At the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco in June, Apple CEO Steve Jobs announced the latest addition to the apple portfolio of products; a “breakthrough set of free new cloud services” which will collectively known as iCloud.
Well known for their stylish and innovative products, it remains to be seen just how successful Apple’s new product will prove to be in the business world, where it has traditionally faced more of a struggle to make its mark.
What iCloud does
The theory behind iCloud is simple. In the modern age of technology, the majority of users now have data stored on a variety of devices. iCloud is able to synchronise data across a user’s devices; from their Mac or PC, through to their iPhone, iPad and iPod. Specifically, iCloud acts as a central data repository, automatically backing up music, photos and documents and then pushing them out to each device.
So, if a photo is taken on an iPhone, it will also be available on the user’s Mac. Or, if a document is edited on one device, the updated version of the document will be pushed to each of the user’s other devices – a handy feature which will enable people to work on the move.
As this is carried out automatically, it’s ideal for people who have the best of intentions to back up data regularly, but often forget to do so. The price tag also makes iCloud attractive: users are able to backup 5GB of data, plus 1000 photos and pay nothing at all for the privilege.
The perfect business solution?
So, on the surface, iCloud looks to be a perfect solution for business users. The ability to update documents on the move, for example, is a real asset and boost to productivity. Furthermore, iCloud keeps email up to date across all devices and enables users to share calendars with colleagues – all useful time saving functions for businesses.
However, in my opinion iCloud in its current form is a far from a perfect solution for the business user. Whilst many of iCloud’s features offer significant benefits for the home user, the service falls short of being the all round package required in today’s business environment.
Few business users, for example, will have a thousand photos on their work computer, whilst another potential pitfall relates to the email and calendar functions. Apple’s press release states that these features are hosted at me.com, Apple’s version of Hotmail or Gmail.
This seems to imply that these features are therefore unavailable to users with an Exchange mailbox. Again this causes a problem, as many businesses will use Exchange mailboxes in some form, be it on their own server or as a hosted solution from a third party provider.
A backup failing
Unfortunately for the business user, the facility to automatically backup and synchronise documents across all devices only works if the user creates these documents using Apple’s own iWorks suite of applications.
Documents created using Microsoft’s Office family of applications are not supported; a significant stumbling block as the majority of business users (some 750 million worldwide) use Microsoft Office rather than iWorks.
As there are already established competitors to iCloud, such as Google Apps and Dropbox, I personally feel that this is an additional reason why Apple will struggle to gain a large market share for iCloud from business users.
So, whilst on paper iCloud looks to be a useful tool, for business users at least, the disadvantages currently outweigh the benefits that it can provide. However, it is still early days – and if Apple is able to address these issues, then maybe iCloud will have a silver lining in the future.