Uncommon Wisdom

Jun 7 2011   1:54PM GMT

Apple’s WWDC — iMessage interest beats iCloud announcement

Tom Nolle Tom Nolle Profile: Tom Nolle

Well, Apple had its Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) and Steve Jobs was there, and for the Apple aficionados it was pure love. For the less indoctrinated, it was a bit of a yawn. The iCloud — Apple’s online storage and syncing service for music, photos and documents — does offer some new things, the most notable of which is an optional system to match on-system music to the cloud’s (better-quality) copy, and then let users then play the good stuff.

Some are touting this as a way of getting people to pay for pirated material, though 25 bucks a year per person won’t exactly stir the heart of the recording industry. Some think it rewards piracy by giving somebody a good set of songs instead of amateur-ripped copies for a low annual rate. And functionally, iCloud is still more of a locker. It’s not designed to stream stuff as much as to store it. And while it will make songs available to all a user’s devices, it downloads them on demand rather than streaming them.

The most interesting thing announced wasn’t really even iCloud, it was the addition of iMessage to the new version of iOS. This will let all Apple device users message each other in encrypted format, with receipts and so forth. There’s also improved technology to find others who are online, and if anything in the announcement could directly lead to a new service-layer threat, it would likely come from here.

Leaving the song-matching capability aside, iCloud isn’t much different from what Google or Microsoft might offer, and what a host of third-party products also have. Syncing devices with the cloud isn’t exactly big news. Anyone with multiple e-readers does it all the time for books, too. So we’re left wondering whether Apple trotted out the Big Gun for nothing, or whether the current iCloud is a kind of lightweight shape of heavyweight things to come.

Probably the most interesting stuff was what wasn’t in the announcement.  For example, regular device syncing with iCloud will happen only when you’re WiFi-linked and off the mobile network. Obviously that relieves what might be considerable user angst over the charges, but it also alleviates operator concerns about the gratuitous traffic. Operators are also likely to be relieved that video won’t be streamed/synced with Apple TV. In fact, it appears that Apple may have made a deliberate effort not to push operators too hard. Might they be waiting until they have something to leverage in such an operator battle?

So adding up the points, you could speculate that the iPhone 5 might be that un-SIM-ed phone we and others have talked about. You could speculate that when Apple has the tools to cut the cord, it will then expand iCloud and take the gloves off. If so, it would seem likely that the new iPhone and the new independence aren’t too far away. Why spend Jobs’ collateral on something that’s not even close to being explosive? Why alert Microsoft (which sort-of-announced an Xbox TV premium subscription service on the same day) and Google?

The Apple announcement gave both operators and vendors some breathing room. Apple hasn’t made that killer move in the space…for now. The problem is that the ongoing battle between Apple and Google in the mobile space, and the attempts by Microsoft to elbow in for itself, will surely drive more radical changes and put more pressure on operators to make the moves their vendors are reluctant to support. For someone wanting to increase their market share in the router space, this is what to look at.  New models are just new boxes, not new strategies.

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