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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A Novel Approach

So there have been a lot of approaches to this whole smartphone/tablet combo, and I struggle to see how any of them are truly good approaches to something that really isn’t a problem to begin with, and, truth be told, some of them seem actually harmful to the future of the PC that we’re currently headed toward.

The recent release of the Asus Padfone thing is just insane, like a tablet “turducken.”

For some reason, tablet manufacturers keep insisting that the tablet experience is hamstrung on its own, and continuously mandate the use of some sort of phone in order to complete the experience, or even use the device at all. Before anyone jumps on me for that sentence, I know that two of those examples aren’t even tablets, but take that in the spirit of the statement.

Companies designing these personal, productivity-driven devices that are reliant on smartphones are saying several things simultaneously. “You can do more!”, “You don’t have to manage the data on two devices separately!”, “You have more flexibility!” etc. What is really happening, however, is the cheapening of these devices and damage to the overall industry. Let’s take the Palm Foleo, the first of its kind and arguably the predecessor to the netbook. This device was “revealed” in an era when people got their data connections by tethering their devices to bluetooth-capable phones, so it made sense for the Foleo to then suck data out of its tethered Treo. Kudos to Palm for attempting to creating a great ecosystem, too. I applaud that. I think it was too revolutionary at the time, however, which led to its ultimate failure. (Side note: At the time, I was using a Nokia N800 paired with a Sony-Ericsson K790a (James Bond, FTW!). I loved both of these devices, but I kept thinking “I’d like to be able to use this tablet if I ever forget my phone,” and “I wish this phone was more capable at general ‘computing’ tasks so I can still use it if I ever forget my tablet.” Then I got an iPhone. At no point, however, did I think that the phone should be my gateway to the Internet for another device. It stood on its own and was perfectly functional.).

Currently, however, having this sort of dependence tells the consumer that

  1. Their device is not capable of real work (which is a lie).
  2. Their larger laptop/tablet is no more than a large phone (which is also a lie).
  3. The two devices are explicitly codependent.

This is really bad! It further solidifies the view that phones are “just” phones, and that tablets are “just” big phones. I have taken notes, written papers, and read books on my iPhone. The fact of the matter is that this device is powerful and capable of producing real work that I have gotten graded, real research that I have used to write papers and blog posts, and real communication with people oceans away. The reason that I have an iPad and an iPhone is because I want two separate devices, not some crazy Frankenstein monster of a device. There are times that I need to work on just one device, and, let’s face it, sometimes we just forget one at home. The key isn’t creating a physical bridge between the two that mandates the existence of one in order for the other to be used, it’s creating an invisible backbone that allows these devices to share information invisibly, so that the user can put one down,pick the other up, and resume working exactly where he or she left off. There have been hopes of iOS “state” cloud syncing for a little while, and this truly where this needs to go.

We don’t need devices that are tethered together using wires and plugs, we need devices and services that are smart enough to get out of the way and let our intention take center stage.

Update: Corrected spelling of “Padfone.”


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.