iCloud: Automatic syncing is the silver lining for MobileMe’s gray skies

Steve Jobs joked about MobileMe when he announced iCloud, noting that it wasn’t the company’s “finest hour.” The new iCloud (s aapl), instead, looks to be a major improvement, with automatic syncing between devices. And it’s free, for the core product at least.
Mail, Calendar and Contacts are all now free, and sync between all your devices. You get a @me.com address for free, too. But that’s not all. There are now six more apps with iCloud support.
The App Store now works with iCloud, so your library of apps is available to all your devices. iBooks works pretty much the same way. You push a cloud button, and all your synced purchases are instantly pushed out to your device from the cloud, including book purchases. Backup is another iCloud app, which stores your device information remotely, so when you upgrade your device, a simple one-step sign-in process gets everything from your old device up and running on your new one.
All of the iWork apps now work with iCloud, too, by plugging into Documents in the Cloud. It stores your documents in the iCloud servers, so that you can see and work with changes automatically across platforms. Essentially, it means users don’t have to worry about the file system.
Third-party devs can take advantage of this, too, thanks to the iCloud Storage API. That means we should see simple cross-platform syncing across the App Store.
Though not a new app, Photo Stream is another new iCloud feature that is built into existing apps. It syncs your photos across devices, no matter the origin point, and works with iPhoto on the Mac, as well as with your iOS device’s camera roll. It even works with the PC, and with Apple TV, too. Photos are stored permanently if you move them to an album, but the last 1,000 are automatically saved on your iOS device even if you don’t. iCloud stores them for 30 days, unless you assign them to an album, and on a computer, all photos taken are saved.
iTunes is the last iCloud-enabled official Apple app. Now you can look at your entire iTunes music purchase history on any device associated with your account (up to a total of 10), and download songs or albums locally. No charge is incurred for multiple downloads. You can also turn on Automatic Downloads for new purchases if you’d rather not grab them manually.
All of these apps are available free, and you get them automatically once you upgrade your device to iOS 5. Included with the deal is 5 GB of free storage for mail, documents and backup, and photos don’t count against your total. The developer beta starts today for all these services, and iTunes will run in the cloud on iOS 4.3. The other features will come in the fall, to coincide with iOS 5’s release.