Steve Jobs to return with better-than-expected iCloud

Rather than a cloudy iTunes, iCloud may be all-purpose consumer online data-sync service

Credit: Photo credit:Joao Paulo Pacheco/Flickr

Though it's been beaten to the punch by every major OS vendor (and most of the others besides), Apple has announced its iCloud consumer-oriented cloud service will be one of the new products presented as unique contributions to the creative fabric of the universe in a speech by Steve Jobs at the company's World Wide Developer's Conference (WWDC) next week.

Questions about iCloud's content have remained unanswered since Apple bought the domain name in April, though most analysts expected it to be heavy on the iTunes-like music and video functions and light on the more practical ones.

As it turns out – or at least is assumed by pundits at GigaOm, which broke the story about the iCloud name in April – is that iCloud will go far beyond just music and synching services.

Like Amazon's Cloud Player, which is attached to the multifunctional Amazon Cloud Drive online storage service, iCloud will act as more of a central data hub than just a digital music service, GigaOm reports.

Like MobileMe, the service that renamed itself when Apple bought the iCloud name from it, iCloud will securely store email, contacts, calendars, notes and other material as well as music and photos, and sync them across your various Apple devices (and possibly those from Barbarian manufacturers, though not as elegantly).

It may also include the ability to stream stored media to music players, smartphones or other devices as well as being able to scan and stream media on a customer's hard drive without having to have it uploaded to Apple's servers first.

However, as Om points out: "Apple has done a remarkably good job keeping many of the details of the product offerings...close to the chest."

Which means we don't really know what iCloud will offer other than the strongly supported assumption iCloud will be a consumer-oriented online storage hub that will compete with Amazon's Cloud Drive, Google Music beta and the host of other Google services, as well as Dropbox, and a dozen others whose services range from emergency backup to online document exchange.

No hints about whether iCloud will be paid or free.

Since it's from Apple, you can assume iCloud will have an attractive, simple interface, work transparently with MacOS and iOS devices, work with a little effort with other devices, and have a series of odd licensing, content or device restrictions that reinforce the confidence of the faithful and make everyone else uncomfortable.

What about the Mac and iPhone?

Oh, Jobs will also talk about the next version of Mac OSX (Lion) and iOS 5, both of which are a big deal to those who have not yet freed themselves from the concept of the device-centric operating system because it has so obviously become obsolete. It says so in these articles from 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010, all of which, I have to point out, are correct in all of their facts and assumptions except for the implication we'd ever give up something we already have for something better when it's possible to hang on to both, no matter how confusing it eventually becomes.

Return of Steve Jobs?

Probably as remarkable as the long-awaited introduction of iCloud is the apprehension-tinged appearance of Jobs himself, who took indefinite medical leave from his position of chief guru in January to deal with his health, which has been chancy since a liver transplant and bout with pancreatic cancer.

As with the announcement of his leave, announcement of his return to speak at WWDC did nothing to answer questions about the state of his health or whether he would come back to work after the conference.

We'll have to wait until WWDC or afterward to find out about that, too.

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