Apple’s Half Approach To The ‘Clouds’

This weeks Apple announcement is not quite as cloud centric as you may think. Unlike Googles approach with having a chromebook browser with Linux running underneath and no local storage, Apple is still tethered to the device we use. It’s a world of ‘apps’.

In Google’s view, you do everything using a browser with no local storage or apps. In Apple’s world, while it has taken an elegant approach to its delivery mechanism and user experience bar none, it is still largely delivering a localized environment.

In Google’s world, chromebooks and other devices like these will still need to grapple with the unreliable world of ‘wireless’ connections – or sometimes lack of them and the consumers long time habit and behavior of wanting the content close by them, local.

With Apple’s announcement, they are positioning themselves to take full advantage of the ‘post’ PC world – that is they know that by 2013 (a scant 2 plus years away).

Gartner and others predict mobile phones and THEIR screens will be the No. 1 way we access the Internet to view the web. Here are some more rather startling mobile facts:

*82 percent of consumers have used their mobile phones in a store, 55 percent in a doctor’s office or hospital, 17 percent during a movie at the theater, 14 percent while flying on a plane and 7 percent during church service. Around 17 percent of mobile users have shown a clerk in a store a picture of a product on their mobile phone, saying in effect, “I want this please,” which is a new shopping behavior that is surprisingly being driven by men. 45 percent of users check their mobile devices first thing in the morning, according to InsightExpress.

*Research has determined that mobile advertising is four-to-five times more effective than online advertising, on average…due to various factors, including lack of clutter in mobile, typically one ad per page, and the mobile pages themselves typically do not have a lot of stuff going on—they tend to be very clean. Also, the proportion of the ad on a mobile screen is greater, so it gets more share of eyeballs.

My takeaway from these numbers is that we are steadily becoming a mobile and tablet world, not a PC one.

This is a world the Apple knows better than anyone and using iCloud, it has taken a very good shot at delivering a cloud experience with what really is a local one.  Apple is extending what Apple does best, its core strengths into the cloud. And this is simply the basic integration of Apple’s hardware and software – their elegant OS.  The major difference being it does not yet rely on the browser as the central driving force in the picture (Google’s chrome) rather in Apple’s view what they are giving us an elegant CMS or content delivery system that we manage.  Google is betting on its browser, and they too know its coming to the small screen, therefore, that’s why we are seeing the Android store downloadable app strategy they are pushing out..

Apple which supports its web apps in the App store will have a rude awakening one day as eventually everyone but them will play on a browser using HTML5, but for now Apple’s user experience is by far the best.  A good example of this is when you go to read GoogleNews on your iPhone using Safari and at the bottom of the screen a small box pops up saying ‘ if you want to access Google News, click here to put this app on your device’. If you agree, a small app-like icon gets created on your iPhone using HTML5 just as if you downloaded it through iTunes.

So, Apple IS a cloud player indeed, distributing its OS X online, supporting over the air updates, allowing iTunes to be streamed to any iOS registered device. And iTunes did something that neither Google nor Amazon has done – signed deals with the major music players for their content (video/films excluded for now). This allows us to avoid the time consuming process of uploading our music collection to iCloud (I think I have about 60gigs of files). We can purchase a subscription to Music Match for $24.99 year, and MM will mirror my music collection with the iTunes store – ALL of my music, not just iTunes purchased music. These tracks can now be streamed back to me from the cloud on any MacOS registered device.

However, unlike other pure cloud players, this isn’t a web based operation for all of this. Apple still is enabling core SDK kits (software development kits) for developers to build in access and API’s (application program interfaces) that will let developers integrate their own apps within Apple’s cloud.

To perhaps make this analogy clearer of why it is not a pure based cloud play, look at iTunes. Your music library stays right where it is, with YOU – MM provides software that identifies songs and tracks you have and purchases you made at iTunes against the vast iTunes catalog of music to support MM. All of this not really ‘cloud’ based, but still local.

For us users, the benefit is an elegant, easy intuitive way to sync our content between all of our tablets and mobile devices (Macs included). And this sync does include most other services and docs Apple’s got to offer, calendars, contacts, documents, online storage and photos.  This is far different than Google that has a true cloud offering using GoogleDocs where you store the document and edit in the clouds.  With Apple, you make changes locally and then those changes are synced to the cloud.

