Apple launches iCloud and iTunes Match

It's been heavily predicted, so no surprise to see the offical launch of iCloud and iTunes Match from Apple at the WWDC.

According to Apple, iCloud is 'a breakthrough set of free new cloud services that work seamlessly with applications on your iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Mac or PC to automatically and wirelessly store your content in iCloud and automatically and wirelessly push it to all your devices.' Which pretty much sums it up. Don't get too concerned about the 'cloud' aspect, essentially it just means storage on Apple's servers, ready to drop onto your device when you need it.

'Today it is a real hassle and very frustrating to keep all your information and content up-to-date across all your devices', said Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO. 'iCloud keeps your important information and content up-to-date across all your devices. All of this happens automatically and wirelessly, and because it’s integrated into our apps you don’t even need to think about it — it all just works'.

That's the generalisation, let's look at the specifics. For a start, MobileMe is dead, with Contacts, Calendar and Mail rewritten to work with iCloud, allowing you to share Calendars with friends and family, with mail inboxes also constantly updated across all devices and computers.

The App Store and iBookstore now download purchased iOS apps and books to all your devices, not just the device they were purchased on. Also, hitting the iCloud icon will download any apps and books to any iOS device (up to 10 devices) at no additional cost. Backing up to your computer? That's a thing of that past. With iCloud Backup, you can back up your iOS devices to iCloud daily over Wi-Fi when you charge your iPhone, iPad or iPod touch - purchased music, apps and books, Camera Roll (photos and videos), device settings and app data. When you get a new Apple device, enter your Apple ID and it's all there for you.

Oh yes, there's the iCloud Storage itself. If you edit a document, changes are automatically pushed to all your devices. Right now, that's confined to anything made using Apple’s Pages, Numbers and Keynote apps, but it should expand further. You get 5GB of storage for mail, documents and backup, which is on top of the space given over to music, apps and books purchased from Apple, and the storage required by Photo Stream. If you need more, you can buy more, although there's no price for that as yet. Talking of photos, iCloud’s Photo Stream service automatically uploads the photos you take or import on any of your devices and wirelessly pushes them to all your devices and computers. Take a snap with your iPhone and your other half can check it out on the iPad at home. The last 1,000 photos are stored on each device so they can be viewed or moved to an album to save forever.

All of that is impressive, but the headline act is surely the music. iTunes in the Cloud lets you download your previously purchased iTunes music to all your iOS devices at no additional cost, and new music purchases can be downloaded automatically to all your devices. What about all those tunes you stuck on your hard drive from CD? That's where iTunes Match comes in.

iTunes Match replaces your music with a 256 kbps AAC DRM-free version if Apple can match it to any of the 18 million+ songs in the iTunes Store. Anything that doesn't match (you know, that obscure French pop vinyl) will be uploaded for access. Downside? We're talking money. iTunes Match will be available this autumn for a $24.99 annual fee, UK price still to be confirmed. But if music isn't your thing, a free beta version of iTunes in the Cloud, without iTunes Match, will be available for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch users running iOS 4.3. from today. Happy days.

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