Sunday, 19 June 2011

Of Living The iLife, Dinosaurs and Data Portability

I'm not here to sound the death knell for Apple, but the announcement of the iCloud is a defining moment in the company's development. Will it remain a facilitator, or become an institution that exists only to ensure its own survival?

The 'cloud' or utility model for computing is not new. In fact, consumers have arguably held their data and basic applications 'in the cloud' ever since adopting public email services, blogging services and so on. What's new about the iCloud is the automated way in which all a consumer's content may be synchornised and otherwise 'managed' across all the consumer's (Apple) devices.

Seen from a hi-tech standpoint, Apple's move is typically bold and innovative. Yet the centralised omnipotence this may hand to Apple seems an attempt to reverse a 20 year trend toward enabling consumers to control their own data. In this sense, the iCloud appears to be the sort of product a major bank or telco 'dinosaur' would introduce in a last ditch effort to survive by locking-in its customers - and just imagine the complaints there'd be, given the switching challenges for consumers in those markets. So data portability is absolutely critical (along with personal data protection and security), if the iCloud is to be seen as a consumer 'enabler' rather than a predatory move by an aging institution.

But does the mainstream consider data portability to be important? I mean, I'd like to think that Apple's early, tech-savvy customer base would realise it's a bad idea to hold all your applications and data with a single provider, just as financially savvy folk realise the benefit of a fully-diversified investment portfolio. I have an iPhone and an iTunes account; but I also have a Toshiba laptop and a Dell PC. Those computers run Microsoft's Windows and Office package, and I have a Hotmail address; but I very deliberately browse with Firefox, blog via Blogger (Google), Tweet, hang out on Facebook and follow various blogs using Netvibes. And I use Spotify, not iTunes, as my main music service. In other words, I'm not going to let any one provider see, process, hold or control all my data - or even have a complete back-up or copy. That would feel closed and controlling, rather than enabling.

But, ironically, I suspect many people in the mainstream will see the need for software service diversity as a hassle or a problem to be solved by a single service provider, which is why Apple may quite genuinely see a market for the iCloud.

Does that make Apple a genuine facilitator or a dinosaur that's spotted a meal?

Image from eBandit.

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