This method allows us to be far less vulnerable to the woes of the wireless world or lack of it at times. And, ultimately, it will keep us all purchasing not just apps but what Apple REALLY wants us to buy – newer iPads, newer iPhones and brand new Macs.  Apple is really in the hardware business, unlike Google that wants to drive everyone to the web on inexpensive chromebooks running Linux to see more advertising or Amazon that wants to drive purchases online. It a half hearted approach but it’s a damn elegant one and one that I am particularly enjoying because everything just works!

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Apple’s ‘iCloud’ Just Might Be Netflix’s Achilles Heel.

Apple took a long time to get the Internet. Geeks were still installing FTP clients and web browsers for years after Apple belatedly included TCP/IP and PPP to their OS and, when Apple finally did integrate the Internet into Mac OS, it was in a very tacked on kind of way. A browser, an app for making web pages, eventually a few vertical online stores. I think that’s all about to change tomorrow a the WWDC.

The upcoming ‘iCloud’ announcement will vault Apple into the music cloud business, pitted against Amazon and Google (and a few others, but they are the 900lb. gorillas in the room). Apple has been in the business of selling movies and music for a long time now. Far longer than Google and longer than Amazon, at least digitally (no physical plastic CD). Now they will announce ‘iCloud’.

There have been many guessing at what this will look like and include, and I’ll make a few guesses too and I’m sure not all of them will be correct. But its fun nonetheless to postulate. Netflix is unquestionably the king of movie rentals by far. They have the breadth of product, elegance of delivery online and a reasonable cost/subscription plan. Apple is the king of online movie ‘purchases’. Based upon the fact that Apple has been building out a $1B data center in maiden N.C. , it is more than possible that they have infrastructure to support ‘movie’ lockers. That is, you buy a movie and can now store that film remotely in your cloud ‘locker’. This is the one thing that Netflix (at the moment) can’t replicate very easily.

First, it does not have the infrastructure in place (at the least own the facility) even though they host through Amazon’s EC2.  Yes, they can build it out there, but it would be costly.  Second, to my knowledge ownership is a digital right that must be negotiated and exists separately from a pure rental right with the studios. Something that is NOT easy to get from the Hollywood majors – and I know because I’ve been there before several times before. And third, Netflix core business premise is rentals – it has never been the place we turn to purchase a film thereby making it even harder to shift consumer habits that so far lie with an Amazon or iTunes.

This IMHO, could be considered an Achilles heel for Netflix. Not that they couldn’t get here, but perhaps they will get here AFTER Apple does. And first mover advantage is HUGE online and especially in the entertainment space. An storing your movies is altogether another issue – especially once you begin storing your movies in a cloud. They are NOT easy to move (file size is 750megs -1gb or more compared to a typically small 4-5mb mp3 file) nor would you want to. Right now, people are complaining about how you need to upload your MUSIC files to Google or Amazon’s music cloud offering. Imagine what they’d be saying about uploading movies? Again, this is all a guess of mine. Some other thoughts and guesses about tomorrows announcement by Apple MIGHT be:

 

• Your Mac, Windows, or iOS device can sync with all or part of it in the same way that your iOS devices sync with your computer’s iTunes library today because your music library exists in the cloud now.

• Continuous syncing of iOS devices in real time. The implication is never having to plug your iPhone or iPad in to your computer again. You won’t need a computer to sync anymore.

• One login using your Apple account: On any Mac, sign in as a guest using your Apple account credentials and you’ll be brought to the same desktop you get on your personal machine. Files will be downloaded from the cloud (or your home network) on demand, and you’ll have access to all the apps you’ve purchased via the Mac App Store, downloaded and installed on-demand, and removed securely, along with your data, upon log-out.

• Play music on your mac, then with a tap shift the music to your iPhone when you’re on the go. A sizable portion of the playlist will quickly transfer over so there’s no reliance on continued wi-fi access or 3G streaming. A ‘cloud’ benefit.

Lion and iOS 5 will change the playing field for many. It will be interesting to find out exactly how Apple will do this and when tomorrow at WWDC (Worldwide Developer Conference). You can watch it live here on Monday, June 6th at 10am: http://www.macrumorslive.com/.

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