How Much for that Cloud in the Window?

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So the big announcement is iCloud, iOS 5, and Lion. These are all good things, and probably make clever use of a new, powerful back-end that will hopefully be a major part of Apple’s strategy going forward. One of the interesting thing to see is how Apple will be pricing this “new” service, if it’s going to be considered “new” at all.

I agree with what TUAW has to say about Apple’s paid vs. free options being a part of its iCloud (née MobileMe) plans. I can’t imagine that Apple would ignore the vast potential in this market. There’s just no way that any company in their right mind would ignore the power that a uniting backbone would have in its ecosystem.

It’s been a perennial rumor that Apple will stop charging $99/year for much of its MobileMe service. The rumors have always suggested Apple will offer basic services (like email and over-the-air device syncing) for free, while paying subscribers will have access to things like website hosting, online photo galleries, storage options through iDisk, and now potentially wireless streaming of music via the rumored iCloud service.

Then there’s this article by AppleInsider that offers up another possible interpretation, namely that offer will be introducing a “tiered” pricing model to their new iCloud service based on the user’s operating system. I don’t think this is going to happen, since tiered pricing is uncharacteristic of Apple.

That price tag may remain for users who do not make the upgrade to Lion, or for Windows users. But it is expected that the cloud services will become free to Mac users who run the latest version of Mac OS X.

My opinion is that Apple will introduce some kind of free option. Just about every big tech player out there offers some sort of free email option, and that’s by design. By pulling people into your ecosystem, you grab mindshare and envelop them in whatever “culture” your product or service suite represents.

There’s also the increasing awareness of what email addresses mean. A person with an “@me.com” email address is telling the world “I probably own a Mac or iOS device, and have the ability to view whatever files you’d like to email me or access just about any site you send my way.” This is important in today’s business world, where the data is less important than the connections they represent. A business owner isn’t going to say, “Hey, can you send me that file in a keynote? I have an iPhone.” No, they’re just going to be able to open because they have an iPhone. Offering their customers even more integration, stability, and ease-of-use would be a huge selling point for Apple, and will also pave the way for their future plans for FaceTime (which I believe Apple will push heavily as a replacement for phone calls in the coming years).

Exciting stuff, can’t wait for the Keynote.

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Getting It Done

DONE AND DONE

Anyone who knows me understands that my mind is mush of things I haven’t done, things that I’m about to do, and things that I’m just not gonna do. Somewhere in there, somehow, I manage to get some stuff done. I know, it’s a mystery to me, too.

That being said, there are a ton of apps out there that are designed to help keep your life on track and relatively ordered (not that anything can order the desolate wasteland that is my mind, but it’s always worth a shot). Some of these apps are stellar, and some aren’t. I’ve used a couple of these apps in the past, but they’ve always fallen just a little short of my expectations and/or usage case because they’re all lacking some specific feature or service integration and just don’t measure up to my expectations. Again, because my mind seems to take all incoming information and immediately smash into a million tiny fragments, I have to intercept stuff and put it in some form that is manageable and understandable later on before I lose it. For instance: If I need to write a letter to someone, I cannot simply create a “To-do” item or task labeled “Write a letter to Bob.” Later that day, or even five minutes later, I might look at that to-do and wonder why I’m writing a letter to Bob. I’ll see no clear purpose for writing the letter, so I’ll just delete the “to-do” or task and move on with my day (which usually involves looking up pictures of koalas or pandas or pallas cats.

You see the dilemma.

I need to spell everything out for my future koala/panda/pallas cat-drunk self, or else I’ll forget it lickety-split. I also need all this information to be ubiquitous so that I can’t possibly miss it, meaning that it has to sync with everything I could possibly need it to sync with. If it could sync with my coffee mug or shaving soap dish, believe me I’d be in 100%.

There were two main candidates to this process that I found and have been using for a little while. The first was an app called BusyToDo, made by the guys who make BusyCal. The latter has received high marks for its integration with iCal on the Mac. I never use iCal on my Mac, so I wouldn’t care about that. I mean, it’s there, but it’s not important to me, because it’s basically just a way to get stuff into the cloud. The BusyToDo app, however, is for iOS, which I use only all the time constantly always, so that’s gotta be stellar. Sadly, it’s good, but it’s not super awesome. The killer feature of this guy is that it syncs as you make changes, which means that startup and shutdown times for the app are essentially nonexistent. They make the whole thing really fast, but the app itself is really simple. Make a task, maybe add a note to it, but that’s about it. I haven’t yet discovered a way to make this app work for me. Sure, you can schedule repeating tasks, but I’ve never been one for these “repeating” tasks, because if it’s something I do every day, I’m not gonna friggin’ take time out of my day to check a box, AMIRIGHT? Don’t care about that. I had high hopes for this app when it was only for iPhone, since I thought that an iPad version would be awesome. It’s sorta meh. Not bad, not great. Gets the job done for ten bucks, if you wanna drop that on a so-so app.

