By Daedalus Howell
For Apple CEO Steve Jobs, when it rains, it pours. The lauded gadget guru qua rainmaker came out of medical leave this week to formally introduce attendees of Apple’s World Wide Developers Conference to a bevy of new products. Among them is the much anticipated iCloud, Apple’s own spin on so-called cloud-computing, which, sans the weather whimsy, simply refers to information stored in remote servers and accessible via your device of choice anywhere there’s a decent internet connection.
Though the concept isn’t new (telephone companies once used the metaphor to describe their early forays into “virtual private networks”), its implementation in tech quarters gained real momentum in 2006, when Amazon introduced its Elastic Compute Cloud, a service that obviated the need for expensive server systems and paved the way for a bevy of startups. It was Google, however, that brought the cloud to civilians, with its suite of document creation tools (aimed squarely at Microsoft’s bread and butter). Now, with iCloud, Apple has also entered the consumer cloud market, touting synchronization of one’s digital data—documents, email, calendars, iTunes library, videos and plans for world domination—among one’s MacBook, iPad, iPhone and beyond. And it’s free.
Heretofore, one’s computer was like the sun in a private digital solar system around which all other devices orbited and depended for data through increasingly arcane synchronization rituals. Conceptually, iCloud collapses this solar system into a single celestial body accessible anywhere and anytime by whatever piece of gear happens to be in one’s hand. It’s like opening a wormhole into the fabric of one’s own virtual universe, integrating everything in a single service that’s hardware-agnostic.
This is the crux of Jobs’ plan, “demoting” the PC and even his own company’s iconic iMac line to mere, as he explained on Monday, “devices.” Of course, to those who’ve eluded induction into the cult of Apple, the company’s products have always been mere devices. For true believers, however, devices are tantamount to religious talismans that signify belief in a higher being—namely, Job s.
His conceptual downgrading of his stock-in-trade might prove a revelatory moment. It takes the way we deal with data, the ones and zeroes that compose much of our quotidian experience and whole flanks of our self-concept, and moves them from the concrete to the abstract, from “there” to “everywhere,” in a manner analogous to going from the corporeal to the spiritual (which, by some accounts, Jobs might be soon doing). The device, like the body, is but a vessel.
“We’re going to move the digital hub, the center of your digital life, into the cloud,” Jobs beamed. It’s not hard to imagine him hovering there too, lightning bolt in hand.