By Kelli B. Grant
Apple CEO Steve Jobs returned from medical leave yesterday to announce the company’s latest and greatest: a service called iCloud that will remotely store your music collection, photos and documents, and link all your Apple devices for access. The problem, analysts say, is that Apple’s offering isn’t so great for most consumers.
“It’s a huge failure,” says Dan Rayburn, a principal analyst with Frost & Sullivan. The only real winners are subscribers to Apple’s MobileMe service, which iCloud will replace. Those folks have been paying $99 a year to link contacts, calendars and email across Apple devices, features iCloud offers for free. (Apple did not respond to requests for comment.)
For the rest of us, iCloud offers little more than the convenience of not having to connect your iPod, iPad and iPhone to your computer in turn each time you download a new song.
Think of it this way: the whole point of storing your music, videos, photos and other files in a place other than your hard drive is anytime, anywhere access. That’s great if you want to avoid the time and hassle of transferring everything from your old computer/tablet/MP3 player/phone to the new, better still if the old gadget was stolen or bit the dust in an unexpected fall, taking with it all your carefully crafted playlists, irreplaceable vacation photos and tomorrow’s big work presentation.
iCloud, which stores your content on Apple’s servers, fails on several counts.
The service won’t work on all devices, which means owners of say, Blackberry smartphones or Android tablets can’t access the apps, points out Mike McGuire, a research vice president for Gartner. “I’m sure they’re hoping the halo effect of their various products all overlap, and someone sitting on the fence may look at [iCloud]… as a reason to buy a Mac,” he says. The service is a less-than-perfect backup even for Mac users, because it doesn’t store files created with non-Apple software like Microsoft Word. Digital photos are stored for just 30 days, and if you want everything in your iTunes library saved remotely — not just the purchased songs, books and apps — it’ll cost you $25 a year under the new iTunes Match service.
In comparison, the analysts say, most consumers would do well to take a look at more general back-up services like DropBox or SugarSync. They offer free accounts of 2GB and 5GB, respectively, and cover anything you’d care to upload.
Streaming — which analysts widely expected — might have allowed consumers more cost savings, because they could access content remotely without storing it on their devices, a la Netflix streaming video, Pandora radio or Google and Amazon’s respective takes on music in the cloud. With that approach, there’s no content without a steady Internet connection and the possibility of bigger cellphone data bills, but there’s no need to shell out for a bigger hard drive, either, McGuire says. (That’s $100 saved on a 16GB versus 32GB iPhone, for example, or a $164 difference between an 8GB and 64GB iPod touch.)
Apple is banking on the fact that easy management across devices will appeal to its audience of 225 million iTunes users, McGuire says. Ultimately, they want you to buy and store your music with them, cutting out Amazon and Google. “Apple has always been about the ownership, and the management of that content,” he says.
PayDirt readers, what’s your cloud plan?
(This story was updated to clarify which devices will not support iCloud.)