What We Know About iCloud, and What We Don’t

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Late Wednesday evening, the registration for the iCloud.com domain switched on to reveal that Apple is indeed in possession of the address as originally reported by GigaOM. Apple also began registering the iCloud trademark in Europe on Wednesday, signalling it’s all systems go ahead of the iCloud product unveiling at WWDC next week.

The prospective iCloud service has managed to steal a lot of the spotlight away from iOS 5 and Mac OS X Lion, the other two products being shown off by Apple at WWDC. That may be because we know less about iCloud than we do the other two, or because all things cloud seem to be capturing the tech media’s attention lately. Whatever the reason, the past few days have seen a bevy of reports describing what a shipping iCloud could potentially look like.

Everything That’s Fit to Stream

In addition to music streaming — a feature widely reported on as music licensing negotiations are said to have reached a successful conclusion — Cnet also reports Apple is also in talks with film studios to allow for cloud movie storage and streaming, too. Presumably, this service would be similar to the one being discussed for music, but there’s a barrier according to Cnet’s sources: the so-called HBO blackout, which allows HBO exclusive broadcast rights of films from three of the top six movie studios when it’s actively airing their content.

Apple could still negotiate deals with the other three in time for launch, but even if the reports are accurate, don’t count on seeing movies and TV show streaming and storage announced this time around.

A Data Center That Means Business

Apple’s North Carolina Data Center is a serious beast. According to Envisioneering Group  Analyst Richard Doherty in an interview with USA Today , it “may be the most powerful data center ever, outside of government,” and “will be able to handle millions of streams per minute without any network hiccups.”

Apple clearly wants to make sure that when it unveils the future of consumer cloud technology, it’s more than able to meet demand and scale rapidly.

MobileMe Upgraded

Apple will most likely use the iCloud brand to take over the duties of its current cloud syncing and storage offering, MobileMe. That means it should provide email, notes, calendar and bookmarks syncing, along with the Find My iPhone and Find My iPad services. There have also been reports that a Find My Mac service could make its way into OS X Lion, but the service might fall under the iCloud suite of offerings, too. It would allow Mac owners to register their device, so that they can later be tracked easily via a web-based interface, and be locked or wiped remotely to prevent unauthorized use.

Free or Fee?

The MobileMe service iCloud will reportedly replace costs users $99 per year, but AppleInsider reports that some of iCloud’s services will be offered free to users who upgrade to OS X Lion, the next generation of Apple’s desktop operating system. But other features, such as music streaming, will cost extra based on the fees associated with Apple’s licensing agreements with content providers, reports say. One early report pegged Apple’s streaming music fees at around $20 per year, but little else has been forthcoming on the subject since.

People who want to use iCloud services without upgrading to Lion will reportedly have to pay the $99 annual fee currently associated with MobileMe.

We won’t have to wait long before we see what Apple has in store for iCloud, but in my opinion, it’s the unknown variables that make it the product to watch for during Monday’s keynote. Can Apple do for consumer streaming what it has done for PCs and mobile devices? Let us know what you think in the comments.

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