On Monday Apple will introduce a new service called iCloud.
It will instantly make what’s known as “cloud computing” mainstream, changing the way we use computers in a fundamental way.
We’ll no longer store our stuff – our files, music, and movies – locally on our computers.
It will all be moved to the internet for instant access from anywhere, anytime, and on any device.
Except for Northerners. Our lamentable internet services aren’t nearly ready for such a significant paradigm shift.
So as an exciting new era in computing arrives, we’ll be left even further behind than we already are.
Apple’s move to redefine where and how we store our computer files follows an historical pattern.
The floppy drive died in 1998 when Apple released the first iMac.
Ten years later, the CD/DVD drive was rendered irrelevant with the release of the first MacBook Air.
Now, with iCloud, Apple is ramping up to do the unthinkable: kill the hard drive itself.
This one is a bit tougher, of course.
The hard drive is the part inside a computer that holds all our stuff. And since our music, movies, and photos are now digital, we have an awful lot of stuff.
So the success of iCloud will depend on two things: Apple making it a truly easy-to-use and completely dependable service; and a high-quality, affordable internet infrastructure that connects us to that service.
Apple’s actions over the last few years indicate that we can rightfully expect greatness from iCloud.
They’ve bought companies with expertise in cloud computing.
They’ve built a new 500,000 square-foot data centre to support the service.
And they seem to have learned from a history of previous, flaky internet services like .Mac and MobileMe. (You sort of have to cross your fingers on this last one, though.)
If nothing else, Apple has certainly lavished money on iCloud.
They paid over $4 million dollars for the domain name icloud.com alone.
Storing stuff in the cloud is nothing new, of course.
A lot of us have been using services like Dropbox for years to store our files online, or websites like Flickr to store and share our photo libraries.
The difference with iCloud will be Apple’s mythological magic touch.
After all, Apple hasn’t ever introduced a product that was really new or original.
From the mouse to the tablet, the company is more about adopting pre-existing products that are way too geeky for normal people, and then turning them into cool things that are easy to use.
It won’t be any different with iCloud.
Services like Dropbox are confusing and cumbersome to most people.
You have to download and install software. Then you have to build a new mental model around how and where you store files.
For the average user, it’s just too much trouble.
That’s why Apple is making iCloud part of its platform overall, not an added-on component.
On Monday Apple will also release its next-generation Mac operating system, Lion.
And it will announce a new version of its iPad and iPhone operating system, iOS 5.
Both will feature iCloud baked right in, and that’s what will make the difference.
With Lion and iOS 5, storing your stuff – music, movies, TV shows, photos, files, contacts, and calendars – will just happen in the cloud, rather than on the computer or mobile device itself.
The benefits of this are huge.
The very idea of backing up your data, for example, becomes irrelevant.
Then there’s the fact that, no matter where you are, no matter what device you’re using, you’ll have instant access to all of your stuff.
But this is where things start to fall apart for us northerners.
Our connection to Apple’s iCloud – to any cloud service for that matter – is a joke.
It’s very slow. It’s tremendously expensive. And we’re extremely limited in terms of the volume of stuff we can move into the cloud and back.
Those of us who have pre-evolved to the cloud era already feel the pain that the poor northern internet infrastructure inflicts.
And Apple’s iCloud is really just the beginning of a more widespread adoption of this emerging method computing.
So the pain is going to get worse.
If history is any indication, virtually every other technology company will mimic Apple’s new direction.
Soon all of us will be storing all of our stuff in the cloud, whether it’s with Apple or another company.
As a result, in the coming months and years, it will become ever-more important to have affordable, high-quality access to the internet.
And we’re a very, very long way away from that in the North right now, with no sign that it’s going to arrive any time soon.
That means, as people in other parts of Canada and the world float up into a new era of computing with iCloud, northerners will remain rooted in the dust and muck of yesterday’s technologies.
Originally published in the Yukon News on Friday, June 3, 2011.