Last week, Apple gave the world iCloud, the eagerly anticipated online backup system for music, documents, applications, books, calendars, contacts, etc. The product is a step forward in making cloud services more mainstream and provides a competitive product in a world already populated with the likes of Amazon, Google, Dropbox, and others. Apple‘s iCloud, however, is the first push by a big hardware manufacturer to date.
In 2007, Apple introduced the first iPhone. Before then, Treos and BlackBerrys were the kings of the smartphone realm, but they were heavily limited in their functionality. The pipes that provided the data to these devices were small and slow (not to mention pricey), and the form factor of the devices was nothing to write home about. In comes Apple and the iBrick iPhone with its touch screen goodness and wholesome Apple fanboy following. The new iOS, coupled with an innovative user interface, made developers flock to the product, and now, some 4 years later, Apple reports that there are 400,000 active, downloadable apps on the App store Store, which is the largest source of apps in the world.
That is all fine and dandy, but look at the facts: The iPhone was years in the making, and some sources claim that Apple started researching touch screen technology in 2005 just for the iPhone 1. Now we know from the past four updates to the iPhone that they tend to arrive annually, like the migration of the swallow. Once a year, the hype machine rolls into full gear, and out plops an invite to an Apple event that debuts a new iSomething––usually of the phone variety––to the anxious mobs around the world who line up in the wee hours of the morning to get their hands on the new device come launch day.
The iCloud release last week signifies a new sequence of product releases and maybe a change in the roadmap for Apple products, a change that all users and marketers need to pay attention to. From iPhone 1 to iPhone 4, the new features and their slow and iterative releases were strategic. Each iPhone with new features was marketed as an upgrade from the previous device, but other manufacturers and many of the iPhone’s biggest advocates felt that the phones were incomplete without specific hardware and software functions (a better camera and multitasking and notification capabilities, for example). So if cloud storage––and the sharing of all content over multiple devices––becomes the norm, where does that leave the innovation that the world has come to expect from Apple? Two guesses: unfathomable awesomeness, to the tune of coolness the world has never seen, OR stale, service-based, nickel-and-dime monetization methods. Apple, how are you going to continue to make me buy new iPhones or new devices? OK, OK––we are still in the early stages of the current iPad and iPhone lifecycles since we are only at versions 2 and 4, respectively. We know NFC (near field communication) has to come soon to each, but technology-wise, what is going to come next that will make the masses want to buy a new device? Apple provides services that allow you to store your content in multiple places (selling the product as a service), and that may make users more likely to buy another Apple product to take advantage of this content-sharing goodness.
It has to be acknowledged that we are moving closer, step by step, to a world with one “dumb” handheld device that accesses all of our content from the cloud, over the air. The addition of the word “smart” to our mobile phones reflects only the ability of our phones to do more than call and text. First came the Internet, then faster data speeds opened the floodgates, and then came a deluge of apps all pulling, pushing, and “curating” content directly from the cloud to our devices. Smartphones, tablets, and netbooks have proven that the model works and that the public is comfortable to an extent with placing its content in the hands of a mega-company.
Mobile phones began the path to the cloud world, a bigger pipe (bandwidth) for data gave it momentum, and now widespread adoption of mobile devices–– tablets and smartphones––seems logical. But what is the next step? How will iCloud change the product landscape in the future?
Author: John Carew