Full-blown Apple dog-and-pony-show keynote events are reliably exciting because they always feature one of two things. You’re familiar with the kind where a shiny new piece of hardware like the iPad 2 is shown off for the first time, illuminated by spotlights on a softly under-lit table. It’s all very photogenic but the real Tabasco comes in those rare events when Apple is ready to announce where it’s taking itself and its users over the next several years. Monday, in a marathon two-hour presentation before thousands of Macintosh, iPad, and iPhone developers, Apple showed off the new edition of MacOS. It’ll be available next month for just $29 and includes loads of basic tweaks to how Macs and their users interact with apps, files, and workspaces.
They also gave iOS 5 its first public demo. Suffice to say that Apple has gotten tired of hearing Google and other Android boosters make the same (and very correct) complaints about iOS year after year and has finally fixed things like the iPhone’s clumsy notifications system, weak e-mail client, slow camera app, and its over-reliance on your desktop computer for things like initial setup, installing OS updates, and syncing data. But these were just “next logical step” announcements. With those out of the way, Steve Jobs (who had disappeared from the stage after welcoming the audience to the show) returned for what was clearly the main event: iCloud. On the surface, Apple is just the third major consumer tech company to pull cloud services into their product spotlight in 2011. Observers who thought that the company would just introduce cloud services to allow iTunes to compete with Amazon and Google’s cloud music services clearly don’t know the company very well.
Yes, iCloud greatly enhances the music features of iTunes, iOS devices, and iPods. As with Google Music, you have one music library that syncs automatically with all of your desktop and mobile devices. Just like Amazon Cloud Player, music purchases that you make in the iTunes store instantly go to every library and devices associated with your store account, and you can also redownload anything you’ve ever purchased (including apps, interestingly). “But what about those hundreds of CDs I ripped?” Unlike Google Music, which requires you to upload your music files to their servers, iCloud gives you the option of just having iTunes scan your library. The service will match your content to high-quality 256Kbps iTunes tracks that Apple already has on its servers, and sync those copies to your other devices. The whole process takes minutes instead of the days you’d spend uploading things to Google Music, and it costs $25 a year for libraries of unlimited size. Presumably that’s a license fee for the record companies.