Last week's announcement of Apple's iCloud at the WWDC was notable in a couple of ways. First, Steve Jobs publicly relegating the Mac to just another device is remarkable. -
"We're going to demote the PC and the Mac to just be an device. We're going to move your hub, the center of your digital life, into the cloud"
This is a bold statement from a company that regained relevance over the past decade because of the incredible success of the Mac. In fact, as noted in the presentation, Macs have outgrown the industry every year for the past 5 years. Yet, if you're as successful as Apple, it's the only way to re-position for the future - you cannot do so incrementally (re: Microsoft). The statement is a symbol of commitment to Apple's new cloud strategy - head first, burn the bridges, no looking back. And, it serves notice to Google that Apple intends to compete for cloud dominance in the consumer space.
Second notable point - the iCloud announcement also highlights the difference between Apple and Google's views of the cloud. Herein lies the essential difference - how consumers will access and leverage the cloud.
- Apple's cloud is accessed via native applications, on proprietary devices.
- Google's cloud is web based, open standards (HTML5) and "commodity" hardware.
The difference is notable because it highlights the strengths and DNA of each company. Apple's approach is quintessentially Apple - founded on the idea that "we know what's best for consumer". And truthfully, it's hard to argue with the results from the company that reinvented smartphones through the obsessive attention to user experience and the success of the App Store. iPads have only serve to extend that advantage. Apple's vision for the cloud is still about the total user experience, incorporating the various elements of the consumer's lifestyle in cloud services - Mail, Calendar, Contacts, Backup, App Store, iBooks, Photo Stream, Documents, iTunes - all in the cloud. In Apple's world, native iOS applications open the door to the cloud for the consumer.
Google, on the other hand, is all about the leveraging the open Web. Consistent with it's motto to "do no evil", Google plays well with others and promotes the use of open standards. Google's vision for how the cloud is accessed is predominantly web based. It anticipates a new generation of HTML5 enabled web applications that behave and respond like native applications. Unlike Apple, Google's view is that such applications should be accessible through non-proprietary devices.
Google's vision, while compelling isn't without issues. The problem right now is that there are relatively few HTML 5 applications that can showcase the promise of web application - a new generation of applications that promote rich interactivity while effectively bridging online and offline modes are few and far between.
Regardless of who might win out, both these different views will shape the consumer cloud for years to come.