Will iCloud be the new iTunes?: A pre-WWDC assessment

iCloud AppleWord on the street is, Apple’s announcements at its Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco tomorrow are bound to be huge. Like, iPod huge — industry-changing huge. As Apple has already confirmed, Apple chief executive Steve Jobs and company will unveil Mac OS X Lion, the next-generation iOS 5 mobile operating system, and a new service called iCloud. And it is iCloud — and how iCloud integrates with iOS 5 — that really has the blogosphere abuzz.

According to Daring Fireball‘s John Gruber — a man known for getting Apple predictions more right than most — we shouldn’t “think of iCloud as the new MobileMe,” Apple’s now back-burnered cloud storage service. Instead, it’s more accurate to “think of iCloud as the new iTunes.”

Not only will iCloud serve as a cloud-based music service (as is all but guaranteed by Apple’s recently sealed deals with the major music labels), says Gruber, but it will absorb much of the functionality currently tasked to iTunes. Right now, the Mac-based iTunes software serves as the syncing hub for iOS devices, like the iPhone, iPad and iPod touch. Through iTunes, users update all their media, from music to e-books, as well as “App Store apps, contacts, calendars, bookmarks, notes, and any sort of files shared between iOS apps,” writes Gruber. With iCloud, this could all change.

As iPhone and iPad owners know, these devices still require a Mac/PC link to get started, and to keep the device properly backed up and updated. With the introduction of iCloud, iOS device users could never have to plug in their device to their Mac/PC again.

“Rather than ‘Take this [iPad] out, plug it into your Mac or PC (after first making sure your Mac/PC is running the latest version of iTunes), wait for it to sync before you actually play with it’, you might get something like ‘Take this out, turn it on, sign into your iTunes account, and start playing with it,'” writes Gruber.

Long-time blogger and technology expert Kevin Fox of Fury.com also expects the necessity of the Mac/Pc to diminish with the introduction of iCloud. Fox sees “[s]eamless remote access to any data kept in your Documents folder, and synchronization across machines.” This means users will be able to “[w]alk up to any Mac, sign in as a guest using your Apple account credentials and you’ll be brought to the same desktop you get on your personal machine.”

Fox adds that we could see “[r]ealtime, continuous syncing of iOS devices will mean never having to plug your iPhone or iPad in to your computer again, or even the need for a computer for syncing at all.”

In short, the introduction of iCloud could deliver the true end of the PC era for Apple, a service that will allow Apple’s mobile devices to be just as powerful — perhaps more powerful — than the desktop or laptop home bases to which we’ve long been accustomed. If Apple’s iPhone and iPad lines sparked the beginning of the “post-PC” era, then an iCloud that closely matches Gruber’s and Fox’s predictions would usher in the evolution’s second act.

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