I dropped a fiver back when it cost a penny less than that, so I’m not too disappointed, and I got good use out of it. Maybe I’ve got a healthy dose of OCD or some other crazy disorder, or maybe I’m a little bit autistic (everyone seems to be somewhere on that spectrum, these days), but I have this crazy obsession with tagging just about everything I do to give it some sort of context. As such, I’ve found that there’s another stellar app out there that needs mentioning: 2do.

Oh man. Awesome. I’m expecting to drop $15 on this bad boy, but no, the app itself was $7, with another $3 for the ability to sync with MobileMe, for all of $10. Lemme tell you folks, this is the real deal. I can create lists, projects, tag each to-do I create with places, people, things, add notes, audio, pictures…this thing does it all. For people with dysfunctional short-term memories (uh…guilty), this app is a life-saver. I know I have stuff going on, and this app pulls it all together beautifully in an interface that feels really great to use. It’s a top-shelf app with top-shelf features and at a middle-shelf price. If you’re looking for a rawsome to-do app that syncs with the cloud, you need to get this app NOW.

Although it syncs across devices through the MobileMe service (which is awesome), there are limitations. Sure, there are notifications that pop up, but they’re local notifications, not technically push. So yeah, you’re getting popups on your li’l screen there, but they’re coming from 2do. Normally, not an issue, but since this is a universal app, it means that if I add a notification on my iPad, I have to make sure I open 2do on my iPhone so it picks up all the changes (and vice versa), otherwise I may not get the memo I left for myself. This is also partly Apple’s fault. They have notifications enabled for calendar events that push to your iOS devices, but not for tasks (yet). I’ve been hoping that they add native support for tasks for a long time, so maybe iOS 5 will surprise me nicely with that.

That being said, I still love the app. I think Apple will get their act together and update MobileMe to support task notifications, which will add even more to the functionality of this app. Even if Apple does work their magic and updates MobileMe, it will be really, really hard to compete with 2do. It’s just that good. I highly recommend it, and I think you should give it a try to see how much it’ll do for your life.


In Like a Lion

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One of the most powerful developments in recent years has been the creation of “cloud computing.” Folks familiar with the technology know that it’s essentially doing for your computer what email services like Gmail and Yahoo! have done for your communication–they’ve taken your messages, contacts, and other personal information and stored it on secure servers across the nation to make it easily retrievable in the case of an emergency or hardware failure. Instead of relying on a single storage point (your home PC, for example) to store all of your communication, Google, Yahoo, and dozens of other websites offer to handle of those tasks in exchange for showing you advertising or using some non-identifiable information to craft better algorithms.

For most people, the immediate benefit of these systems was apparent. Access your mail anywhere, store contacts somewhere that won’t be affected in the case of a system crash or loss of a single device (like a phone), and integrate these services with your web browsing. Easy, and powerful. The systems that provided these services long ago have evolved significantly, now allowing entire operating systems to essentially run through your broadband connection, piping only the data necessary for input and allowing massive supercomputers to handle all of the processing.

That all sounds fine and good, but what does it mean for you?

Cloud computing, so named because of its pseudo-omnipresence, changes the role of computers significantly. They no longer exist as a single point of storage for all your information. Instead, the computer is more of a gateway, a portal to your data that is stored in massive servers. One analogy I can draw is that of a dry cleaner. With the old model of computing, it was as though you were standing at the front of a dry cleaning factory trying to look for a specific shirt. You might not even know where the shirt was located, but you’d still have to find it yourself. With the advent of search, that process was trimmed a bit- you tell someone else what to look for and where to look, and they find the shirt.

Now, with cloud computing, we see that yet another layer of interaction is slowly melting away. We’re doing away with the fetching entirely. You don’t even really need to know where you’ve stored your data, you just need to run a search, and you can pull down results from the stuff you have stored locally on your computer as well as the files floating up with the sun and moon. We are no longer limited by how much space is on our devices, how much storage we can buy. The only limiting factor is the infrastructure that connects all these devices together. Some people have asked me, almost accusingly, “Well what happens if the network goes down? What then, huh?”

If the entire United States suddenly experiences a simultaneous and catastrophic shutdown of all of its network infrastructure, we will have much bigger things to worry about than listening to our music or accessing the documents on our cloud folder. That’s akin to asking what would happen if all paper in the United States suddenly caught fire. I don’t want to hypothesize about the events or circumstances that would need to exist in order to facilitate such a terrible reality, but, assuming it was both spontaneous and total, I doubt anyone would be worried about their fourth grade diary.

Digression. Apologies.

In recent news, we’ve heard rumblings of Apple’s new iOS 5 being cloud-based, a total overhaul of the OS. I can’t even begin to fathom what that means. The OS seems just fine as it is, but the cloud is where it’s at these days, and that darn data center that’s been occupying so many of my thoughts and predictions seems like the perfect use of all those massive petaflops (or whatever they use to measure data centers of that magnitude). It all seems to be coming together now.

