Nowadays, the term cloud computing is a hype; it is something that we often refer to as a new revolution. However, we often end up misunderstanding it.
We think of cloud computing as a product of the early 21st century, however cloud computing has actually been around for quite a long time. It can be dated back to the early days of the computer era in the 1960s, wherein the computation was performed by large-scale mainframe and client computers, also called dumb terminal or thin client, having no processing capability. But it was only in 2006 that this term seemed more popular than ever when the two software giants, Amazon and Microsoft, introduced their cloud computing platforms, followed soon by various cloud computing and storage services such as Dropbox.
Cloud computing essentially comprises of performing computations in a large number of connected computers over the Internet. The computations can be as simple as managing and synchronizing content or highly-distributed software operations. What these operations have in common, is the sharing of resources between users and tenants to achieve coherence and economies of scale. It's like sharing electricity. By doing that, the initial investment cost of computing infrastructure can be reduced to none, and the monthly usage cost can be reduced as well. In other words, users don't have to purchase and deploy one or more dedicated servers on the Internet in order to share files. For example, besides sharing the computing resources (processors, memory, or storage), cloud computing can be beneficial by allocating resources on demand. Essentially, you pay for what you use.
During its evolution, cloud computing has come a long way from just sharing computing resources to providing seamless integration and synchronization between devices, both for PC and mobile devices. The latter is where iCloud comes into place.
The personal computer (PC) has evolved throughout the years from the age of productivity in the 1980s, where people used it for spreadsheets and databases, to the age of networking in the 1990s, where it connected to the Internet, and entered into its third age in the early 2000s, the age of digital lifestyle. Consumers had increasingly started using all kinds of digital devices, such as digital cameras, camcorders, music players, and PDAs, but these devices didn't make sense without a computer. The personal computer was going to become the center or digital hub of this new digital lifestyle, making all its pieces—music, photos, movies, contacts and data—come together.
On January 9, 2001, Apple's CEO, Steve Jobs, outlined Apple's "digital hub" strategy. The iMac became the center of a user's digital life, managing content on cameras, video cameras, mobile phones, and media players. It's a plan that put Apple's new OS X at the place where the Internet and the rest of a user's digital life meets. It's worked out well over the past decade; Apple's shares have risen by 2917.9 percent.
Microsoft, with its Windows operating system, went with a similar strategy with the release of Windows XP on October 25, 2001. Windows XP introduced—among other new features—a streamlined multimedia experience dubbed as "Media Center". Media Center emphasizes on DVD playback, TV tuner, DVR functionality, and remote controls. Then, Microsoft also introduced Microsoft Plus! Digital Media Edition for Windows XP and as a part of the Microsoft Plus! product line, designed to give users who own standard PCs more features for editing and playing with media files.
The introduction of iCloud in 2011 put an end to the PC as a digital hub strategy, especially for Apple.
As Apple started the initiative of using PC as the digital hub, it also ended it with the iCloud. And that's not without reason. Every day, mobile devices are coming closer and closer to match PC capabilities. It is time to demote the PC to be just another device on par with mobile devices. Now, cloud is the new digital hub where everything gets stored and synced to it. Add or update calendar items, contacts, notes, e-mails, photos, songs, videos, books, and it's all available in the cloud and immediately synced across devices. iCloud was the first notable initiative of positioning the cloud as the digital hub.
For the sake of history, iCloud is not Apple's first attempt in the cloud computing space. There was MobileMe that offered similar synchronization services for an annual subscription fee. MobileMe's primary purpose was to keep certain files synchronized among multiple devices that included e-mails, contacts, calendars, browser bookmarks, photo galleries, and Apple iWeb and iDisk services. The MobileMe service was discontinued entirely on June 30, 2012 and replaced by iCloud.
In terms of cloud computing, iCloud is a different type of cloud computing that puts more focus on keeping content synced across endpoint devices such as iOS devices (iPads, iPhones, iPod touches, and Apple TVs), Macs, and Windows computers. It's more about synchronization services rather than infrastructure or platform services in which you move the processing and data from local computers to Internet-based servers and resources.
