Apple just recently opened the floodgates to their new iCloud web apps, and in short, they’re easily some of the most impressive web apps online today. There was initially some speculation as to whether Apple was going to continue the tradition of MobileMe’s web apps and let you use iCloud online, or if they were going to only make iCloud work with OS X Lion and iOS 5 apps. The good thing is, there are iCloud web apps for sure, and they’re great. Unfortunately, they’re not quite ready for public consumption.
Dying to see what the new apps are going to look like, assuming nothing changed between now and when they’re fully released? If you’ve got an iCloud developer account, head over to iCloud.com, login, and check them out for yourself. We’ll wait. For everyone else, here’s a quick preview of what you can expect when
The iCloud Saga
A couple hours ago, after arriving back home from a trip, I saw online that the new iCloud web apps were ready for action, at least for some. I quickly went to iCloud.com in Safari on my iPad, only to be greeted by a message telling me that it was coming soon, or I could try the web apps on a Mac or PC. Nice. So, I booted up my netbook, opened Chrome, browsed to iCloud.com, and logged in with my standard Apple account. Of all amazing things, it worked. I’m in the habit of taking screenshots of almost everything new I do on the computer, and it worked out good this time, as only minutes later, it said I couldn’t login since I don’t have an iCloud Developer account.
With that short peek, though, I’m more excited than ever to get my hands on the final version of the iCloud web apps. They’re easily some of the most impressive web apps online right now, and they’re still in beta. The amazing thing is that they actually feel like real native apps, or more accurately, native iPad apps. The only web app I’ve ever used that came this close to feeling like a native app is Flow, and it’s close enough that people have assumed it was a native Mac app instead of a web app. The iCloud apps take it to the next level, complete with iOS-style notifications. They’re still powered by SproutCore, at least in part, which makes me think that more web apps should take advantage of it.So, when you first login to iCloud.com, you’ll sign in with your Apple ID, and then will be asked to add a bit more info. You can upload a picture directly by clicking the Add Photo box, and then scale it to size right in the iOS-style popover. No Flash needed for the upload, but that’s to be assumed from Apple. You might notice that Apple’s new love for linen textures has been brought over to iCloud.com. This time, it looks almost more like a blue corduroy background. Each part of the app has been intricately designed, and is incredibly responsive for a web app. The design is strongly influenced by the iPad. The popovers, delete buttons, menus, and more feel like they’re running on an iPad. So much so, in fact, that I instinctively reached out and touched my netbook screen without thinking to close a notifications popover. Sadly, iCloud doesn’t magically turn standard LCD screens into multitouch displays. Once you’ve added your picture, language, and time zone, you’ll be brought to the launchpad style app view. iCloud has 5 major apps right now: Mail, Contacts, Calendar, Find my iPhone (or iPod Touch or iPad), and iWork. When I tried to open Mail, it said I needed to create a new account from an iOS 5 or OS X Lion device first. Since that wasn’t an option, I tried to open Find my iPhone since I’ve used it on my iPad before. Turns out, it’s still located at me.com for now. The iWork apps turn out to simply be landing pages to let you know more about Keynote, Pages, and Numbers for iPad. I’ve used these apps on my iPad, and shared documents with Apple’s existing iWork.com service already, but you can’t use these web apps right now without iOS 5. Surely they’ll let you bring existing iWork.com documents into iCloud once it’s released, but it’s not there yet.
One interesting thing you can notice is that there’s a OS X Lion style disappearing scrollbar on the right of the page. Additionally, there’s a cloud icon in the top left of all of the iCloud apps so you can quickly get back to the launch screen.It wouldn’t have been too surprising if all of the apps had turned out to be landing pages, but instead, the full contacts and calendar experience were running. Contacts looks identical to the contacts app on the iPad and in OS X Lion, down to the bookmark on the top and the background book cover. You can add new contacts, organize them into groups, and tweak a few layout settings. Contacts include all the options that Apple’s other contact apps include, letting you save a wide range of info about the people you need to get in touch with. The popover settings pane was easily the nicest designed web app settings pane I’ve seen, though it did feel odd to see OS X style menus in Chrome on a PC. The Calendar app again looked just like Calendar in OS X Lion, down to the torn paper on the top of the calendar. Many designers have complained about the odd level of fake realism in both of these apps in Lion, and for better or worse, the exact same design has been brought to the web in iCloud. That said, it’s downright impressive to see this nice of a design in a web app, and it was especially impressive to see how nicely it performed. Many richer web apps can run slowly in most netbooks, but the iCloud apps felt like they were running native. iCloud Calendar included all the options you’d expect, including repeating events, reminders, notes, and more. It also included all of the standard calendar views, including the nice Day view that looks like a classic dayplanner. I think you should have been able to download an iCal file to subscribe to the calendar from the last toolbar button, but I didn’t think to try it out. At any rate, the interface was amazingly similar to Calendar on iPad or OS X Lion, and was so smooth you could easily forget you were using a web app. In fact, take your browser full screen, and it felt like a new OS X Lion fullscreen app. We can’t wait to see more web apps like this.
And … that’s all for now
That’s where our journey ends for now. Unlike Google, who left Gmail in beta-limbo for years, Apple tries to make sure it’s products are as polished as they can be before releasing them into the wild. That can definitely be frustrating at times, but as good as iCloud looks, we’re willing to wait. Apple’s web developers have done an amazing job bringing the full native app experience to the web. When we weren’t expecting full iCloud web apps, they’ve surpassed what anyone would have imagined.
We can’t wait to get our hands on the iCloud web apps again, and hopefully they’ll be released sooner rather than later. And, we do hope they leave the apps open for everyone, not just iOS and OS X device owners. It seems like it’s almost be a good advertisement for their other products to let everyone use the iCloud apps. Either way, it’s nice to see that Apple, along with the rest of the awesome web app developers in the world, continues to push the envelope of what web apps can do. ‘Tis an exciting time for the web!