I bet Apple is already working on syching iPad in the cloud

data center by Cushing Memorial Library and Archives, Texas A&M

Tim O’Reilly on the iPad and the End of the PC Era
[Via Daring Fireball]

Great observations from Tim O’Reilly on Apple’s weakness:

Media and application syncing across iPhone and iPad is poorly thought out. MobileMe, which should be Apple’s gateway drug for lock-in to Apple services, is instead sold as an add-on to a small fraction of Apple’s customer base. If Apple wants to win, they need to understand the power of network effects in Internet services. They need to sacrifice revenue for reach, taking the opportunity of their early lead to tie users ever more closely to Apple services.

It wouldn’t even be that much of a sacrifice to revenue if Apple included, say, a year or two of free MobileMe service when you buy an iPhone OS device. Or just make MobileMe service free for the lifetime of the device — that way, developers, including Apple, could count on a cloud-based syncing service.

This is Google’s primary advantage, but Apple — judging from how the iPad iWork apps don’t even attempt to sync documents, and how non-MobileMe users are stuck with USB syncing through iTunes — doesn’t seem to see that.

[More]

I would not be surprised to learn Apple is doing something here. One possibility was discussed in detail just a few months ago in an article discussing Apple’s purchase of a digital music startup, lala:

An upcoming major revision of iTunes will copy each user’s catalog to the net making it available from any browser or net connected ipod/touch/tablet. The Lala upload technology will be bundled into a future iTunes upgrade which will automatically be installed for the 100+ million itunes users with a simple “An upgrade is available…” notification dialog box. After installation iTunes will push in the background their entire media library to their personal mobile iTunes area. Once loaded, users will be able to navigate and play their music, videos and playlists from their personal URL using a browser based iTunes experience.

Apple will link the tens of millions of previously sold iPods, Touches, AppleTV and iTablets to mobile iTunes giving users seamless playback of their media from a wide range of Apple branded devices. Since media will be supplied from the user’s personal collection, Apple is freed from the hassles of device and region limitations. iTunes shoppers will be able to continue to buy music and movies as they can now with purchases still being downloaded, but once downloaded they will be automatically loaded to their mobile iTunes area for anywhere access. Again because users are in possession of the materials no new licenses are required from the record labels or publishers.

This sounds exactly like what is being discussed by O’Reilly, et al. Apple is on the job. They just have one little problem, currently – storage capacity.

If they opened MobileMe up to everyone with an iPhone, or even just an iPad, would they have the system capacity to properly service that cloud? we would have 10s of millions trying to sync all the time.

They need that capacity. And, since last year they have been building it. In North Carolina. Read this report from last year:

“Apple is planning about 500,000 square feet of data center space in a single building,” says Rich Miller, editor of Data Center Knowledge. “That would place it among the largest data centers in the world… This would qualify as a big-ass data center.”

Question is, what will Apple use it for? Apple’s plans are secret, of course, and some have speculated it’s to support Apple’s growing MobileMe business and online iTunes stores.

But Miller says the size of the data center hints at something else. Companies building centers this big are getting into cloud computing. Running apps in the cloud requires massive infrastructure: Google-size infrastructure.

<snip>

The early site plans indicate Apple is planning about 500,000 square feet of data center space in a single building. That would place it among the largest data centers in the world. For comparison purposes, Apple’s existing data center in Newark, Calif. is a little more than 100,000 square feet. Most new stand-alone enterprise data centers are in the range of 100,000 to 200,000 square feet. So this would qualify as a big-ass data center.

<snip>

Facebook cited latency to Europe as a key factor in its decision to add data centers in Virginia. Before that, MySpace added a data center in Los Angeles to reduce its reliance on CDNs. But in both cases, those companies sought out Internet hubs where they could connect with dozens of other networks to manage their Internet traffic. You don’t get that in rural North Carolina, so Apple seems more focused on cost and scale than on connectivity – which again would suggest a cloud focus.

So, even last year the discussion about this data center was about cloud computing, exactly the thing that is now being discussed for synching these mobile devices.

You can watch a short video of the data center with this relevant text:

Apple’s data center in Maiden is expected to provide the back-end for a larger move into cloud computing, with most speculation focusing on a shift of iTunes user libraries from user desktops to online storage.

Sounds like what O’Reilly and others are talking about. Apple will be providing storage services in the cloud for our digital stuff, allowing us to sync and access it from anywhere. Let’s wait for the plant ot come on line.

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