Apple unveiled the latest iCloud iteration at it’s Worldwide Developer Conference in San Francisco yesterday, beefing up the the fledgling service with new features that show for the first time that it too understands what post-PC means.
For a company that has put so much effort in to its advertising campaigns differentiating itself from the Windows PC, Apple has remained a surprisingly PC-like vendor. While Google, Amazon, and even Microsoft are offering platforms that seamlessly synchronize content and context across multiple dissimilar endpoints, Apple’s Mac, iPad and iPhone have remained resolutely bonded to a device-centric computing model offering only the most rudimentary information sharing capabilities, glued together with sealing wax, string and the very worst of integration engines, iTunes. Now though it is increasingly looking as if Apple will be able to turn its reality distortion field generator down a notch or two as it starts to roll out new services as part of its, until now disappointingly lackluster, iCloud service.
The new iCloud Tab feature being offered in Safari as part of the new Mountain Lion OS X update is arguably the first real post-PC offering that that Apple has introduced. iCloud Tab allows users to view all pages open across all subscribing Apple devices. Open a webpage on an iPad, and it is immediately shared with Safari. Clicking the iCloud Tabs button in Safari offers thumbnails of open webpages. Users can then use multitouch gestures to zoom in on a webpage to preview it before accessing it from Safari on OS X. There is no need to actively synchronize devices, it just works. iCloud as impressive as it is, is not “magical”. While webpages can be shared across devices, context (i.e., cookies etc.) is not transferable. It isn’t possible to start an e-commerce transaction on an iPhone then seamlessly transfer to Safari on OS X to complete the transaction, but its no less useful because of that.
At the same time as announcing iCloud Tab, Apple is introducing Documents in the Cloud. Perhaps not quite as slick as iCloud Tab, but clearly just as valuable, Documents in the Cloud will provide the ability to preview documents created on other devices, then edit them on an iPhone, for example, and immediately synchronize the changes back to the originating device. Apple is also making Notes, Reminders, and Messages available through iCloud. Notes and Reminders are not new, having been offered during the iCloud beta for developers in May, but the inclusion of Messages is new.
iCloud Tab still leaves Apple playing catch-up – Amazon was offering this kind of seamless multidevice integration with its Kindle bookmark synchronization capability ages ago. Amazon actually offers much more than this by seamlessly integrating social networking technologies that allow readers to share and access other readers comments and highlighted passages in the books they read. But at least with this Apple has shown that it can provide real post-PC technologies rather than just offering an alternative to Microsoft. More importantly, since launching iCloud in October 2011, Apple has managed to convince 125 million users to register for the service. With Mountain Lion offering iCloud built-in, this number will only grow. iCloud may not yet be firing on all cylinders, but with 125,000,000+ loyal customers, Apple cannot lose.
Even so, Apple still has a long way to go when it comes to freeing its users of device-centric limitations inherent in its current systems, but at least this shows that the success of iOS device sales has not blinded it to the opportunity that exists in the PC (and post-PC) marketplace. Apple still has much more to do to make it an enterprise friendly service, but that it continues to consolidate its consumer-centric service offerings, it will increase the pressure on Microsoft et al to innovate their respective ways out of the increasingly embrace that Apple has over its customers