In the clouds Apple service could put PC industry on the sidelines
Apple chief executive officer Steve Jobs, by introducing a service that shares files across different internet-linked devices, takes another step toward sidelining the personal-computer industry he pioneered.
Jobs, who helped popularise home computers with the Apple II and the Mac in the 1970s and '80s, is counting on the new iCloud product to let users synchronise and access data on Apple devices and Windows PCs running iTunes.
Jobs aims to make Apple the centre of consumers' digital lives, further decreasing dependence on Microsoft's once- dominant Windows software and Hewlett-Packard's market- leading PCs.
With iCloud, files will be stored by Apple in remote data centres -- known as the "cloud" in technology parlance -- and automatically synchronise. That means the same content is available from any Apple gadget, without it cluttering up users' hard drives.
"The PC will be the most visible casualty of the cloud revolution," said Steve Perlman, a former Apple engineer and the CEO of online game company OnLive Inc. "Apple knows it."
Apple is trying to parlay the success of the iPhone and iPad into the leading role in the "post-PC" era. Already, customers have bought 25 million iPad tablets, eating into PC sales. Both Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard disappointed investors with their earnings last quarter, hurt in part by tablets weighing on the industry.
In all, Apple has sold more than 200 million 'iOS' devices, a category that includes the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch, the company said yesterday when it unveiled iCloud. Apple's App Store now has more than 425,000 applications that work with iOS.
"We're going to demote the PC and the Mac to just be a device -- just like an iPad, an iPhone or an iPod Touch," Jobs, dressed in a black sweater and jeans, said yesterday. "We're going to move the hub of your digital life to the cloud."
Apple recently completed a $1bn data centre in North Carolina that will serve as the backbone of the iCloud service. It will help devices synchronise calendar items, contacts, mail, iTunes songs, photos, apps and other files.
"If you don't think we're serious about this, you're wrong," Jobs said while showing pictures of the data centre. Yesterday's event marked Jobs's second public appearance of 2011. Though he has been on medical leave since January 17, Jobs remains involved in Apple's decision-making. His absence is the third since 2004 as he copes with a rare form of cancer.
In racing to the cloud, Apple is competing with Amazon.com, the biggest online retailer, and Google's Android software, which runs rival smartphones and tablet computers.
Amazon is the top seller of e-books, and offers its own cloud service. Google's Android, meanwhile, runs smartphones from Samsung, HTC and Motorola. Android accounted for 36pc of smartphone sales in the first quarter of 2011.
A major piece of Apple's effort to dislodge the PC is eliminating the need for customers to plug their devices into a computer for updates. With the software upgrades announced by Apple, devices will synchronise wirelessly. "Keeping these devices in sync is driving us crazy," Jobs said. (Bloomberg)