iCloud: A Great Syncing Solution for iOS Devices

Apple took the stage at San Francisco’s Moscone West for their opening keynote at WWDC this afternoon, announcing (or rather, reasoning in the first case) Mac OS X Lion, iOS 5 and their new service, iCloud.

iCloud is the successor to MobileMe, Apple’s previous set of web apps that synced directly with other devices, whether they be powered by Mac OS X, Windows or iOS. However, iCloud builds on those, providing a much more refined syncing environment for your devices in terms of both data and media.

MobileMe Lives On

The slick and beautiful web apps that existed in MobileMe live on in iCloud, but have become slightly more refined. One can still use iCloud for all his email, calendar and contact needs, with this data being accessible either from a web interface or via the sync to native applications on your Mac, PC or iOS-powered device.

iCloud works via push syncing, where delivery to or actions from a single device or sent to the cloud, and pushed down onto up to ten other devices that are set up to sync with that particular iCloud account. The entire process should be relatively simple and easy to access even when not syncing with a specific set of devices via the web applications that Apple have built up.

iCloud will sync your email, contacts and calendar to all your devices, Apple or otherwise.

Documents and Backup

Apple will also introduce online document syncing done automatically through their newly-refreshed set of iWork apps for iOS. When a user creates or edits a document on either their iPad or their iPhone, it is sent to the cloud and automatically synced with their other devices that run the same software. Unfortunately, however, Apple does not seem to be providing an online access to these applications to be able to edit them cross-platform which could have blown competitor services like Google Docs completely away.

Apple will also provide a cloud-based backup service that automatically, on a daily basis, syncs a device’s app and OS settings and media to the cloud so they can easily access it to backup their device, or in the scenario when they get another one (remind you of a certain Google-powered notebook?). iCloud will even remember your homescreen layout so, should your device need to be backed up, you don’t have to spend hours reorganising it just the way you liked it.

iWork users on iPad or iPhone can enjoy the benefits of automatic syncing in the background.

iTunes in the Cloud

We all had high hopes for Apple regarding iTunes’ integration into iCloud. Streaming was a term commonly associated with the countless rumours that breathed heavily on the pre-WWDC hype. We all had some sort of conception that Apple would allow streaming of music (possibly aided by a Time Capsule that would cache your cloud’s data for faster access when at home or work), but this did not eventually become apparent during Steve Jobs’ introduction of the service.

Instead, we saw this cloud-based syncing mechanism whereby a music track purchased on iOS one device, could be automatically downloaded onto another iOS device without an additional charge, similar to what they do with iBooks. Unfortunately, this is not what any of us were really expecting, which has cast some disappointment on Apple’s big announcement.

Personally, I expect Apple to announce streaming in the fall alongside the undoubted release of a string of new iPods and a new version of iTunes. It seems that this would be the perfect launching pad since this is the time Apple dedicates it’s focus to media products, rather than data and new devices in the earlier months. We’ll just have to wait and see.

Final Thought

iCloud looks like a fantastic service, but it’s not living up to what we expected. It shouldn’t really be judged on what we expected, but rather, what if offers. Luckily, it’s free and it’s coming in the fall so we should get a chance to do a more in-depth review later on.

What do you think of iCloud? Share your comments in the comments!