iCloudy With A Chance Of Streaming

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many of the tech writers in my Twitter stream, I too am simply exhausted from all that there is to unpack in today’s WWDC 2011 Keynote. That said, let me try to break down a few highlights that I think are important to what we believe in here.

I’m going to start with the one I found most interesting:

iCloud

The funny thing is that iCloud is not any one thing but a host of things. Perhaps iCloud is not even “things” but an idea. The idea being that users should have the stuff that matters to them – music, photos, documents, contacts, calendars, etc. – available to all of their devices and backed up, offsite, in real time. The idea that the files system should not matter and, in fact, should become unimportant. The idea that if you buy something from Apple on one device it should be available to download (by choice or automatically) to all devices.

I think, for those of us purposefully working with limited space, there is a question of how all of this get stored and how much space it takes up. I purposefully did not install iLife on my Macbook Air, not only because I knew I would rarely use these apps there but also because of the additional space not having the app or the library would save me and allow for other things that mattered more. It was hard to get a sense from the “liveblogs” I followed how such things would be handled. For instance, I do have iWork (Pages, Keynote, Numbers) on the Macbook Air. Will it be possible to sync only the data pertinent to it and not iLife as well or will it be an all or nothing affair?

These are things I don’t quite know or understand yet and we will have to wait for Mac OS X Lion to check them out.

The one thing I want to point out is the iTunes in the Cloud feature. As I stated a couple of weeks ago, Apple knows what we have purchased and they know what is in our library, why not just make it available to all devices? If it’s available in the iTunes store, why not simply make it available for listening? Well, this is exactly what they did. It looks fantastic. The stuff you have bought through iTunes is there available for download today. If you have ripped music or, presumably, purchased it elsewhere, it will be available for same when the new iTunes Match service is released this Fall.

The only thing I got wrong was the streaming aspect of it. Not sure why this was not announced today. I still think, due to the decreased amount of storage available on some of Apple’s most popular devices (i.e. iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch, Macbook Air 11 inch), not to mention increasing bandwidth (I get a steady 19MB down as it stands right now), this would seem to me to be an important play. I don’t know the reasons but still believe it is coming sooner rather than later. Perhaps, that too, is waiting for Fall.

The Photo Stream feature will be a godsend to those of us who take lots of pictures and can never remember what the heck is where. I’m also hoping it will resolve a long standing issue of my wife and I which is the ability to have a central immediate photo storage that we each have access (i.e. “Can you email me that cute photo of Beatrix you just took so I have it too?).

It will also be interesting to see how this changes mine and my wife’s fairly complex and robust calendar sharing that we have thus far relied on BusyCal to do being able to handle all of this stuff with iCloud and have any changes instantly synced between our devices will be a godsend.

But these two things bring up an important (to me at least) question – how will iCloud handle this from an account perspective? Will we be able to say, for instance, both my wife’s devices and mine belong to the same iCloud account for some things but have separate accounts for others? For example, she currently has her own Apple ID and therefore her own music, app and other purchases. In the case of apps, she may not want to have to wade through all the stuff I purchased to get to the three things she has. Not to mention documents. I think we can see where this is going. I wonder how the complexities of a modern household where several devices exist and sharing would be good for some things but not others will be handled?

That said, it seems many of the questions will likely be answered in the coming months or for sure will be come Fall. Of all of the announcements made at the Keynote (and there were a ton), I foresee this being the most foundationaly disruptive in terms of the way we approach our data today.

Seeing The Future

Not long ago, at the mall, I found myself standing outside of the Microsoft Store which is strategically built directly across from the Apple Store. I stood at the window and watched the people playing in front of the Kinect demo. I made a point to look mostly at the players and the strange sort of pantomime they were doing as they manipulated the action on screen. One did not have to see the screen, that pantomime told the story. Pick up the ball from the rack, bring it up to the chest, swing it back behind, swing it forward and release. Roll. Strike! Bowling.

It really is an amazing and magical technology. Think about it. You are using natural real-world movement to mimic an action and it is happening in real time on a screen in front of you. No special gloves, wands, cables. Nothing. Just you. You pretend. It makes it real.

The problem is that Microsoft does not, can not, see it that way (and perhaps never will). They invented a device from the future yet could not untether themselves from the past and present. They could not see the potential to change the world with this device because they are too wedded to the idea that it had to work with the present. So, instead, it is just a toy, nothing more.

If they threw out the ideas and influences of the present, they could have seen that you could stand in front of a flat screen in your living room and manipulate objects on the screen like documents or pictures or folders or email – all through the same strange sort of pantomime. Perhaps it would understand your speech and respond to that as well.

“Open email from Steve.”

“Reply.”

“Steve, that time sounds perfect. Thanks”

“Send.”

That would change computing. It would set a bar leaving others to catch up. It would define a whole new category. That is disruptive. That is post PC. That is something I would buy. That is a platform I would invest a lot of money in. No matter the maker. I suspect I’m not alone.

Perhaps that is the most frustrating part to me. I see this future, and all the pieces to build it, sitting right there. We could have it, today, in every room in our house. Walk up to a screen and command it. Interact with the stuff you have there. Naturally. But, due to lack of vision, it’s not magic. It’s a game. As long as the blinders of the present and past remain, it will never be anything more.

There are those that believe that you need the experiences of the past and present to build the future. I’m calling bullshit. If you build on the past or present you simply extend the past and present. To build the future, you must let it stand alone. You must build it on top of a whole new platform. You must create whole new segments and spawn whole new eras.

The very act of invention involves forgetting everything you know. You can’t have a discussion about the future using the words and concepts of the past or present. You have to forget everything you know about the way people interact with a computer and reinvent it, as well, around this new future. Otherwise, you end up asking the wrong questions and trying to see where this new thing fits. And if the new thing does not fit you will find a way to make it fit.

In the case of the Kinect, Microsoft could not make it fit with Windows. They could not make it fit with Office. So, they found a way to make it fit with Xbox. They can’t see the Xbox platform beyond a gaming device. Therefore, naturally, they could not see the Kinect beyond just some cool peripheral to a game.

Contrast this with Apple and the iOS. They saw the future. They knew they had something nothing short of magic. To build it, they forgot everything they knew about the way one interacts with a computer. They did not find a way to make it fit. They redefined the very idea of computing around this new idea. They did not let the past or present inform them. They built the future. And, in doing so, they set a bar. It was disruptive. It caused everyone else to try to imitate. It changed the rules. They created a new era.

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