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Goldstuck on Gadgets

The gadget and the cloud

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Is Apple’s iCloud a game-changer? No, it just moves the goalposts that Google, Microsoft and Amazon.com have already been using, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

The goalposts in the gadget game moved once more this week, as it always tends to do when Apple CEO Steve Jobs makes an announcement. But, as is also usually the case, the worshipping hype hides the mundane truth that lurks beneath. The new goalposts are planted in the playing field called the Cloud. That is one of the greatest misnomers of all time, since it represents information stored in bunker-like data centres where back-up generators and military-grade security are as important as computer storage capacity. For consumers, the cloud equals Web-based applications and services. For the corporation, it means software applications and data accessed via the Internet. If they called it the Vault, everyone would understand it better. Or, perhaps, the iCloud. That’s what Jobs did this week, announcing a service that synchronises all information stored on Apple devices with the Cloud. As is also usually the case, it’s in the branding and the marketing that Apple has really changed the game. Suddenly, the Cloud all makes sense. The truth that lies beneath, however, is that Apple is very late to the Cloud game. Kick-off came several years ago. Three of the biggest technology brands in the world have already blazed the trail: * Google has developed its Cloud-based mail service, Gmail, into a broad offering that includes document creation and storage in the Cloud, not to mention synchronisation of a wide range of applications residing on ordinary gadgets. Please note: gadgets of any brand. * Microsoft offers a Cloud storage and synchronisation service called SkyDrive, which is designed to back up Microsoft Office documents, but is open to all applications as well as to all Internet users. With its new Windows Phone Mango operating system, Microsoft also allows photos to be stored on SkyDrive via e-mail, text, and even instant messaging. Videos can be uploaded to the cloud directly from the phone.

* Amazon.com offers developers, site owners, businesses and consumers a Cloud hosting service called S3, which stands for Simple Storage Server.

The latter perhaps best sums up the benefits and posiblities of the Cloud: ‚Amazon S3 provides a simple web services interface that can be used to store and retrieve any amount of data, at any time, from anywhere on the web. It gives any developer access to the same highly scalable, reliable, secure, fast, inexpensive infrastructure that Amazon uses to run its own global network of web sites. The service aims to maximize benefits of scale and to pass those benefits on to developers.‚

Microsoft’s SkyDrive is a game changer for a different reason: it offers 25GB of free storage, even more than Google, with no strings attached.

These three services all have one thing in common: anyone can use them, and any gadget can be synchronised with them, regardless of whether their names start with an ‚i‚ or not. Apple’s vision of the Cloud is one where you buy a ticket to their game, and bring only their gadgets to the game. There’s no doubt it will make for a better synchronised game, but it’s the adult equivalent of the kid who takes his ball home when others won’t play by his very personal rules.

* Arthur Goldstuck heads up the World Wide Worx market research organisation and is editor-in-chief of Gadget. You can follow him on Twitter on @art2gee

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