Apple Moves The Digital Hub From The Mac To iCloud

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Live From Apple's WWDC 2011 Keynote

For the past decade, Apple has treated the PC as the central digital hub which managed and stored all of your digital music, photos, videos, and documents. But managing your own digital hub no longer makes sense. “It worked for the better part of 10 years,” says Steve Jobs, “But it has broken down in the past few years.” When iOS 5 is released this fall, it will move the digital hub online with iCloud.

Today, Steve Jobs detailed what iCloud will be, and it is much more than simply iTunes in the cloud. At launch, it will include nine apps with cloud components, including iTunes, Photo Stream, Storage, iBooks, Backup, App Store, and all the MobileMe apps (Contacts, Calendar, Mail). And it will be free as part of the OS, with five gigabytes of storage.

With iCloud, the PC gets demoted to just another device and everything gets stored and synced in the cloud. Add a new contact, calendar entry, document, photo, song, and it’s all available in iCloud. If you buy a new device, or switch from your Mac to an iPhone to an iPad, your most important data is all there. “Keeping those devices in sync is driving us crazy,” notes Jobs. “You know, it’s the same old story. I buy something on my iPhone. And it’s not on my other devices.”

Apple started with its MobileMe apps. “We’ve thrown them away and rewritten them from the ground up to be iCloud apps,” says Jobs. Contacts, Calendars and Mail are all synced through iCloud. Same with iTunes and the App Store. If you purchase a song or app on your Mac, it is available for download to your iPhone or iPad without cables. It knows what songs and apps you’ve purchased, and if you want to have all the songs you’ve ever ripped available on every device (even those you didn’t buy on iTunes), that will cost you $24.99 a year through a new service called iTunes Match.

Anything purchased from iTunes (music, apps, books) will be backed up in iCloud, as well as the photos in your camera roll, device settings, and app data. Documents created in iWorks (Pages, Keynote, Numbers) can also be stored in iCloud. “Some people think the cloud is a hard disk in the sky,” says Jobs with a chuckle. “We think it’s way more than that.”

iCloud will just be built into many of Apple’s apps. If you are reading an iBook on your iPad, it will remember any page you bookmark so you can pick it up on your iPhone. iPhoto will have a new Photo Stream button which automatically uploads those photos to iCloud, where they are then available to your other devices (including Windows PCs and Apple TVs) or for sharing. Apple will only store the most recent 1,000 photos, and albums will be stored for 30 days. The Photo Stream won’t count towards the 5 gigabyte total, and neither will music or apps (only mail, documents, and backup, and people will be able to buy more storage).

So there you have it. Much of our earlier speculation panned out. iCloud is going to be baked right into iOS. And you can be sure that it will become an underlying feature of more apps in the future. Developers will be able to use iCloud Storage APIs to tie their apps into iCloud.