Heading into next week’s Worldwide Developers Conference keynote, where Apple has announced that it will officially unveil iCloud, this is a good time to share a few quick thoughts for discussion and debate.
Goodbye, Me.com? While Apple is surely going to fold part of the existing MobileMe service into iCloud, it seems highly unlikely that the company’s @me.com e-mail addresses are going to go away. That two-letter top-level Me domain is as short as Apple’s getting in the .com world unless it buys i.Com, which is reserved by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority. just doesn’t have the same ring as, and it’s not as easy to type, either.
Videos as iCloud Killer Feature? Since negotiations with music labels for the iCloud media storage locker have been leaking out over the last few weeks, people have focused mostly on how iCloud would benefit users of the lowest-capacity iPods, iPhones, and iPads. “Now you can access your music from anywhere,” goes the line. Except you probably already could—at least most of the stuff you care about—since the average person’s music library isn’t gigantic. At one point, Apple claimed that the 4GB iPod mini had enough storage space for most people. That’s obviously changed over time, but these days, it’s easy to carry the best parts of your own music library around. On an iPod shuffle, even.
Videos are a different story. They hog space. Many don’t need to be played more than once or twice before you put them away for a while. Take those guys off of your iOS device and suddenly there’s more than enough room for apps, music, and whatever else you want to tote around. The only time you’ll really miss them is when you lack for Internet access, and in that case, you’ll need to move things around to keep a few of them on the device.
Apple TV as Biggest iCloud Video Beneficiary? If Apple can mirror your computer’s video content in an online storage locker, the biggest current device beneficiary (put aside the rumored storageless iPhone mini) would be the Apple TV. Without cloud-based storage, users need to keep a computer turned on in order to stream their videos to the Apple TV. People with huge video collections needed to find ways to store all their movies and TV shows on a hard drive, which either sits inside the computer or needs to be kept turned on as an external device. If Apple TV can pull all that content from the cloud, your computer and hard drive don’t need to stay awake to serve the files.
What About Bandwidth? All of iCloud’s media streaming features will come with a still under-appreciated cost: ISP bandwidth limitations. Stream videos constantly from the cloud to your cellular network and you’re going to hit your iPhone’s capped bandwidth limit. Rely upon the cloud rather than your computer to send videos to your Apple TV, and you’re going to test your broadband ISP’s willingness to keep offering unlimited bandwidth—if it hasn’t already discontinued that offering in your area. We discussed this back in April; it’s still a concern now.
What Price Would Really Be Worth Paying for iCloud? Unlike the iPad, which it nailed on price from day one, Apple has seriously missed the right price for subscription-based services for a long time now—.Mac and MobileMe arguably flopped as much due to their $100 annual expenses as the well-documented problems Apple had with the services themselves.
This new service is going to be different from .Mac and MobileMe, but Apple’s probably been tempted to try the “look at all you’re getting now for the same $100 price” strategy. Will it work? There’s just something daunting about the number as an annual fee. So what might appeal to people?
* A less expensive annual subscription, say, of $50 or $80.
* A monthly subscription of $5, which works out to $60 per year. Apple might try it at $10 per month, discounting the annual rate to $100, but that gets back to the MobileMe and .Mac pricing.
Why might Apple go in the lower or higher direction? Well, if it’s only offering you access to your own existing collection of media (along with MobileMe-like features), selling you wireless streaming might be a tougher sell—lower price makes more sense. But let’s say it did something huge, stealthily building a subscription-based alternative to Netflix and Rhapsody. Netflix charges $9 per month to let you stream as many TV shows and videos as you want. Rhapsody charges $10 per month for the same thing, only with music. What if you could stream all the music, TV shows, and videos you wanted from Apple’s iCloud—regardless of whether or not they were in your library?
That might well be worth $100 per year. But that scenario seems very unlikely right now.
What do you think? What would you be willing to pay for a hypothetical iCloud service that (a) stored and streamed your media content (including photos), (b) offered a Dropbox-like folder for iOS + computer synchronization, (c) provided an e-mail account, and (d) synced your calendar/contact/bookmark data across multiple devices? Post your thoughts in the Comments section below.[* Note: Jesse Hollington notes that the IANA reserves all single-letter top-level domains, so there’s no way to go shorter than "Me.com” apart from buying a country-specific domain, as Twitter did with Colombia’s T.co, which works very well as a URL shortener.]