Will iCloud crush rival Cloud storage services?

Apple is moving in on the mrket of online storage services with its iCloud service.

Apple iCloud is coming. Existing online storage and data syncing services like Box.net, Dropbox, and SugarSync may have cause for concern because iCloud encroaches on their territory, and could threaten to make smaller rivals obsolete.

In the 'good ole days' when users just sat at a desk, using a desktop PC, keeping data in sync was not an issue. But, users are much more mobile now, and it is a challenge to make sure the same e-mail, contacts, calendar events, and documents are available whether you are sitting at your desk, using a tablet from the corner Starbucks, or getting some work done on your smartphone while riding in a taxi.

Box.net, Dropbox, SugarSync, and other similar services recognized that need, and stepped in to fill the void. By providing online file storage, and the tools and apps necessary to keep everything in sync, these services have helped consumers and businesses keep all of their platforms on the same page so to speak.

Now, Apple is coming to steal their lunch money with iCloud. iCloud will seamlessly copy and sync document, e-mail, calendar, and contact data from a Mac or Windows PC, back and forth to iOS devices like the iPhone and iPad.

With iCloud rolling in to town, it may seem like rival services should close up shop and find a new industry to innovate. The forecast is not quite that gloomy, though. In fact, Apple's iCloud comes with a silver lining.

Will iCloud cut into the market of Box.net and Dropbox? Probably. Users that rely on these services to store data online and keep data in sync between devices can switch to iCloud and take advantage of the seamless syncing and 5GB of storage space being offered by Apple--that is, as long as they only want to access that data from iOS devices.

Aaron Levie, co-founder and CEO of Box.net, is not dreading iCloud. In fact, he is optimistic that Apple's iCloud will bring more mainstream attention and acceptance to the concept of cloud storage and syncing.

When push comes to shove, iCloud won't deliver on other platforms like Android smartphones and tablets, and if iTunes is any indication the Apple service won't work with Linux. Consumers and businesses that operate outside of the Apple walled garden will have to seek alternate solutions--like Box.net, Dropbox, or SugarSync.

Security is another issue. Apple has improved the security of iOS over the years, but it still lags behind the robust security and IT management tools offered by RIM. Frankly, Apple is focused on delivering the best user experience at a consumer level, and that goal is frequently in conflict with the sort of control and oversight that IT admins need to manage mobile devices and protect data in a business environment.

iCloud seems like an awesome service at face value, and it does compete on some level with other online data storage and syncing services. But, the customers that rivals gain from the increased awareness and mainstream acceptance of the concept should more than offset any Apple-centric customers they might lost to Apple's iCloud.

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Tony Bradley

PC World (US online)
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