Is Apple’s iCloud fantastic or a devastating “lock-in”?

With the launch of the iCloud recently, Apple’s visionary CEO, Steve Jobs, has brought a lot of attention on cloud technology. No longer is it language reserved for the CIO, the IT department or the boardroom; now, thanks to Mr Jobs, ‘cloud’ is part of the language of the office, the home and even the playground.

Now the everyday consumer has been made aware of the cloud and its potential, put simply, they want in on it. But is this a good thing and now everyone is talking about the cloud, what will it mean for business?

Cloud confusion

While it may have only just recently crossed over into mainstream conversation, the term cloud has of course been popular within a business context for some time now. In fact the topic of clouds has been a recognisable part of the debate on how to improve business using technology for some two years, ample time for clarification on the topic and identification of the core issues and benefits.

Yet if anything it has become less understandable with the passage of time, as the hype cycle attempts to remake any product or technique as a new technology to be considered under the ‘cloud’ label. I think it’s fair to say that the advent of iCloud has helped kick the hype cycle up a notch and add to the existing confusion.

As such perhaps it is worth me clearing up some of the confusion and offer a simple explanation of the concept, the techniques, products, in fact just about every aspect of the mysteriously far reaching and complex subject of the cloud.

I’ve found the easiest way to explain is to present it through a technology road map, building up a series of changes starting with the advent of the Internet and the browser into popular use in the early 90s:

  • The Internet; started a profound change by using standards to provide a simple, yet effective, universal connectivity capability that allowed anyone and anything to be contacted as and when needed without predetermined planning and implementation of special faculties.
  • The Web; or what we might look back on as Web 1.0, followed this by providing browser technology for the universal management of content, a real game changing moment in terms of technology standardisation suddenly offering real tangible benefit, and changing how companies could participate in the external marketplace by building websites.
  • Web 2.0; more recently added a new range of technologies and capabilities around the ability of people to interact, and share in a new range of so called ‘social’ activities, so named because of the universal social model created, an equally radical game change that put people at the centre rather than applications, data or computer.
  • Cloud Services; is the latest stage of this progression adding the much needed ability to deliver processes, as universally accessible services delivered in a standardised manner from servers in a cloud data centre with a payment model based on use and an operating model based on simplicity in build, and flexibility in changing the orchestration of any process.

Bridging the gap?

Beyond the potential for confusion, in an already confused landscape, it’s worth considering the possible impact the launch of iCloud will have on the business world. It certainly has the potential (I’m sorry to preload every statement with ‘potential’, but I think it’s an important point to make – let’s not forget that these are still early days) to help bridge the gap between the technology we use as consumers, and those that we employ within the workplace.

Thanks to the likes of Apple, consumers have been introduced to sophisticated technology, which is accessible, user friendly and compatible. Subsequently these people want the same easy to use tech, which is intuitive and easy to use, at work, and not the slow, clunky and overly confusing programmes they find in the office.

As a result, every day consumers recognise the endless opportunities and possibilities, and start to force change on corporate IT departments and find new interesting ways to use these new tools in a business context. iCloud will most certainly accelerate this desire even further. So while it may not be related to the cloud per se, it will help drive the use of accessible tech, like the iPad etc.

Looking slightly further ahead, I would imagine Steve Jobs has a tactic in mind to branch out beyond what has to date been a mainly consumer market. With such a volume of users and infrastructure now in place it’s only just a small step to see increasingly business orientated apps appearing on Apple devices. This is even more likely when you consider the following factors:

  • Access to billing and other critical information
  • Constantly improving device options and capabilities
  • App Store has created a monetised business model
  • Application and media/content delivery channels established in the growing apps store
  • A growing familiarity within SMB and some ‘corporates’ of cloud based apps

It’s no doubt a slightly longer play; the more viral market transformation model similar to what has happened with the iPhone/Pad in ‘corporates’, but it is quite likely Apple will link iCloud to SMB, and then Big-corporates with the use of apps, media/content, data, analytics, devices & synchronised mobility in the near future.

Lock-in?

It’s clear that iCloud has a huge potential and it’s exciting to consider this in a business context. However before we get too far ahead of ourselves it is important not to forget there is no such thing as a free lunch. Is the iCloud a fantastic new feature or is it a ‘lock-in’? Well like every app on any platform, the iCloud is both.

Every app you buy makes it harder to switch, especially since there are real switching costs involved, financially (re-buying the new app on the new platform) and physically (reinstalling, locating the apps on a new platform, configuration etc.).

That’s why Apple made it free – creating a lock-in is more valuable than asking for a subscription fee. This is a factor that will need serious consideration by CIOs and the boardroom.

So, as I can see, the iCloud is an exciting development for both the home and the office and what Steve Jobs has shown is that clouds can provide a range of new services – in this case user and device centric.

Apple has an incredible track record in driving demand for consumer products and service, and this increased awareness over the potential for the cloud within mainstream technology means consumers will have a louder voice in this debate going forward.

SHARETweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on FacebookShare on Google+Pin on PinterestDigg thisShare on RedditShare on TumblrShare on StumbleUponEmail this to someone

Andy Mulholland joined Capgemini in 1996 with 13 years of experience in senior IT roles. An experienced senior executive with strong skills in the strategic, tactical, and management aspects of technology, and services provision, he has been the founder, or co-founder, of four technology companies that have either been acquired by leading multinational technology companies, or gone public on the small capital NASDAQ market. He is also a Fellow of the British Computer Society.