Predicting 2010: Apple and the Cloud

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Going into 2010, the landscape of computing continues to be dominated by the slow, but inevitable, move towards the cloud. For a computing platform company like Apple, this move presents a particular challenge. Apple’s expertise is producing the best computing experience by controlling both the software and the hardware. This is antithetical to the whole concept of cloud computing, which is generally agnostic towards both the software and the hardware.

Not surprisingly, then, Apple’s moves towards cloud computing have been cautious. MobileMe, iWork.com and in some ways iTunes, can all be seen as cloud-based services, but none of them have offered ground-breaking solutions. It’s obvious that Apple’s cloud strategy is based mostly around complementing its computer based-solutions. It continues to feel strongly that the best place to create and/or edit files is on your computer, where you can take full advantage of today’s hardware and the power of OS X. Looking forward to 2010 I don’t expect this general philosophy to change, but I do expect Apple to move more aggressively towards tying its services even more closely to the cloud.

So, without further ado, here are my 2010 predictions for Apple and the Cloud.

iTunes will begin streaming music

Probability: Guaranteed
Not much of a risk here, Apple has thankfully tipped its hand with its acquisition of Lala.com, a music streaming service. This is the direction the industry is going, with services like Spotify, Pandora and Last.fm all growing rapidly. Adding a subscription streaming model to iTunes and/or allowing you to stream your iTunes library is a no-brainer for Apple. What will be interesting is seeing how such a potential service integrates with the iPhone and iPod lineup.

iTunes will offer streaming movies and/or television

Probability: Possible
This prediction follows logically from the one before. If Apple is going to offer streaming music, why not also offer to stream video content as well? Unfortunately, the likelihood of such a service is as constrained by the veracities of the rights-holders of Apple’s interest, as such I only deem this prediction a possibility.

MobileMe will see a significant price drop

Probability: Possible
MobileMe has always been dogged by sticker shock. Although the $8 or so a month the service costs isn’t that high, paying $100 all at once is a bit more difficult to swallow. What’s more, MobileMe offers very little that can’t be had for free in other places. I’m allowing my Mobile Me subscription to lapse this year as I’ve replaced all the services with free alternatives. Although I don’t expect Apple to make the service free, I do expect it to try and expand the universe of subscribers by offering a drop in price, and perhaps moving to a monthly subscription model instead of paying for an entire year up front.

MobileMe will add photo, music and file synchronization

Probability: Possible
MobileMe is still the best way to keep your PIM data synchronized across your Macs and your iPhone, but one glaring weakness is multimedia and file synchronization. Sure you can keep everything on your iDisk, but this lacks the elegance that is typical of Apple as it requires you to move everything that should be in your home folder to another place. It’s also extremely limited in terms of storage. It would be much more convenient if I could just tell Mobile Me to automatically synchronize my home folder across computers, just as I do with my calendars and contacts. With the speed of Internet connections only increasing, this is not only possible today, but it’s inevitable. Whether it happens next year is less certain, but it will happen eventually.

iWork.com will add document editing

Probability: Possible
As I mentioned above, Apple seems strongly opposed to moving document creation and editing to the cloud, but if it decides to start experimenting with some could-based document editing, this is likely the place where it will happen. Its competitors in this space, Google, Microsoft and Zoho, all are offering document editing to some extent. I wouldn’t expect the entire iWork suite to be ported to the cloud, but I do think the addition of basic editing is a possibility.

OS X is ported to the cloud

Probability: Absurd
It may seem like an absurdity, and I certainly don’t expect it to happen next year, but the idea of porting OS X to the cloud is one that Apple will certainly want to consider at some point in the future. The strength of Apple’s computing platform has always been the operating system and development tools that underly it. If you truly believe that in the long run computing will be a server-client model, than in order to retain its competitive advantage Apple will have to move these strengths to the cloud. Adapting OS X and Xcode to become the foundation of a cloud-based operating system and development environment is the obvious long-term strategy for Apple.

Steve Job’s consciousness will be uploaded to the cloud to ensure he rules Apple forever

Probability: Absurd
Steve Jobs’ health problems last year and his temporary absence from Apple proved once again that the tenure of Apple’s messiah is not assured to run forever. I think Apple needs to turn all of its prodigious talent towards ensuring that Jobs’ genius remains with us forever, and what better way than to upload his consciousness to the cloud? There he can ensure that we continue to pour the contents of our wallets into Apple’s coffers in perpetuity. You can bet Apple’s share-holders will be in support of this, despite that small probability that Jobs-in-the-cloud may someday turn into Skynet.

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