For Apple, iCloud is just the beginning

No one can doubt the sheer awesomeness packaged in Apple’s recent quarterly performance. However, for me the real story is the company’s iCloud and CEO Tim Cook’s assertion that with 85 million sign-ups in three months, Apple is only getting started with iCloud. “It’s not just a product, it’s a strategy for the next decade,” Cook declared. The recent elevation of Eddy Cue to SVP of Internet Services and his generous stock options are a sign of how serious Cook is about iCloud. The $1 billion data center in North Carolina is more proof of the company’s seriousness.
So the question is, What plans does Apple have for the cloud? Given recent history one can easily assume that the company would build more cloud apps that enhance existing services, like iTunes Match and Photostream. But those are small potatoes. The real opportunity for Apple is to offer a series of network services for its developers and millions of iPhone and iPad and Mac owners: network services such as storage, location data, voice command and control, notifications, and messaging.

  • Storage. ICloud is already a place to access your photos, songs and contacts remotely from any iOS device or OS X Lion machine. But what about making your desktop files and apps available everywhere too? Take the way Apple is going with its MacBook Air, a huge hit for the company. A logical next step to make even thinner and lighter machines with very little room for storage is to make a cloud-centric MacBook. Imagine opening up your laptop that has little local storage and being able to access any of your documents you have saved, anywhere you are. We know Apple has been sniffing around this area: Steve Jobs offered to acquire Dropbox several years ago, telling its founder, Drew Houston, that it was really “a feature, not a product.” So a cloud-based storage service that perhaps developers could use for their own apps? Doesn’t sound too far out there.
  • Location. Apple bought mapping companies PlaceBase in 2009 and Poly9 in 2010. We also know the company is hiring for mapping-related positions. That sparked speculation that Apple is indeed building its own location-based service. It has some location services in action already, like Find My iPhone and Find My Friends. An interesting step would be if Apple opened up such a service as an API to its developers.
  • Voice control. Siri is still in beta, which means it is not even a finished product. What will Apple do with it in years to come? A good bet is it will integrate it into more Apple devices. The future of device interfaces is more nontraditional methods of control, like voice and gestures. In other words, Siri is not an anomaly or a cute, little experiment: It’s the future. A good place to look for clues about how Apple might implement more voice control services is a patent filing Apple made, showing its interest in putting Siri in everything from Macs to cars.

It is true that Apple is not a company that has historically had great success with web-based services. Embracing networked services and the cloud means Apple inherently understands that even hardware companies that extract gazillions of dollars in profit right now can’t go another decade without this. In a way, Apple also has no choice but to pursue this. If it wants to continue to build the post-PC dream, it has to have iCloud and other connected services that connect all of its apps, services and devices.