Apple's iCloud.com beta Website is now live, kicking off Cupertino's Great Cloud Push of 2011.
At this time, the Website is only accessible to a few-typing your Apple ID into the login page, for example, will return a notice reading "The iCloud.com Beta is only available to developers." According to the blog Apple Insider, there have been some successful attempts to log in, resulting in a glimpse of some revamped (and cloud-optimized) productivity apps.
The final version of iCloud will ship along with iOS 5 sometime this fall. As part of the service, Apple will offer 5GB of storage for free, with an additional 10GB for $20 per year, 20GB for $40 per year and 50GB for $100 per year.
Apple clearly plans on leveraging its substantial market presence in hardware, software and media to make iCloud a success, and push back against similar offerings from Google and Amazon.com. The latter two have something of a head start in the consumer-cloud category: Amazon's Cloud Drive lets users store documents and music within the cloud, while Google has expanded its cloud offerings beyond productivity to music, courtesy of the recently released Music Beta.
The emerging iCloud paradigm will also help Apple more fully embrace its ethos of a "post-PC" world, in which mobile devices such as the iPhone take precedence in users' lives over the traditional PC. Already, the company has taken some baby steps toward this mobile-centric paradigm. Its new Mac OS X "Lion" incorporates features, such as an app store, originally developed for its iOS mobile operating system. And its thin-and-light MacBook Air has replaced the white MacBook as Apple's entry-level laptop.
Apple CEO Steve Jobs and his executives originally demonstrated iCloud during the June 6 kickoff for the company's Worldwide Developers Conference. In addition to serving as an online repository for documents, photos and music, iCloud will sync data across a variety of iOS and Mac OS X devices. Contacts, calendar and mail are now cloud-optimized features, with automatic updates and synced messaging.
For users, iCloud offers some distinct advantages in the realm of not-losing-your-stuff. Users will be able to see all their downloaded apps in the "purchase history" section of the App Store, and re-download them at no additional cost. Apple's e-books (or "iBooks," as the company likes to call them) will work in a similar fashion, with iCloud giving users the ability to download their texts to any of their devices. Bookmarks, notes and highlighting likewise carry between all the editions on all devices.
Some analysts see the iCloud as increasing Apple's "stickiness" among consumers. In a research note released on the heels of Apple first revealing its cloud initiative in June, Ticonderoga Securities analyst Brian White wrote, "These new announcements further strengthen Apple's digital ecosystem by providing consumers with increased functionality, enhanced ease of use, greater efficiency and cool new features... that we believe will drive further adoption of Apple devices in the future."