When it rains it pours for Apple CEO Steve Jobs. The lauded gadget guru qua rainmaker came out of medical leave to formally introduce attendees of Apple?s World Wide Developers Conference to a bevy of new products, among them the much anticipated announcement of the iCloud. Apple?s own spin on so-called cloud-computing, which, sans the weather whimsy, simply refers to information stored in remote servers and accessible via your device of choice anywhere there is a decent Internet connection.
Though the concept isn?t new (telephone companies once used the metaphor to describe their early forays into ?virtual private networks?) its implementation in tech quarters gained real momentum in 2006 when Amazon introduced its Elastic Compute Cloud, a service that obviated the need for expensive server systems and paved the way for a bevy of start-ups. It was Google, however, that brought the cloud to civilians with its suite of document creation tools (aimed squarely at Microsoft?s bread and butter). Now, with iCloud, Apple has also entered the consumer cloud market, touting synchonization of one?s digital data ? docs, email, calendars, iTunes library, videos and plans for world domination, between one?s MacBook, iPad, iPhone and beyond. And it?s free.
Heretofore, one?s computer was like the sun in a private digital solar system around which all other devices orbited and depended for data (through increasingly arcane syncronization rituals). Conceptually, iCloud collapses this solar system into a single celestial body accessible, anywhere, anytime by whatever piece of gear happens to be in your hand. It?s as if you?re opening a wormhole into the fabric of your virtual universe andt hough other companies offer aspects this ?unified field theory of your stuff online,? including Amazon?s ?Cloud Drive? and Google?s Gmail inbox (sort of), none offers total integration of everything in a single service that?s hardware-agnostic.
This is the crux of Jobs? plan, ?demoting? the ?PC? and even his own company?s iconic Mac line to mere, as he explained, ?devices.? Of course, to those who?ve eluded induction into the cult of Apple, the company?s products have always been mere devices. For true believers, however, they?re tantamount to religious talismans that signify belief in a higher being ? namely Jobs. His conceptual downgrading of his stock and trade might prove as revelatory a moment in the history of personal computing as Macintosh did for user-experience in the early 80s. It takes the way we deal with data, the ones and zeroes that comprise much of our quotidian experience not to mention whole flanks of our self-concept and moves them from the concrete to the abstract, from ?there? to ?everywhere,? in a manner analogous to going from the corporeal to the spiritual (which, by some accounts, Jobs might be soon doing). The device, like the body, is but a vessel.
?We?re going to move the digital hub, the center of your digital life, into the cloud,? Jobs beamed. It?s not hard to imagine him hovering there too ? lightning bolt in hand.