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Apple's iCloud: Clearing Up Some of the Confusion

I blew it on Apple.

It’s never easy to admit you’re wrong, but there’s no way around it here.

Apple Store
Flickr: hairygrumpy
Apple Store

Yesterday I wrote an opinion piece about why I’d likely avoid the new iCloud service. My conclusion was Apple’s (and, to be fair, Amazon’s ) online storage service was simply too expensive to justify the benefits.

My analysis was based on the total size of the multimedia files on my Mac and the cost of storing them on iCloud based on its pricing model. I have more than 100 gigs of music and more than 200 gigs of movies, all of which I believed would be uploaded to some fancy Apple server in the sky.

This is where I screwed up: iCloud is not a pure online storage service, at least not for movies.

Apple’s website touts the service as a "hard drive in the sky." And it certainly is, at least for files such as music, photos and documents.

I assumed, like with some earlier cloud products such as iDisk, that when a file was ‘uploaded’ to iCloud, the actual files are pushed to a server. In reality, Apple confirmed to me that the only music files that would actually be uploaded would be those that aren’t already available in iTunes' more than 20 million song library.

So unless you’re really into obscure tracks, chances are that Apple already has that song on file and thus there is no need to move the file. Regardless, any file that Apple does need to upload will not be counted against your storage capacity and thus won’t cost extra to store.

My problem is video.

Like many people these days, any video camera I have, whether it's the video feature on my iPhone or a stand-alone video camera, is entirely digital with a fixed-size hard drive. When I take videos, I have to transfer them to my computer — both to view and to empty the device’s hard drive. Over the past few years I’ve built up hundreds of home movies of my daughter, vacations, car racing, etc. I’ve then imported many of these into iTunes so I can more easily manage the files as well as watch them in different ways, such as on Apple TV.

I assumed (there’s that nasty word again) that because iTunes is on the cloud, that anything I have on iTunes — including my movies — would be viewable.

Nope.

Apple confirmed to me that is not the case. As of now, there are no movies on iCloud, studio or otherwise. There are some reports that studio movies may be coming to iCloud ‘soon’ but there is nothing regarding any ability now or otherwise to upload non-iTunes purchased videos such as home videos. That video of you rafting the Colorado River remains grounded.

But sometimes a mistake can shed light on something new, which is what occurred to me when I discovered the error of my movie-uploading ways: if I can’t upload some of my most important content, what’s the point?

The two reasons I would use a cloud service are 1) security and 2) convenience.

If my house burns down and my Mac melts, it’s nice to know that I won’t lose impossible-to-replace videos such as my daughter taking her first steps.

A true ‘hard drive in the sky’ service can keep the actual files somewhere safe, allowing me to download them whenever or wherever I need. Plenty of companies that do just that already exist and I expect that Moore’s law will keep working its magic and those costs will come spiraling down with each passing month.

For what it’s worth, since I ended my MobileMe subscription (again, too much for too little) I’ve created a decidedly old school ‘cloud’ of a second external drive in a fireproof safe. Call it steampunk chic.

Sure, the convenience of iCloud seems cool, but my $50 portable external drive, Spotify and my old iPod classic can hold all the videos, photos, music and documents I’ll need for anywhere I want to go without any additional costs.

I’m no Luddite. I get that the cloud is coming and one day we’ll all be pushed to keep most of our stuff in the ‘sky.’ Just look at Apple’s new MacBook Air line. The largest internal flash memory available is 256 gigabytes. In this digital age that’s likely not enough to hold most user’s current content. And as more (read: all) computers move to flash memory eventually, the cloud will become the offsite storage vessel for us all.

And isn’t that the genius of Apple (and others) again? Files are getting bigger. Drives are getting smaller. Soon the recurring revenue model of cloud computing will cover us all.

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