There are lots of things that you can do with iCloud, and iCloud can do so much for you as well. We will cover most of the features in this book; some of them were recently introduced in the Apple's annual developer event, Worldwide Developer Conference 2013.
iCloud offers a lot of services that you can work with. There are Mails, Contacts, and Calendar as the main services, iMessage for sending messages or other content, Notes and Reminders, Photo Stream for keeping pictures taken with your devices and sharing them, iTunes in the cloud, iTunes Match, Documents in the Cloud, Backup, Find My iPhone for searching your lost devices, and more. We will look at all the services in the following sections
Mail, Contacts, and Calendar are the three main services in iCloud. These are free to use and available for every single user. For Mail itself, Apple provides 5 GB storage to use, shared with other iCloud services. For more information, you can read Chapter 3, Working with Mail, Contacts, and Calendar.
iMessage was introduced by Apple in 2011, and allows you to send/receive messages, pictures, contacts' information, or even locations from an Apple device to/from another Apple device. iMessage is available on Mac and iOS devices. For more information, you can read Chapter 4, Collaborate with iMessage, Notes, and Reminders.
Notes and Reminders are two simple, yet powerful productivity tools. Notes keeps your notes and syncs them all to your Mac and iOS devices. Reminders lets you write some to-do lists and gather them into groups. Just like Notes, it also syncs to all your Mac and iOS devices. For more information, you can read Chapter 4, Collaborate with iMessage, Notes, and Reminders.
Photo Stream is the best feature for those who love taking pictures from their iOS devices. This feature automatically uploads all the pictures taken by you and syncs them all to your Mac, iOS devices, and Apple TV. For more information, you can read Chapter 5, Using iPhoto and iTunes with iCloud.
After you've bought music, movies, TV shows, or apps from the iTunes Store, iTunes in the Cloud lets you download everything you've bought again. Not just that, when you buy an app or a music album from your iOS device, iTunes downloads the same content you bought at the same time on your Mac. So you don't need to sync your iOS device just for transferring the content. For more information, you can read Chapter 5, Using iPhoto and iTunes with iCloud.
iTunes Match is a subscription service from Apple to put all your iTunes music libraries on iCloud. By activating this feature, you can access and listen to your entire music library wherever you are. iTunes Match not only works for the music you've purchased from the iTunes Store but also the music you've purchased from any of the sources, including music imported from CD. For more information, you can read Chapter 5, Using iPhoto and iTunes with iCloud.
With Documents in the Cloud, you can store documents such as text documents, spreadsheets, and presentations to the cloud. It is different from other services, as it also syncs your documents including all the changes made to them. It's really useful if you work on multiple devices. For more information, you can read Chapter 6, Syncing Your Contents with iCloud.
Find My iPhone is a service that helps you to locate your iOS devices and Mac computers wherever they are. On Mac, this feature is known as Find My Mac. This feature is really useful when you lose your device or it's stolen because you can track it. In iOS 7, Find My iPhone locks your iPhone, so a thief can't use the device or restore it as a new device because it will keep asking for the original Apple ID and password provided when it's first successfully activated. For more information, you can read Chapter 7, Exploring iCloud Apps.
The iCloud.com website is the place to see nearly all your stored data on the iCloud server. It also has eight web apps that you can access from any desktop web browser: Mail, Contacts, Calendars, Notes, Reminders, Find My iPhone, and iWork. For more information, you can read Chapter 7, Exploring iCloud Apps.
With Back to My Mac feature, you can easily and securely access your remote Mac computers from other Mac computers over the Internet. You can easily browse through your files and drag-and-drop them between remote and local Mac computers. You can also do screen sharing in order to control your remote computer as if you were sitting in front of it. For more details, please refer to Chapter 9, Using iCloud with OS X.
iCloud allows you to back up your iOS devices directly to the cloud. You can also restore them directly from iCloud. Since your iOS device directly interacts with iCloud, there's no computer needed to activate and use this feature. For more information, you can read Chapter 8, Backing Up Devices to iCloud.
