iCloud hurdles an impossibly low bar

It's been two weeks and three days since Steve Jobs took a break from designing Apple's new mothership campus to almost unleash iCloud upon the world. I say "almost" because the new magic collection of binary water vapor doesn't actually get seeded until Apple spits out iOS 5 some time this fall—along with, hopefully, an A5-powered iPhone. Until then, you can sample one sorta-new feature if your iPhone or iPad sports iOS 4.3. That's right: you can use the iTunes Store's "Purchased" tab to download songs that you bought on another device but haven't bothered syncing to the device you're currently using yet. Or something. Yes, it works—I just grabbed Steve Martin's King Tut from the ether—but it's not exactly exciting. Or even mildly neat.

Granted, this current feature tease will work much better in The Future by automatically pushing content to your assorted devices and Macs. Okay, that's nifty. But on the whole, iCloud feels a bit more cirrus than cumulonimbus to me. Here's why:

Automagical backups — Members of the iCloud collective will enjoy automatic backup of certain things. But not all things. Daily, wireless backups of your iOS devices? Check. Any backup whatsoever of the stuff on your Mac that's probably more valuable than your high score on Daredevil Dave? So yeah, great for not having to worry about syncing my phone to my computer just to backup, but not exactly a replacement for my CrashPlan account. Which is actually okay since I'm paid up for two years.

Documents you probably don't use offline let alone in the cloud — Create a doc in Pages, Numbers or Keynote and that file will be distributed via the Cloud to your other devices. That'd be pretty sweet if I actually used Pages or Numbers. Or wanted to edit a spreadsheet on my 3GS. Maybe that's why Apple's prepping a Retina display for the next iPad—cells, cells, cells!

Photos in the stream — Okay, Apple didn't pay homage to Kenny and Dolly with this feature; they just call it Photo Stream. Basically, snap a pic on your iOS device and the photo gets (you guessed it) shot up into the iCloud and disseminated amongst your devices. Your iPhad will keep up to the latest 1,000 shots, while your iPhoto library keeps them forever. Because you will forget to go back and delete those snaps from your "Mardi Gras in Grandview" party. Sad.

iTunes-approved piracy — Hey, remember all those CDs you borrowed from your ex (no, the really, really crazy one) and accidentally ripped into your iTunes library back in 2003? Well now, for the low, low price of $25 (per year, sucka), Crazy Uncle Woz will basically give you all those tracks in sweet, 256Kbps, AAC form. Assuming he can find them in the iTunes library of over 18 million songs. Then they can join all the tracks you really did buy from Apple in atmosphere. If Apple doesn't have your particular collection of washtub funk, you can simply upload those files yourself. Then you can stream them to all your devices! Oh, wait. No you can't. You can access them from your devices. Hmm. Maybe I'll stick with Audiogalaxy.

It's not MobileMe — Technically, this isn't a feature except that it is. I've used MobileMe for 3.5 years. Which, not coincidentally, is how long my oldest kids have been alive. MobileMe was never a very good thing, but it made certain child/grandparent-related activities easy for me, so I plunked down my money every April (though never, ever the $99 requested by Apple) for another year of unused syncing. Apparently, many of the people who used syncing didn't really even use syncing due to something nerds call flakiness. iCloud will theoretically remedy these issues and most assuredly kill off MobileMe as of June 2012. And for those of you who need a map between references, MobileMe is the low bar mentioned in the title.

And that's kind of it. If the last two weeks are any indication, most folks are more excited about iOS 5 and Lion, myself included. I can see iCloud developing into something exceedingly useful, but the announced features for 1.0 sure did feel anticlimactic.

Not unlike this final sentence.



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