iCloud's 5 Stickiest Bits
Some have criticized iCloud as a lock-in technology that shackles users to the platform and forcefully prevents them from switching to another. But iCloud is no more a lock-in than any app or service for any other OS. What iCloud is really about is stickiness -- it's going to make users actually want to stay by making data sharing so convenient, easy and effortless.
The most important thing to know about Apple's new iCloud service is that it will make being an Apple device owner simpler -- and perhaps more delightful -- than ever before. Of course, its basic premise is this: iCloud will store and sync your music, photos, apps, calendars and documents.
For owners of iPhones, iPads and iPod touches, iCloud will be undeniable benefit. At the same time, other Apple product consumers will benefit, and Apple competitors will need to break out their umbrellas and weather a bit of rain while they figure out how to communicate how and why their products and services are better.
I'm definitely not saying that Apple's competitors don't have some great products, I'm just saying that iCloud will significantly raise the stakes in capturing consumers in 2011. Naysayers look at iCloud as a lock-in service, but it's more clearly a sticky bit of consumer genius. It is not anymore a lock-in than an app for any particular OS is a lock-in. The bottom line is, my friends who own Android phones are far more likely to upgrade to new Android phones than they are to buy anything else. The apps, the accounts, and the services are all sticky. iCloud will take sticky to a whole new level. Here are five reasons why.
1. It's Free
Apple surprised quite a few people by instantly making its iCloud service ubiquitous to all of Apple's millions of iOS devices and Macs that upgrade to Apples new Mac OS X Lion release this summer. Instead of charging for iCloud like it did with MobileMe, Apple will guarantee instant adoption.
When you think about it, Apple's ability to keep its customers on recent releases of all of its operating systems is a great method for allowing the company to innovate with new products and services that drive its entire ecosystem forward. This is desirable for developers, advertisers and anyone who produces an app for iOS.
2. Easily in Sync, Finally
It's important to note that it's not exactly difficult to sync your iPhone with your Mac or PC. The integration with iTunes is pretty darn good, but it's clearly stuck to a physical cable -- you have to plug it in. When you have more than one iOS device however, it gets complicated fast.
A family, for example, has iPod touches, iPads and iPhones, and they all can buy apps and music and movies that can be shared with one another. Before iCloud, this is clearly a pain in the butt because you have to sync these devices with the correct iTunes accounts and the correct Mac or PC. If you try to do it while logged into the wrong account in iTunes, you end up with a confusing mess. It's all definitely possible, but it's far too hard.
Apple is fixing all of this with iCloud. If a family member buys a song on an iPad, that song can also download and listened to through iCloud on an iPod touch. You don't have to sync each of these devices with the same Mac, for example.
It sounds simple, but the premise in action will be quite powerful. When you extended to sharing things like photos, it becomes even more powerful. Sure, you can MMS or e-mail the photo, but I can see plenty of situations where you would like to see a bunch of photos shared and moved to all of a family's devices. (Obviously, some congressmen will need to be very careful with how they implement the sharing of photos through iCloud.)
3. Easier Restores
There are so many reasons why being able to save all your core iOS information in iCloud is cool, but the one that will bring a lot of goodwill to consumers is the ability to easily restore their iOS devices. I know one iPhone user who had a speaker fail in her iPhone, and after Apple replaced it, she was pleasantly surprised that almost everything was right back on her phone after I restored it from her Mac. When her new iPhone had a tiny speck of dust lodged inside the lens of the camera, it wasn't a big deal for her because she knew that Apple would replace it and she could restore her iPhone with minimal hassle.
That is really cool for customers. iCloud amps this benefit up by keeping content more current than before, and making it possible to restore an iPhone without needing to physically connect it to a Mac or PC.
Restores through iCloud get even better when you consider that many iOS device users rarely physically sync their devices with computers. I know quite a few people who go not weeks but months between syncs, and when they finally do sync, they can't even remember which of their family PCs or Macs they used to set up their iOS device anyway. Sounds crazy, I know, but I get the feeling this is fairly common. The fact is, I know several people where the computer just isn't their central computing experience -- the iPhone is.
4. iCloud Will Encourage More Apple Sales
I know a guy who was considering an iPad 2 to replace his netbook because it was so cool on its own, but then he thought through the issue with me as an advisor. The bottom line? The netbook handles most of his movie and Web browsing needs, but not his app needs. However, he didn't want to shell out hundreds of dollars to replace something he already had (the netbook). The answer? A smartphone. I recommended an iPhone or an Android phone. He choose an iPhone 4.
The tipping point? His wife and daughter have iPod touches. With an iPhone, he can FaceTime with them easily as well as share apps and minimize his tech integration struggles. iCloud takes this sort of "Apple-Powered Home" option to a whole new level.
5. Third-Party Apps Can Work With iCloud
The hidden killer feature in iCloud will be the ability for iOS app developers to build their apps so they can utilize the storage and syncing features iCloud. Because it's free and ubiquitous to all iOS 5 devices, developers will get a least-common-denominator cloud feature. The success of their app, for example, won't necessarily rely on a less commonly used third-party cloud solution. There's plenty of happy Dropbox customers, for example, but what percentage of iOS device owners have Dropbox accounts?
All in all, iCloud will be incredibly sticky, and while Apple will face rising competition from everyone from Google to white box tablet manufacturers, I think it's going to become harder than ever to dislodge happy Apple consumers from their iOS-based lives.