Every year bloggers and journalists come out with hoards of predictions about what devices and services Apple will release at their premiere annual events. When Apple attended MacWorld it kept things sane – consumer predictions vs core hardware & software predictions were well compartmentalized. Now that Apple arguably only has one such premiere event, the future-seekers get too caught up in announcements for consumers (perhaps since that it what drives much of their readership) and looses focus on the fact that WWDC and its related announcements are all about conveying value of the Apple ecosystem to its developers. As such, all the press to date seems to have missed what I predict to be Apple’s most significant announcement today.
And of course, they’ve made it easier than ever this year – reduced to a simple equation. Lion + iOS 5 + iCloud = developer nirvana. That is, we’re going to take our two open developer platforms and we are going to connect them though a new service called iCloud. Okay, so yes this means all Apple services and devices are connected, but more importantly what does this mean for you the developer? Now every app you write can stay seamlessly synced with every other instance of that app on a user’s device and Apple will do the hard work. Better yet, they are going to offer this service for free for everyone on iOS. It’s Core Data with all its sophisticated sync services plus superfast cloud-based storage able to handle gigabytes of data, all available to iOS and Lion developers, with just the use of a few simple APIs.
Why is this so important? Because everything is going to the cloud. Security stumbles and network brittleness aside, it is the future, and it is already dominating the most powerful apps on Apple’s and others devices. Think about the apps you use vs. those from just a few years ago. Things was the had-to-have app for task-management when people mostly worked from one laptop, but it’s been largely obsoleted by Wunderlist and similar apps that let you see your data and agenda across all devices, seamlessly. It’s the same for Simplenote vs other local-only stores like Pastebot or even the default iOS notes app. The best games store my progress online (eg, Starcraft) so i can pick up from where i left off on any device. Echofon trounces almost every other Twitter app nearly by its global read-and-notify sync alone. 1Password quickly becomes useless if you log in from multiple devices if you don’t keep it stored and accessible via Dropbox. We’re done with having to manage and copy our data. Apps need to do this for us. For Developers, it’s hard, but iCloud is here to help.
Syncing data is hard and so is building reliable network storage that is globally distributed, redundant, and backed up. This is true even for “web apps.” As a developer I have to choose between being cloud-enabled or investing in other awesome features that distinguish me from the pack (pixels, killer algorithms, clever interactions). At best, I can leverage an existing cloud-store like iDisk or Dropbox to do this for me, maybe even license a small lib to help make this easier. But my guess is Apple is going to erase this headache for every one of their developers today and thus pave the way for an unprecedented future of interconnected apps on their devices that will leave the competition struggling for at least another couple years – simply because their competition’s developer bases won’t have the infrastructure available to solve these hard problems. This is what makes Apple’s platforms so strong. They solve really hard problems for their developers and eliminate code to write or mange. The App Store has been their ace up until now and after the release of Lion and IOS it will be iCloud. Or, at least it should be. If not, it is someone else’s game to win.