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The missing piece

Jun 07 2011 21:35 Simon Dingle

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YOU won't often hear self-depreciation from Apple. In its most recent series of announcements the company has come out with guns blazing, kicking off its ceremonies with numbers that show how quickly its market share is growing and how inept its competitors are at keeping up.

But on Monday, CEO Steve Jobs admitted a flop.

Apple's MobileMe service was far from perfect and Jobs suggested as much in his announcement of the new iCloud suite.

Jobs is known for saying things like "We aren't perfect and we never claimed to be" in interviews, but an outright admission that an Apple product is less than perfect is rare. And, to be fair, that is usually because Apple's products are as good as gadgets get.

Cloud services are a different ballgame, however, and here Apple has had some catching up to do. Google, arguably Apple's chief competitor at the moment, has been inherently better at the online stuff and its Google Apps and associated online services are second to none. Its other rival, Microsoft, has made good inroads with its Windows Live and other cloud services.

Apple's new iCloud service is supposed to be its answer to the competition. It furthers the movement of personal computing "into the cloud" and allows your information to be synchronised between devices without you having to think about it.

Take a picture on your iPhone and it shows up automatically on your Mac or Windows PC. Your music collection is stored online and available on up to 10 of your devices. Third-party applications will also be able to incorporate iCloud support and your computer will backup information in Apple's cloud.

"Now I know what you're thinking," said Jobs as he announced iCloud, "Why should I believe them? They're the ones who brought us MobileMe.

"It wasn't our finest hour - let me just say that - but we learnt a lot from it."

Last year I met someone who worked on the MobileMe project at Apple. To say that Jobs was less than impressed with the outcomes would be an understatement. He apparently hated the product outright and told his development team as much.

MobileMe was expensive at $99 per year, per user, but I enjoyed my testing of it. It allowed you to keep your calendar, address book and email in sync across your computer, iPhone and other devices. It was not a perfect service, but it worked pretty well.

The only part I didn't like was the email, which was nowhere near as flexible as, for example, Google's Gmail which allows you to use your own domain name, among other features Apple didn't have.

If MobileMe was Apple doing cloud services badly, then I can't wait to see iCloud in action. It is not a new idea, but Apple seems to have put it together rather elegantly. We won't see it until around September, but it looks good in demonstrations.

And it is free of charge - which it has to be in order to be competitive.

Apple has spent billions on a data centre in North Carolina that will house the new service and the many petabytes of data it is sure to consume over time.

It has to work. Apple is very good at making products that people will do anything to get their hands on, but it has fallen behind in terms of bundled services.

Without a solid cloud play Apple can't offer its customers the same kind of flexibility available from Google or Microsoft. Time will tell if the company has what it takes.

-    Fin24

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