensity for pondering.

At the same time, given the relative lack of activity on iTunes Ping, I wouldn’t bet on Twitter integration having that major an impact by itself. Not unlike Google, Apple has a hard time making a mark on the social Web. Now, if Twitter integration does connect to everything else Apple does, it could lead to interesting things. A full-fledged online identity? Access to contacts for not only messaging and photo sharing but for collaboration, group management, and media sharing? Not betting on any of this, but it could be fun. Again, not specific to iCloud, but quite related to “The Cloud”. If Twitter integration is deep enough, in iOS 5, it’d be possible to use iOS devices for “cloud computing”, getting further into the “post-PC era”.

An iCloud feature which is expected by several people, is something like an OTA version of the “iTunes file sharing” feature in iOS. Several apps (especially Apple’s own apps) use iTunes and a USB cable to share files. It was a welcome addition to iTunes 9.1 but it’s rather inconvenient. So many other apps rely on Dropbox for file sharing.

Which leads me to dream about iCloud as a replacement for Dropbox. Sounds extremely unlikely that it’ll have the full Dropbox feature set, especially if one thinks about the “Pro 50” and “Pro 100” plans on Dropbox. But I dream of the day when Apple’s iDisk will compete with Dropbox. Not that I’m convinced it ever will. But it’d make Apple’s devices all the more useful if it did.

Something similar, which isn’t frequently discussed directly, in connection with iCloud rumours, but which would rock: Mozy– or Carbonite-style backup, for Mac OS X machines. Sounds very unlikely that Apple will ever offer something like this but, as crazy as it may sound, the connection between Time Capsule and iCloud would be great if it went that far. From a user’s perspective, the similarities between Time Machine backup and “backing up in the cloud” (à la Mozy/Carbonite) are quite obvious. The advantages of both are clear. And while no hardware announcement is supposed to make its way to the WWDC 2011 keynote, I’d give the Time Capsule some consideration if it provided me with the equivalent of what I currently have with Mozy. Not to mention that Mozy has already sparked some drift-off moments, in me, before they announced their new plans. What if I could have a single service which combines features from Mozy, Time Machine, Dropbox, and YouSendIt?

I even think about the possibilities in terms of web hosting. As it stands, MobileMe does allow for some Web publishing through the iWeb application in its iLife suite. But iWeb has never been a major effort for Apple and it hasn’t been seen a significant update in quite a while. What if iCloud could become a true webhost just like, say… iWeb.com? (Semi-disclaimer: I won a free account with iWeb.com, last Fall, and I host some sites there. I also know some of the people who work there…)

Yet again, I don’t expect this to happen. It’s not speculation, on my part. It’s a daydream.

The reason this makes me dream is that I find all these things to be related and I wish they were integrated more seamlessly. Something about which Apple haters may not care much is the type of integration represented by iTunes. As clunky as iTunes may be, in some respects, it’s quite a success in terms of integrating a lot of different things. In fact, it probably overextended its reach a bit too much and we need to replace it. Apple needs to replace iTunes and we should also replace iTunes in our lives.

Like Gruber, I end up thinking about iCloud in relation to iTunes more than in relation to MobileMe. But I also dream about the ideal cloud service, which would not only sync and backup files between iOS devices, hundreds of millions of iTunes store accounts, and Macs, but replace several of the services for which I’m paying monthly fees.

Here’s to dreaming…

Other parts of this crazy, iCloud-infused daydream, in notes form: