Inside iCloud: Apple's new web services for iOS and Mac OS X Lion

Posted:
in macOS edited January 2014
Apple's iCloud services, announced this summer at the company's Worldwide Developer Conference, are quickly maturing for their initial release this fall. Here's what's new and what's changed.



Speaking at WWDC, Apple's chief executive Steve Jobs presented iCloud as three groups of online services that would be provided to iOS and Mac OS X Lion users in a composite package under the new brand name, replacing most of the company's existing MobileMe services.



The package is referred to as various "cloud" services because they are hosted on remote servers and available to desktop or mobile clients anywhere on the Internet through its nebulous cloud of network routers.



iCloud combines an improved group of messaging-related services originating in the existing MobileMe (including Mail, Contacts, Calendar) with a greatly expanded set of document and media-related services (including Photo Stream and Documents & Data), as well as an entirely new iCloud backup and new "iTunes in the Cloud" services to keep content (from music and video to apps and iBooks) wirelessly up to date across a user's devices.



A host of improvements over MobileMe



The first segment of iCloud services are essentially the next generation of Apple's existing MobileMe web apps. The company has enhanced its MobileMe web apps for Mail, Contacts and Calendars, unifying their look with the company's native iPad apps.











Besides the new look consistent with iPad (and Mac OS X Lion) apps, the other obviously discernible difference in iCloud's online Mail, Contacts and Calendar clients is a lot more speed. Working within the apps is simply much faster.



That may be due to the fact that nobody is using iCloud yet apart from Apple's developers testing the new system, but Apple has also greatly expanded its server-side capacity with the introduction of its new data center in North Carolina in addition to newly leased space in Silicon Valley.



One of the core advantages to cloud computing in general is that the vendor can flexibly allocate new server hardware to handle demand from users. This wasn't done exceptionally well for MobileMe, which is fairly slow in the US and painfully lethargic in many other countries.



However, it appears Apple has learned a lot since, and the deployment of its massive new server in North Carolina (along with other leased data center locations) will go a long way to backing up the intention of delivering a service that can sustain better performance. It's still not clear whether such a centralized service will work well for users outside the US, without some kind of help from CDN providers or local outposts of Apple run server locations. With more and more of Apple's business occurring outside the US, this will be an increasingly important issue.



The performance of iCloud's web apps is a combination of server capacity (now greatly enhanced), server-side software sophistication (which keeps improving, as noted below), network speed and latency (which Apple can't control for clients) and client side browser sophistication (which similarly keeps improving, allowing HTML5-style apps to increasingly improve in responsiveness, in part by leveraging hardware acceleration and improved JavaScript execution).



On page 2 of 3: What's new in iCloud's web apps.

What's new in iCloud's web apps



All of these factors are advancing in concert, making it no surprise that iCloud's web apps are a marked improvement over the previous generation of MobileMe. One new big leap for iCloud's web apps is that they're now officially HTML5.



While MobileMe apps were primarily served up as "XHTML 1.0 Strict," with some HTML5-associated features, iCloud apps are now straight-up HTML5, with its simple DOCTYPE of "html". While everyone is making efforts to support HTML5 in their browsers, that doesn't necessarily mean that iCloud will "just work" everywhere, just yet. Navigate to the site on your mobile device (including an iPhone or iPad), for example, and you still get a message to "visit icloud.com on a Mac or PC for the Web Apps."



iCloud's web apps make use of Local Storage, which can, for example, keep a copy of calendar data stored on the client side, allowing the Calendar app to open and operate faster, as long as you're working on a machine where it makes sense to save a local copy (you might not want to copy your data to a shared, public terminal, for example).







iCloud also uses cookies of course, something that the site cutely reminds you of if you attempt to access it with cookies turned off in your browser







Expanded web apps



In addition to better, faster versions of its existing web apps, Apple is also expanding what services are available within its web apps. Apple seemingly took forever to add Notes sync to MobileMe in Mac OS X and iOS, and is just now preparing to add Reminders (aka To Dos) sync across the board, with a dedicated Reminders app in iOS 5 and prominent positioning of Notes within Lion Mail and Reminders in the Lion Calendar app.



iCloud continues to sync Safari bookmarks, although there is no longer a web interface for accessing them; presumably, if you use bookmark sync, you'll access them via the browser you use, rather than on a web page itself.



Apple also rewrote its Find My Phone web app for iCloud, which now incorporates support for finding Mac OS X Lion Macs connected to the same iCloud account as well. In addition to locating devices, the service can remotely lock or wipe a configured Mac.







There is also a new iWork component in the iCloud web apps, which allows users to see and download (in iWork, Office or PDF formats) any of the documents they've stored in the cloud using native iWork apps on either the Mac or iOS. This functionality, related to iCloud's new Documents & Data feature, will be examined more closely in the following segment.







On page 3 of 3: Banished components of MobileMe, Beyond web aps.

Banished components of MobileMe



There are also two missing components that are currently included in MobileMe: iDisk and Gallery. Rather than providing simple cloud storage for photos and documents like MobileMe, iCloud offers a far more sophisticated type of cloud storage, complete with version management and push updating across the devices you use.



Rather than being a "virtual disk in the cloud" like Dropbox or the former iDisk, there's now no need for users to manually copy documents to iCloud, manage those documents between devices, or think about how to retrieve those documents from their computers or mobile devices. iCloud taps into both iOS 5 and Mac OS X Lion at the system level, turning iCloud into a core operating system feature that just happens to be hosted by Apple rather than running locally on the machine.



Also missing from MobileMe is the entire concept of web hosting. Apple initially sold its .Mac service as an assortment of email and web hosting features, but relatively few saw the value in having Apple host their content; for users with serious needs for web hosting, Apple's offerings were too little, while casual users rarely had enough need for web hosting to make figuring out how to use .Mac worth their while.



With the transition to MobileMe, Apple downplayed its web hosting services and focused on push messaging, aiming directly at mobile users. This proved to be more popular and valuable to Apple's customers. The move to iCloud just moves further in that direction, erasing web hosting entirely along with the little used iWeb app for Mac OS X, and instead delivering personal document management tools that will be more valuable to most Mac and iOS users.



The result is that iCloud's services are now free rather than $99 per year, with users only needing to pay if they use more than 5GB of storage. The downside is that a few MobileMe users will need to find alternative web hosting services. Fortunately, they are plenty of free or inexpensive web and cloud storage services available to fill the void Apple is leaving behind.



Apple's MobileMe iDisk features were so little used that various features, such as its ability to stream background music playback, were not discovered by the mainstream media until nearly a month after they were released, and services offering similar features, such as Google Music, are still commonly believed to be unmatched by Apple by many tech pundits.









\t

Beyond web apps



It's important to keep in mind that iCloud itself goes beyond just being a suite of web apps; just like MobileMe before it, iCloud is integrated right into the operating system as a core service on both iOS 5 and Mac OS X Lion.



Developers have expanded opportunities for integrating the new service into their own apps, and Apple has taken the lead in weaving its iCloud services deep into iPhoto, iTunes, iWork, messaging apps, and even core OS features such as Mac OS X's "Back to My Mac," which provides a secure way to discover and reach network sharing services on your home machine remotely across the Internet.



The next segment looking at iCloud will examine how Apple is serving up its a new generation of cloud storage and document sync features that extend beyond the web apps, basic push messaging and content sync features of today's MobileMe.



Inside iCloud: Apple's new web services for iOS and Mac OS X Lion

Inside iCloud: Apple's new Documents & Data cloud service
«13

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 58
    "Apple's iCloud service, announced this summer at the company's Worldwide Developer Conference, are quickly maturing for their initial release this fall."



    For a feature post, can you please do a proper grammar check. This title hurts my eyes. \
  • Reply 2 of 58
    hittrj01hittrj01 Posts: 753member
    The only thing wish Apple would have left in there is iDisk, as I use it all the time and really like it. They could have left it in there, but it doesn't really fit with Apple's move to try and hide the filesystem (even in Lion). Unfortunate, but overall, iCloud is going to be huge, IMO.
  • Reply 3 of 58
    dtoubdtoub Posts: 15member
    I've been serving my Web site via MobileMe for many years, and will of course now need to migrate to a dedicated hosting service. Is there any way to redirect the current MobileMe URL for my Web site to whatever I end up with, or will I just have to deal with the fact that my MobileMe-hosted site, links to which have been circulated on the Web and e-mail for years, will yield a 404 error when someone clicks on it in the future (as in July, 2012)?



    Also, I've not found any free Web hosts. True, there's WordPress, which I use for blogging, but it's not really set up well for non-blog Web sites. Thoughts? Thanks.
  • Reply 4 of 58
    ruckerzruckerz Posts: 58member
    Quote:

    Rather than being a "virtual disk in the cloud" like Dropbox or the former iDisk, there's now no need for users to manually copy documents to iCloud, manage those documents between devices, or think about how to retrieve those documents from their computers or mobile devices. iCloud taps into both iOS 5 and Mac OS X Lion at the system level, turning iCloud into a core operating system feature that just happens to be hosted by Apple rather than running locally on the machine.



    Here's my question... will one be able to dump arbitrary files onto the cloud? Say I have an instrument which saves binary files that I've written a custom parser for in C. I normally can drag these files into iDisk. Do I need to use Apple's API just to access the cloud?
  • Reply 5 of 58
    I am going to miss iWeb. I really wish they would continue to develop it. I have tried the alternatives and they just don't have the ease of use factor that iWeb does. I understand they want to do away with hosting, but there is still a need for web design!
  • Reply 6 of 58
    Also missing in iCloud: email aliases



    As of right after the announcement you could no longer edit, add, or delete email aliases (the decoy addresses to use for shopping or site registrations) in MobileMe. I will miss this if it doesn't get added to iCloud later on.
  • Reply 7 of 58
    solipsismsolipsism Posts: 25,726member
    These screenshots and writeup don't do iCloud.com justice. You just have to try it out. It's a lot of very impressive coding and fit and finish. Looks like they finally dropped Adobe Flash, too, which is something MobileMe still used for uploading files from your desktop OS.





    Quote:
    Originally Posted by hittrj01 View Post


    The only thing wish Apple would have left in there is iDisk, as I use it all the time and really like it. They could have left it in there, but it doesn't really fit with Apple's move to try and hide the filesystem (even in Lion). Unfortunate, but overall, iCloud is going to be huge, IMO.



    I don't think this will be a problem. They already have file sharing API for iOS and I think iCloud has APIs that extend the file sharing that will sync across all your devices. I wouldn't be surprised to see Dropbox themselves tie into this these APIs for the mobile and desktop apps.
  • Reply 8 of 58
    Is there a way to vastly move everything over to a website that allows unlimited storage for files, ftp uploads for cheap? If not, would it be possible to make a website with one of paid iCloud document plans?
  • Reply 9 of 58
    Here's hoping they don't cock this one up. MobileMe was/is a complete disaster from the UK. Just about everyone I knew with a .mac .me address cancelled their subscriptions due to the dire performance.
  • Reply 10 of 58
    hct99hct99 Posts: 7member
    Do you know what will happen with Keychain Access? I've read somewhere that Keychain syncing will not be part of iCloud.

    christian
  • Reply 11 of 58
    paulmjohnsonpaulmjohnson Posts: 1,380member
    I'm interested to see what happens here. So far for all the talk of the cloud, it seems to have been for tech heads only, and doesn't seem to have had much impact on my life. I never really got why I needed my e-mails in a web browser, considering I always have my e-mails on my phone.



    The idea of not having to sync anything (or at least, the sync being done for me and without me noticing) clearly could be a massive benefit. Looking forwards to seeing how it turns out.
  • Reply 12 of 58
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by apple4life View Post


    "Apple's iCloud service, announced this summer at the company's Worldwide Developer Conference, are quickly maturing for their initial release this fall."



    For a feature post, can you please do a proper grammar check. This title hurts my eyes. \



    That's not as bad a this one: "However, it appears Apple has learned a lot since, and the deployment of its massive new server in North Carolina...



    I wonder how massive the new server is. Lots and lots of kilograms, I imagine...



    I sometimes think that these stories are rushed into print. but usually, all the other Apple news sites have the story long before AI, so that seems unlikely.
  • Reply 13 of 58
    skipprskippr Posts: 2member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by hct99 View Post


    Do you know what will happen with Keychain Access? I've read somewhere that Keychain syncing will not be part of iCloud.

    christian



    This I must say is the most stupid removed feature from iCloud. More than Gallery and iDisk, both of which I'm going to miss greatly, but to remove the Keychain synching? My only thought is Apple nuts??!!!
  • Reply 14 of 58
    solipsismsolipsism Posts: 25,726member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by skippR View Post


    This I must say is the most stupid removed feature from iCloud. More than Gallery and iDisk, both of which I'm going to miss greatly, but to remove the Keychain synching? My only thought is Apple nuts??!!!



    Sounds like a great opportunity for you to make a Keychainer app that you can sell on the Mac and iOS App Stores.
  • Reply 15 of 58
    scadesscades Posts: 35member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by PaulMJohnson View Post


    I'm interested to see what happens here. So far for all the talk of the cloud, it seems to have been for tech heads only, and doesn't seem to have had much impact on my life. I never really got why I needed my e-mails in a web browser, considering I always have my e-mails on my phone.



    The idea of not having to sync anything (or at least, the sync being done for me and without me noticing) clearly could be a massive benefit. Looking forwards to seeing how it turns out.



    ...on how you use your gear. If you do much of your computer-related work at a desk, as I do, you might prefer a large screen and physical keyboard to process your e-mail.



    I expect that i-Cloud is going to change the way I work. After 26 years of using Word, Excel, and PP, I'm transitioning to the iWork apps because I'll be able to create docs on my Macs and then use them in the field without having to do a thing to get them on my iPad or iPhone. Sweet!
  • Reply 16 of 58
    Apple didn't run Mobile Me from its own servers - it was delivered from Akamai.



    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Akamai_Technologies



    http://www.appleinsider.com/articles...bile_push.html



    (Well, it looks like it's Akamai, or some combination)
  • Reply 17 of 58
    paulmjohnsonpaulmjohnson Posts: 1,380member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by scades View Post


    ...on how you use your gear. If you do much of your computer-related work at a desk, as I do, you might prefer a large screen and physical keyboard to process your e-mail.



    I expect that i-Cloud is going to change the way I work. After 26 years of using Word, Excel, and PP, I'm transitioning to the iWork apps because I'll be able to create docs on my Macs and then use them in the field without having to do a thing to get them on my iPad or iPhone. Sweet!



    I think I failed to make my point that well. Basically my use is such that I'm either at my desk, where my Mac is and I've got Outlook installed, or I'm out and about and even if I'm using a computer, it's generally not for heavy duty work, so my phone (or more often than not my iPad) is more than good enough.



    I know it will be different for many people, but I think for quite a lot, the cloud is still something waiting to be of use.
  • Reply 18 of 58
    jackrvjackrv Posts: 5member
    Personally, I won't miss iDisk. It was nice having web access right alongside of mail and calendar, but it was slow as heck. I ended up just using Dropbox. Less storage for free, but it was fast, and worked on every platform I had.



    It would be nice to have a cloud locker like iDisk especially if the new Data Center speeds everything up, but I can see why they wouldn't. EVERY apple user now gets 5Gb free storage for backups, documents... And can purchase more. They are prioritizing their bandwidth and storage to truly make a seamless cloud experience across devices.



    I never used web hosting on MobileMe. But there are plenty of good hosts out there, not so much for free, but for a few bucks a month. Bluehost and Gator both have plans for under 99 a year, and there was also a OS X-based hosting service I looked into, but I can't remember the name offhand.
  • Reply 19 of 58
    mstonemstone Posts: 11,510member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by hittrj01 View Post


    The only thing wish Apple would have left in there is iDisk, as I use it all the time and really like it. They could have left it in there, but it doesn't really fit with Apple's move to try and hide the filesystem (even in Lion). Unfortunate, but overall, iCloud is going to be huge, IMO.



    Take away lesson: Never depend on Apple. They are notorious for suddenly dropping services, features and software support, even before the days of eWorld. No apologies, no explanation, just gone. They seriously don't care how much it inconveniences you. They are always looking to recruit the young, up and coming users at the expense of the older loyal and faithful followers. As long as they can sell the new users on whiz bang innovation they can save the bottom line by cutting the overhead of retaining older services. How old is MobileMe, like three years? Just go ahead and scrap it, let the chips fall where they may. We've got tweeners to indoctrinate. To hell with you gray haired old farts.
  • Reply 20 of 58
    gustavgustav Posts: 825member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by mstone View Post


    Take away lesson: Never depend on Apple. They are notorious for suddenly dropping services, features and software support, even before the days of eWorld. No apologies, no explanation, just gone. They seriously don't care how much it inconveniences you. They are always looking to recruit the young, up and coming users at the expense of the older loyal and faithful followers.



    So you buy a Mac or a service and expect Appke to support you for life and not change anything? Products and services change with the times. Sometimes they're relevant to you, sometimes they aren't. Apple is not the only company to do this. E.g. MS' Plays For Sure.
Sign In or Register to comment.