Since OS X Mountain Lion (10.8) has been released, Apple intensely integrates iCloud with OS X. Stock or built-in apps are already integrated with the iCloud services and many third-party apps. You will learn how they collaborate, and how to use iCloud for productivity. On the next version to be released, OS X Mavericks (10.9), we're going to see deeper iCloud integration into the system. For more information, you can read Chapter 9, Using iCloud with OS X.
Not only for OS X, Apple lets you access some iCloud services and integrates them with Windows PC. With iCloud Control Panel, which needs to be downloaded and installed separately, you can access Mail, Contacts, and Calendar with Microsoft Outlook 2007 or later. For more information, you can read Chapter 10, Using iCloud with Windows.
At the time of writing this book, Apple has announced two new features for iCloud during the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) on June 10, 2013: iWork for iCloud and iCloud Keychain. We will not cover these features in detail here since they are still in the beta stage and may be changed over time until their final release. The next section gives a short explanation about them.
iWork for iCloud is different from the current iWork app on iCloud.com. With iWork for iCloud, Apple brings Pages, Numbers, and Keynotes to the Web. So you can create and edit new documents directly from a web browser. You can also import any Microsoft Office documents and edit them directly on iWork for iCloud. This feature is available as a beta version for all iCloud users.
With iCloud Keychain, Apple syncs all of your saved passwords to all of your devices. It also helps you by suggesting a password when you forget it. It stores them securely because they're encrypted with robust 256-bit AES encryption. This feature will be available on OS X Mavericks and iOS 7, as shown in the following screenshot:
In terms of cloud computing, iCloud is not commonly understood as cloud computing. Most of the users who use iCloud don't even know that they are using some form of cloud computing and that is okay. Instead, iCloud is the typical offering from Apple; one that's turnkey and user-friendly so that consumers never see most of its underlying complexities. All they know is that their data magically syncs among devices, and they don't care whether it's via cloud computing or carrier pigeons.
Nevertheless, we need to differentiate iCloud from other common cloud computing services.
While there are some rumors that some parts of iCloud services run on top of Windows Azure, regardless of whether it is true or not, iCloud is different from Windows Azure or its rival Amazon Web Services. Amazon and Azure focus on Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) and Platform as a Service (PaaS) that allow application developers and IT professionals to develop and deploy applications or services to some servers on the Internet, instead of doing it with their own servers. It is essentially about moving the processing and data from local (private/on-premise) computers to Internet-based servers and resources. In contrast, iCloud is about users, which allows user's content to be synchronized all the time between devices, PC (OS X and Windows-based), and iOS devices. For example, iCloud won't allow web developers to host their websites / web applications.
The defining feature of iCloud, when compared to Dropbox, is that the content/files are in a virtual silo per app. iCloud has been designed specifically to be application-centric and deeply integrated into each application that uses it. When you edit a document using Pages on your Mac, it will be synced to Pages on your iPhone or iPad. This Pages document is only available in the Pages app on each device. Your Keynote presentations are only available in the Keynote app on each device and not accessible by the Pages app on iOS devices. So are the photos shared using the Photo Stream feature; they are only available in the Photo Stream app in iOS devices and iPhoto on Mac.
Dropbox is different; it is basically a folder on your hard drive that syncs to a virtual folder, then in turn syncs to another folder on another device you have and set. Basically, it is a large folder in the cloud that apps can tie in to, and you can have it on most of your devices and computers. It is the most flexible and least inventive, while iCloud is the most inventive and least flexible.
iCloud is a part of the vision that Apple's late CEO, Steve Jobs had to use the cloud as the digital hub instead of computers. Unlike other cloud services, iCloud offers a seamless experience within all Apple devices you own. It's a different type of cloud computing where it's more focused on your contents and syncs them across all devices. iCloud offers a bunch of services you can use, which range from Mail to Reminders, storing your pictures with Photo Stream and documents with Documents in the Cloud, backing up your iOS devices, and locating your mobile devices with Find My iPhone. In the next chapter, you'll learn more on how to set up all these services and use them on your devices.