Do you have a MobileMe account (@me.com)? Then you probably got an email from Apple last Tuesday that you most likely skimmed through but didn’t read. It’s okay, you’re not the only one. But that email was *kind of* important. Why? Read on.
Every year, Apple hosts something called WWDC: the World Wide Developers’ Conference. Basically, developers are people who spend hours writing code to give you the awesome apps that you buy for your computer or your phone. Apple has this conference to give third-party developers a chance to learn from Apple’s engineers. It’s pretty cool. What does this have to do with MobileMe? Bear with me, I’m getting to that.
At WWDC, on the first day, there is a huge presentation. By huge, I mean that Apple usually reveals some fantastic new shiny iThing (in the past, the announcement at WWDC has been a new iPhone). This year, however, there wasn’t a new physical shiny thing; there were three software shiny things*. I’ll get to the first two in different posts (that’s how big this announcement was). The new product that affects MobileMe is called iCloud.
So what is iCloud? iCloud, as presented by Steve Jobs himself (even though he is still on leave of absence), is made up of nine things, all with the same main idea. Did you read my article “What Is the Cloud, Anyway?” (If you did, this might make more sense). You should probably go read it. Go ahead. I’ll wait.
Jobs started by explaining that ten years ago, the computer was the center of our digital world: you plugged in an iPod to get music, a camera to get pictures, etc. Now that we have multiple devices that we’d like to have all this stuff on (like taking pictures with your iPhone and displaying them on your iPad), using the computer as the center of all digital activity is cumbersome. Jobs proposed that the answer to this problem is “demoting” the personal computer to being just another device, like an iPhone, and using the Cloud–specifically, the iCloud. I really hope that made sense, because it’s the focus of every part of iCloud. Maybe this picture will help:
Okay, now I’ll try to explain each of the nine functions.
The first three are Mail, Contacts, and Calendars. This is fairly straightforward, since MobileMe users have had this feature. I have a Mac laptop, an iPhone, and an iPad. If I create a calendar event on my iPhone, if I read and delete an email on my computer, if I edit a contact on my iPad, it will all sync itself so that I don’t need to recreate the calendar event, redelete the email, or reedit the contact. iCloud proposes to make this even better, fixing some of the service issues that have plagued MobileMe. You’ll even be able to share calendars, meaning that Mom and Dad can share little Johnny’s schedule; if Mom changes Johnny’s soccer practice to 4:30, Dad will automatically get the change.
The next four are Apps, Books, Documents, and Backup. Before June 6, if I bought a new iPad app that could also work on my iPhone, I had to plug my iPad into my computer, sync it, then plug my iPhone into my computer, and sync that. Now all I have to do is buy the iPad app and it will automatically download itself on my iPhone**. Books will do the same thing. Plus, if I’m reading on my iPad, I can now tap the page to bookmark, and pick up where I left off on my iPhone (just like the Kindle app does, except much prettier).
Next up is Documents. Let’s say I’m working on a Keynote (Apple’s presentation software) on my iPad before I go out, then I leave for the evening with just my iPhone, and my boss calls to say I need to change something. Instead of making a note that I will probably forget, I can pick up my iPhone, open the Keynote app, and access my presentation on the smaller screen, right where I stopped working on it. That way, I won’t have to worry the whole evening about remembering to change one thing. I can just do it!
Last of this group is Backup. Currently, when you plug your iPhone/iPad into your computer to sync it, the computer also makes a backup copy in case something happens***. In iCloud, instead of plugging it in, your phone will magically back itself up daily to the iCloud. You don’t have to do anything.
The eighth feature is Photo Stream. If you take a picture on your iPhone, it will automatically appear on all your other devices in a special “folder” in Photos called Photo Stream. Right from your iDevice, you can save any pictures you take to any album, or create a new one. No plugging in, no syncing. If you want to take pictures with an actual digital camera, once you download the pictures to your computer, they will also automatically be in your Photo Stream. Photo Stream will keep 1,000 of your most recent pictures for 30 days. They will stay on your computer until you delete them (because computers have lots of space), but they will only stay on your iPhone or iPad if you save them.
Last, but very much not least, is iTunes in the Cloud. Most of this feature is available now. When you download a song from the iTunes Store, you can have it automatically download to other devices, just like with apps and books**. Additionally, you can now see past purchases you’ve made on any device and redownload them at no cost. However, the major component of iTunes in the Cloud, if you want to participate, is called iTunes Match. If you have a massive collection of CDs you’ve spent hours transferring to computer, it won’t be available on iTunes in the Cloud because the music wasn’t purchased through the iTunes Store. If you want to listen to that music on a portable device, you have three options: sync it to your device, just like you’ve done before (hopefully); re-purchase each and every song from iTunes (which kind of sucks if you have, like, 100 CDs, but isn’t so bad for one or two songs); or use iTunes Match. For $24.99 a year, iTunes Match will scan every song in your library and find it in the iTunes database (with 18 million songs, they will probably have the one you want), then make it available to all of your devices at a very high quality, even if the one you have is lower quality. If you have a rare recording of something obscure, you will be able to upload that music to iTunes in the Cloud.
Alright, you’ve managed to read through all of that, and you’re intrigued. But what does iCloud have to do with MobileMe? iCloud will be replacing it. After June of 2012, there will be no more MobileMe. And best of all, instead of paying $99 for all that stuff, like you were for MobileMe, it’s free, except for iTunes Match. So when can you get it? Not until the Fall, but you can start automatically downloading apps, music, and books to all your devices right now, so it’s not so bad.
Now do you see why this needed its own post?
* Computers, tablets, and smartphones (among other technology) have two main components: hardware and software. The hardware is the body of the machine; the keyboard, the screen, the stuff you touch is all hardware. The software is the brain and soul. The main part of the brain is the operating system (OS), which is how you interact with the computer. Windows XP (PCs) and OS X Snow Leopard (Macs) are examples of OSs.
** This feature, for books, apps, and music, is available now, you just have to turn it on. On an iPhone (the iPad process is the same), find your Settings icon. Scroll until you see “Store.” Here, you’ll see some new options: Music, Apps, and Books. If you switch those to “On,” your iPhone will automatically download any new books, apps, or music that you purchase on other devices. The Cellular option is for deciding whether you want to use cellular data when you’re not on a WiFi network. I have mine set to “On,” but that’s because I have a good sense of how much data I’m using (you pay for data as part of your iPhone plan, but overage charges are steep).
The process to enable these options on a Mac is different. Be sure you’ve run Software Update (click the Apple in the top left corner of your desktop and Software Update is an option) to get the latest iTunes software. Once you’ve done that, open iTunes, click iTunes in the menu bar at the top of the screen, and navigate to Preferences. In the Preferences window, click Store, and you’ll see the options to click.
*** What can happen? One time, I plugged my iPhone into a music dock that wasn’t iPhone capable (just for iPods). Sure enough, my iPhone short-circuited. I got to the Apple Store, and they gave me a new phone. When I plugged it in, I backed it up from my old phone and was exactly the same. And that, my friends, is why backups are important.