The 3 Logics of Apple's iCloud

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iCloud is the most intriguing thing about the latest version of Apple's mobile operating system, iOS 5. All your documents, music, and photos ascend from your device into a set of servers, which can dispense your data to you on whatever screen you happen to be using.

Gizmodo's Mat Honan made a strong argument that it's a subtly huge change. "For some of us, iCloud means we're never buying another computer, and for the rest of us, iCloud will be the end of computing as we have always known it," he wrote.

As Google, Amazon, Apple, and a host of startups jockey to be your cloud provider of choice, I began to wonder what the particular idea behind Apple's was. That is to say, why is Apple's cloud a good idea for Apple?

  • The most obvious business case is that Apple can charge you for iCloud storage. Like Dropbox, they can generate serious revenue acting as your hard drive in the sky.
  • If Apple didn't offer cloud storage, people would continue to eat away at the relationship they have with their customers. Dropbox was already a very popular app for the iPad. Cloud music services created apps. And, of course, Google is making a play to offer many products in the cloud. Apple has to play in the cloud to defend their ecosystem.
  • The least obvious business case is that iCloud could help their hardware business. When buying a new computer, especially, there is always the hassle problem. You have to get all your stuff off of one computer and onto another. It's not that it's all that hard, but it's just another hurdle to getting a new workhorse device.  With iCloud, all those hassles are erased. The cost of a new computer is solely the computer itself with no other kinds of overhead.
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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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