It’s still the middle of the summer but Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) has gone ahead and opened up its iCloud service, due this fall, as a beta for developers and a few lucky consumers to kick the tires. Early reviews suggest that Apple continues to bring the iOS design aesthetic to the other parts of its arsenal, but the true test will come when Apple opens the service to the general public and crosses its fingers that it hasn’t produced another MobileMe.
A sign-in page appeared at iCloud.com late Monday afternoon, and the door will open for those with an Apple Developer account as well as certain iOS users who might have used the Find My iPhone feature or previous MobileMe account holders, according to various reports. As expected, the service comes with browser-based hooks into former MobileMe Web services like Mail and Calendar, confirming Apple’s reassurance that it would let users access their mail through any browser after reports surfaced that it had something else in mind.
Apple also revealed the pricing structure for the service. Users will get 5GBs of online storage for free when they sign up for the service, but additional storage can be purchased: 10GBs of additional storage will cost $20 a year, 20GBs of additional storage will cost $40 a year, and 50GBs will cost $100 a year. Unlike MobileMe, the basic iCloud service will be free, and will allow iOS users to back up their applications and data to Apple’s data centers and access that information from any computer or other iOS device that they own.
Apple’s also hoping that iCloud won’t resemble MobileMe in one key aspect: reliability. The relaunch of MobileMe in July 2008 was a disaster, with servers melting down and important parts of the service shaky for weeks as Apple struggled to fix the issues. One big difference this time around is that Apple has invested billions in a new data center in North Carolina that should give it more capacity to throw at the iCloud launch, but the first few weeks of the new service will still be a test for a company that hasn’t always shown the same attention to detail and craftsmanship on the Web that it brings to its products.
Several blogs and other reports were able to obtain screenshots of the new applications, such as 9to5Mac.com and Techcrunch. GigaOm also posted a walk-through of the basic Web applications in the new beta.