SAN JOSE, Calif. – Once again Apple has taken something most of its competitors are doing, polished the customer value part of it and come out looking like a pioneer.
So it goes with the iCloud service that brings Apple into closer competition with many services Google and others have been offering for some time. Apple's move follows announcements months ago by traditional rivals such Dell and Hewlett-Packard that are spending big bucks on their own cloud services and Intel which has been helping others launch cloud services as a way to cement customer relationships and lock users into the x86.
The contrast between Apple and Google in cloud is interesting. Apple remains a device company edging into a growing business in online services. Google is just the opposite. Now the two have essentially met in the middle for what will be quite a battle for the hearts and minds of the technorati.
While Dell and HP have announced generic plans to build big clouds, Apple has shown them a way to do it that really helps end users.
Apple has defined a half a dozen solid iCloud services, some of them simply reborn of Apple's failed MobileMe service. Others are fresh and thoughtful—the new iTunes Match service for example, that automates the process of getting all your music from any service in one repository. That's something that users have needed for a looooong time.
Apple's storage, backup and other music and e-book services are the sorts of things others are already doing or ought to be doing—making all content available on all registered devices from one service. Duh—that's sort of what Web services are supposed to be about.
It's a tribute to Apple's focus on customer value they saw such unmet needs as simply notifying all your devices when new photos are available on any of them. It's also an indictment of the rest of the industry that it has not delivered such simple things widely.
It makes sense now that Apple really wants to drive into offering online services it should bake online capabilities deeply into the gadgets that represent its main business. After all, Apple is the poster boy for vertical integration these days.
So it should be no surprise, Apple will bury the roots of its new messaging and news subscription services in to the bowels of iOS. That would give the fledgling services a hand getting in front of users and providing capabilities a more open alternative could not provide. This is a form of customer lock in at its best—and worst—and is typical of Apple's closed model.
It will be interesting to see if either Apple or Google move on to cloud-based movie services. The Ultraviolet technology developed in conjunction with movie studios is ready to start forming the basis of such online services. Google is more culturally likely than Apple to reach out to someone else's digital rights management technology.
Apple is going deep into Web services at a time when Google is increasing its hardware footprint. Not only have Google Android smartphones emerged as the leading competitors to Apple iOS, Google Chromebooks now directly compete with Apple MacBooks.
This is classic Mac versus Windows. Apple has an edge in controlling the design of its products from A5 microprocessors to Web services. Google can leverage a bazillion open source developers and OEMs to deliver its products, but it must heard those cats who will inevitably produce less than optimal work--but much more of it.
History shows good enough and lower cost usually win. Thus the Wintel PC. So I give Google a big edge here as the long term winner.
The Internet search giant is not shaking in its boots over iCloud. Apple's comment that it spent $500 million in one new data center to help launch these products is laughable. Dell committed to spending a billion on its cloud plans this year.
These amounts are drops in a barrel compared to what Google has spent with reportedly as many as a million servers in distributed data centers humming all around the world for years now.
Welcome to cloud computing Apple. It's going to be one heck of a show.