iCloud officially revealed: iTunes hits the cloud, for FREE (mostly)

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icloud-logo.jpgA reasonably healthy-looking Steve Jobs took to the stage to introduce the long-awaited iCloud at WWDC 2011 .

The idea behind the iCloud is to allow all of your digital content to be stored remotely in Apple’s data centres, and then shared across all of your iOS devices, OS X Macs and PCs, wirelessly and automatically.

“We’ve been working on this for some time now, and I’m really excited about it,” said the turtle-necked king of Cupertino.

“Keeping these devices in sync is driving us crazy. We’ve got a great solution to this problem. We’re going to demote the PC and the Mac to just be a device. We’re going to move the digital hub, the centre of your digital life, into the cloud.”

“Everything happens automatically and there’s nothing new to learn. It just all works,” Jobs enthused.

For instance, adding a contact to your iPhone will see the newly formed data automatically sent to the cloud and sent to your iPad or iPod, PC or Mac. Any changes made are then updated across your portfolio of devices.

Apps and magazine subscriptions can be viewed on every iOS device, and pushed from the iCloud to your device of choice, no matter where they are locally stored or with what device they were bought.

Admitting that MobileMe was “not our finest hour” at Apple, Jobs then stated that MobileMe apps have been re-written from the “ground up” to work on the iCloud. Mail is synced across all devices, Calendars shared and updated across devices too. MobileMe, as a result, will now be discontinued.

Pages, Keynote and Numbers get iCloud features too. Working much like Google Docs, Documents in the Cloud allows minute changes to sync automatically across all devices allowing you to edit the same document stored on your iPhone as on your iPad, and seeing the changes reflected instantly across both.

Photos are also jumping to the cloud via the Photo Stream button in the Photos app. All new photos taken on an iPhone or iPad can be set up to sync automatically with the iCloud, automatically made available on all iOS devices or the PC linked to the iCloud. Photos can be pushed to Apple TV devices too. However photos will only be stored in the iCloud for 30 days – after that you’re going to have to download them onto a local storage device to keep them permanently.

Then the announcement we’d all been waiting for/ expecting; iTunes in the iCloud. All your purchased tracks or movies from iTunes can be synced across devices by accessing the iCloud, wirelessly at no additional charge. A “Purchased” button is added to iTunes, letting you look at all albums and flicks bought across all devices, sharing them across all devices by hitting an iCloud button. Each music track is sent as an AAC file, with a bitrate of 256kbps.

Perhaps the best feature of the iCloud however was the iTunes Match service. It’ll scan for any locally stored tracks that you have ripped or bought outside of iTunes, find a matching track in the Apple catalogue, and send that to all your devices via the iCloud. As an additional service, iTunes Match comes at an additional cost; $24.99 annually. However, there is no cap to the amount of iTunes Match songs you use, so that’s $24.99 for anything between 1 song or 1 billion+ songs. It’s a far more affordable service than Amazon’s equivalent digital locker, and it’s unlikely that Google will be able to match it with their own eventual offering either.

All in, an entire iOS device can be backed up to the iCloud; contacts, messages, music, app data, photos – you name it.

These syncing features via the iCloud software will be free of charge (apart from the iTunes Match service, of course), amazing considering MobileMe had cost $99 annually. 5GB of cloud storage is offered, but with sizeable iTunes downloads and the Photo Stream not factored into that, it’ll stretch further than you may think.

Is the iCloud up to scratch? Will you pay for iTunes Match or is Steve Jobs’ head literally up in the clouds? Let us know in the comments section below.

Gerald Lynch