iCloud and More: Ten Questions About the Recent Apple News

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Can 1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1=47? On Twitter, I saw some folks with Microsoft- and Android-centric worldviews snark that this new feature or that new feature announced at WWDC already existed on other platforms. In general, they’re right–just about everything Apple announced has antecedents elsewhere. And in some cases, as with iOS 5′s notifications, Apple is playing catchup, pure and simple. The company’s defining characteristic isn’t that it does things no company has done before it–it’s that it does them on its own schedule (sometimes very early, sometimes remarkably late) and tends to do them well. And it does them all itself, on its own terms, and tries to make them all work together seamlessly. (It doesn’t always succeed at the seamless part, but it tries harder than anyone else.) If yesterday’s news adds up to be a big deal, it won’t be because Apple invented anything utterly new; it’ll be because it made many old ideas work better together than anyone else has managed to date.

What does the last week mean for the Microsoft vs. Apple wars?People sure like to talk about the competition between these two companies–which makes sense, since it’s been going on for at least thirty years–but it’s really been pretty quiet in recent years. Microsoft has had a monopoly on PCs under $1000, and Apple has had one on PCs over $1000, and they’ve both made lots of money. (And Apple has sprinted ahead on the mobile front, where Microsoft is still lacing its running shoes.) Between last week’s Windows 8 peek and yesterday’s news, though, the two companies are coming back into existential conflict. Microsoft is trying to reinvent Windows into a post-PC operating system. Apple is giving iOS, its post-PC operating system, a level of autonomy formerly reserved for PCs. What the two companies are doing is simultaneously oddly similar and wildly different. (More thoughts to come on this.)

Will iCloud…work? Syncing is one of the toughest problems in personal technology; I’m not sure if anyone’s ever nailed it. And Steve Jobs acknowledged that MobileMe isn’t exactly proof that Apple knows how to get it right. John Gruber of Daring Fireball points out that Apple isn’t calling what iCloud does “syncing,” and that the version of a file that Apple is storing on its servers is the definitive one. That version will just get pushed out to devices as necessary. That should help. But even if you don’t consider iCloud to be syncing, it’s the single most ambitious moving-data-around-between-devices service to date. If it works without meaningful hiccups, it’ll be quite an accomplishment.

Do people want the file system to go bye-bye? At the keynote, Steve Jobs explained that the company is working vigorously to eliminate the need for a file system of the sort that personal computers have had ever since the first ones with floppy disks arrived. He was talking about iOS, but iCloud starts to nibble away at the edges of the traditional file system on Macs and PCs, too. My impulse was to think “but I like the file system.” And then I thought “maybe it’s an inconvenience I only think I like because I don’t know better.”

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