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In an unprecedented move, last Tuesday Apple outlined what they would be announcing at next week’s WWDC keynote. This, in combination with plenty of plausible rumors floating round the blogosphere, leaves little left to speculate about. But I’m going to have a go anyway...
Currently in order to set up or to backup an iOS device, you have to hook it up to a Mac or PC with a USB cable. This may be acceptable for iPhones, but it is very limiting for iPads, which are increasingly used as a replacement for a regular computer. In order for the iPad to achieve its true potential, it must be freed from its USB umbilical cord to iTunes.
That is why I predict that the main theme of iOS5 will be to liberate your devices from iTunes syncing. And iCloud will perform a core component of this strategy…
iCloud Sync (Goodbye iTunes & USB)
The iCloud logo, revealed at the Moscone Center this week, has a circular brushed metal background that is reminiscent of the old iSync icon’s background – perhaps a clue to iCloud’s syncing role.
A basic free version of iCloud could be available to anyone owning an iOS device running iOS5, enabling you to setup and configure your iPhone/iPad via a web interface, sync it and perform backups via Wi-Fi to Apple’s cloud. This free version could include syncing/back-up of contacts, calendars, preferences, apps and files. I explored the possibility of an iCloud file system for iOS5 in a previous post. Since then, Apple has released an update to the iOS version of iWork, which introduces support for folders, making the idea of an iCloud file system even more likely.
Syncing apps could be very speedy because they could be auto-matched with the master copies on Apple’s servers, so they don’t need to be transferred.
iTunes for iCloud
For an extra fee, as rumored, you could use iTunes for iCloud to sync your music to the cloud, using the auto-matching method. Music synced to iTunes for iCloud could then be transferred to up to five authorized devices (and possibly unlimited iOS devices).
iCloud Apps (Think Facebook Apps)
The revamped version of Me.com could become a virtual version of iOS, with a new app-launcher home screen, and the ability to run web versions of iOS apps. One of the WWDC announcements could be an API to enable developers to produce versions of their apps that can run on Me.com (similar to Facebook Apps or Google App Engine). This will enable users to access data contained in their apps online, even when they don’t have their device to hand. Apps that store user data like passwords, accounting, fitness, dieting etc are all natural candidates for iCloud apps.
iPod and iWork for iCloud
While third party apps may be the big story for iCloud, Apple will likely get the ball rolling with some apps of its own. In addition to the apps that already come with Me.com, as rumored, they could add a new iPod app that enables users to listen to all their music streamed over the Internet, (providing they’ve subscribed to iTunes for iCloud).
iWork for iCloud will take the fight to Google, with the first serious competitor to Google Docs. The big advantage of iWork for iCloud over Google Docs is its tight integration with the iPhone, iPad and Mac versions, offering the best of both worlds (web and native apps), with access to your documents, whichever platform you are using, whether you’re online or offline.
iPhoto for iPad and iCloud
In order for iOS5 to fully liberate the iPad from syncing with a PC, it needs to enable users to do more than just view their photos. It needs to offer full iPhoto functionality so that you can organize your photos directly on your iPad. That’s why in iOS5, I anticipate the Photos app will be replaced with a fully fledged iPhoto app. Any while we’re at it, why not offer an iCloud version of the app, that could give sites such as Flickr and Picassa a run for their money?