Musings On The Cloud, Platforms And Developers
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The other day Apple made a bunch of announcements and the technology blogs were in a frenzy. There were some interesting bits of information, though much of the announcements talked about things to be released in the fall. I wanted to focus specifically on the iCloud offering and how it impacts the current market. First, iCloud is not just the music service that some people were gossiping about. iCloud allows you to have your music, documents, apps and more shared by all of your iOS devices. For things that are not iOS specific, like email, contacts and calendars, you can use iCloud to ensure all of your devices have the same information.
This is where the marketing kicks into overdrive. Apple says all of this in very interesting terms on its iCloud site:
It gives you instant access to your music, apps, latest photos, and more. And it keeps your email, contacts, and calendars up to date across all your devices. No syncing required.
Obviously, this is complete hogwash from the technical perspective. There is some process that will synchronize the data stored in the cloud with a given device. It may be automatically synchronized and not require any input from a user, but it is still some level of synchronization. This is just pure marketing spin. However, there are some interesting things that go along with this marketing spin. First, perception is reality. If Apple is telling users there is no sync, and users do not need to initiate it, then it looks like it does not exist. Second, Apple has always made things look easier than they really are. VentureBeat has an excellent example of this for the iCloud offering:
I think Apple presents a friendlier vision of the cloud than Google. You don’t have to think of the cloud as a Web browser or, as Apple chief executive Steve Jobs put it during the keynote today, as a “hard drive in the sky”. If you watch Google’s video promoting Chrome OS, it’s certainly funny and clever, but it’s also working overtime to try to explain a concept that’s alien to most consumers. iCloud, on the other hand, should just work — you continue to use your favorite applications in the same way, and when you switch to a new device, all your applications, settings, and files will be there for you.
Apple says things will “just work” and they make sure that it seems that way. Your apps will be on all of your iOS devices, making the idea of cloud data seamless. They also do not want users uploading their data to the cloud, like Google Music requires, because that looks like too much work. Keeping it simple and just updating iTunes with the appropriate functionality continues the idea that everything works like magic. That sort of marketing can go a long way, and ease-of-use can help support their claims.
iCloud is also much bigger than just the music offering. It is a single cloud platform. Google does not have this sort of unified vision. Google Docs allows you to store almost any type of file, but your music lives in the Google Music service. Your contacts are also completely separate as well. This could make the Google cloud platform more difficult to sell to users because you need to go to several different applications in order to keep your life and devices in sync. In addition to the basic conceptual differences, there is the way in which the data is accessed. Apps may be simpler to use in some cases, but HTML5 is changing a lot of that. Without synchronizing apps between iOS devices, iCloud could have been dead on arrival. Instead it is a complete and unified solution that can easily give Google’s free services some serious competition.
The big differentiator between the various cloud services could really be the platforms themselves. Google is typically very good with providing APIs for its services, while Apple has not been quite as friendly to developers. Google Docs does provide an interesting platform with the ability to add Apps Script, and there are some very useful plugins for the platform. Apple has a more typical API for its applications, and while it has not been overly friendly to developers, this newest release has shone that it will also implement features from users favorite non-Apple applications. This type of activity can alienate developers that are the lifeblood of a platform. However, there is a very good reason for developers to return to the iOS platform, and VentureBeat has an excellent description:
For some developers, Apple’s keynote today was more of a kick in the crotch than a bear hug. And yet, like someone trapped in a dysfunctional relationship, they’ll keep coming back for more. That’s because even though it may run roughshod over a few developers from time to time, Apple still has a lot of what they need…. Where else are you going to get easy access to 225 million potential customers’ credit cards, without breaking the law?
The last sentence is critical. Because users have given their credit cards to Apple through iTunes, it has given developers a way to easily generate revenue. We all know that revenue is important to any business, but the difference is that Google does not have an easy purchasing method like iTunes. Granted, Google does have an Android market, but Android is only one aspect of their cloud platform. Developers for the Google platform need a way to have users quickly purchase their plugin or application. This is another area where Google’s disjointed offerings could have a significant impact. Developers writing applications for your platform can be the deciding factor on whether you are successful. Developers will go where the money is, so having a user population of 225 million is very attractive.
If Google, or any other cloud platform, really wants to compete with iCloud, they need a unified solution that makes it easy for users to purchase applications as well as making it easy for developers to work with the platform. Anything else will mean that iCloud will own the iFuture.
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