What we will start to see is more unity across Apple’s various OS products. Remember back in 2005, when Steve was asked what kind of OS the iPhone was running? Does anyone remember his response? Let’s recap, shall we?

Jobs admitted that Apple is a new player in the cell phone business, saying “We’re newcomers. People have forgotten more than we know about this.” Jobs noted that the operating system to run the iPhone — Mac OS X itself — has been in develop for more than a decade (its roots like in NeXT’s Nextstep operating system). Mossberg suggested that the iPhone doesn’t have the entire operating system on it, but Jobs protested.

“Yes it does. The entire OS is gigabytes, but it’s data. We don’t need desktop patterns, sound files. If you take out the data, the OS isn’t that huge. It’s got real OS X, real Safari, real desktop e-mail. And we can take Safari and put a different user interface on it, to work with the multitouch screen. And if you don’t own a browser, you can’t do that,” said Jobs.

This shift is not overnight, and it is not a new direction for Mac OS. Once Apple began work on the iPad, they started planning for this shift, possibly even before that. I seem to remember some folks discussing the origins of the iPhone, how it was actually rooted in an experimental side project that Steve Jobs somehow got a look at and recognized as brilliant, and that said side project was actually more akin to the iPad than the iPhone. At any rate, it looks to me as though Apple has been planning this shift for years, possibly even the better part of a decade. I believe that Apple designed iOS with unification in mind all along, seeing a desire to create a powerful OS for new mobile devices that hadn’t even been developed yet. It seems fairly obvious when you look at their last “Back to the Mac” event, and even more glaringly obvious when you see something like this coming out of Gizmodo.

Adobe demonstrated Photoshop for iPad yesterday. Not a sub-product like Photoshop Express, but the real Photoshop, with a new skin. Sure, it doesn’t have some of the advanced print and web publishing oriented features of the desktop behemoth. But it has everything you need, from layers compositing—including a 3D mode to show people how they work—to what appeared to be non-destructive adjust layers, levels, color controls, and all the features I use every day in the desktop Photoshop. From the little we have seen, the application was fast and smooth.

I believe Apple has succeeded in ushering in a new age already; I can’t wait to see them throw the doors wide open to a future we’ve only dreamed of.


The Future of Mac OS

Came across an interesting post on TUAW today:

Some advantages of the newly integrated suite of server administrative software include a guided setup process for configuring a Mac as a server; “local and remote administration – for users and groups, push notifications, file sharing, calendaring, mail, contacts, chat, Time Machine, VPN, web, and wiki services – all in one place”; “simple, profile-based setup and management for Mac OS X Lion, iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch devices” with Profile Manager; Wiki Server 3, designed to make it “even easier to collaborate, share, and exchange information”; and WebDAV services that give iPad users “the ability to [wirelessly] access, copy, and share documents on the server from applications such as Keynote, Numbers, and Pages.”

Bolding mine.

Thanks to Wired for the image!What we’re seeing is a paradigm shift in home computer usage.  More and more people are shifting away from traditional desktop configurations for their everyday computing and adopting the iPad as their primary method of getting access to the information they want.  This as inevitable as it is surprising.  Inevitable, because mobile computers have increasingly become the focal point of the technology world; surprising, because it happened so fast and so definitively.  I need more than the fingers on my hands to count the number of people who use the iPad as their primary computer.  As they become more powerful and ever more portable, that number will increase.

iPad sales have also been staggering, especially when compared to other manufacturers (HP, Samsung), and has captured huge percentages of the market (even markets that don’t even really belong to it).  Hence, people are starting to wonder if it makes sense to even own a computer if this sort of thing starts becoming the norm.

Unfortunately, the iPad still needs to sync to something, and this something is quickly changing into less of a computing device and more of a server.  The fact that Lion (Mac OS 10.7) will essentially allow any Mac owner to function as a server is quite interesting, and I believe it shows Apple’s future plans under the surface.

Apple likes Mac OS, and believes that it will survive for a long, long time.  I agree with this, but I believe that the Mac OS will shift subtly away from its current place as the OS that people see to the OS that works under the surface.  It’s a powerful statement about the future roles of the “computer” and “user.”  In Apple’s future, the “computer” should be invisible, providing a means for people to access what they need, when they need it.  The “user” simply gets access to what he or she wants through one of the many pipelines that transfer his or her data.

This is a trend that I have been participating in for a while, through apps like Simplify (RIP) and now Audiogalaxy, LogMeIn, and Air Sharing.  The whole idea is that my iPad serves as a window/portal to everything that I may need.

Introducing a “server” option to a standard install of Mac OS Lion is Apple telling the world that soon, the computer they have sitting in the den will grow wings and live in the cloud.