Being that Steve Jobs is a big Bob Dylan fan, I thought it only appropriate to begin this special report on Apple's iCloud with a lyrical line from a Dylan song that states "It'll soon shake your windows and rattle your walls - for the times they are a-changin'." While it may be old, it's always true: Change is inevitable. Politicians use this catch phrase every four years and somehow it never gets old with each new generation. When we think of the coming cloud we think that it's new – but it's not. It used to be called Network Computing and thin clients were called NC's. That was a term that drove naysayers crazy. According to them, it was never going to happen. Well, with a fresh coat of paint and new razzle-dazzle marketing lingo, we see that it's back and here to stay. Technology has finally caught up with the vision that Steve Jobs harbored since the mid nineties and today's report will fast track you through some of its history. There's a reason why Apple's iCloud will be fundamentally superior: it's been in the works for well over a decade.
In the Beginning: The Winds of Change
Wired Magazine's classic 1996 interview with Steve Jobs has always stood out as one the most interesting tech titan interviews of all time. Being that NeXT Computer had failed to reach the masses – Steve Jobs wasn't interested in talking about the desktop computer anymore. No, he had an all-new vision that revolved around WebObjects: The Next Great Thing.
During his interview, Steve Jobs stated that "The desktop computer industry is dead. Innovation has virtually ceased. Microsoft dominates with very little innovation. That's over. Apple lost. The desktop market has entered the dark ages, and it's going to be in the dark ages for the next 10 years, or certainly for the rest of this decade."
But more importantly he hinted of something new on the horizon related to WebObjects. Gary Wolf of Wired asked Steve Jobs this question: "Is the desktop metaphor going to continue to dominate how we relate to computers, or is there some other metaphor you like better?"
Steve Jobs replied by stating that "to have a new metaphor, you really need new issues. The desktop metaphor was invented because one, you were a stand-alone device, and two, you had to manage your own storage. That's a very big thing in a desktop world. And that may go away. You may not have to manage your own storage. You may not store much before too long.
I don't store anything anymore, really. I use a lot of e-mail and the Web, and with both of those I don't have to ever manage storage. As a matter of fact, my favorite way of reminding myself to do something is to send myself e-mail. That's my storage.
The minute that I don't have to manage my own storage, and the minute I live primarily in a connected versus a stand-alone world, there are new options for metaphors."
That vision, was the foundation of what was to come. Shortly thereafter Apple acquired NeXT Computer and Steve Jobs came along with the deal initially as a special advisor. Steve Jobs secretely got Oracle's Larry Ellison to talk of buying Apple and eventually got Apple's CEO booted so as to allow Steve Jobs to step in as reigning king and clean house. Once in place, Ellison began working on the NC project and in 1997 Ellison began banging the NC drum very loudly. An old archive still recounts the event and this is one of the key statements:
"The clients run a new Network Computer Operating System (NC-OS). Ellison said the system was an open, standards based, 100-percent Unix-compatible operating system. In a subsequent press conference, he also revealed it was exactly the same operating system as Apple's upcoming "Rhapsody" operating system." This was never spoken of again. In 2001, a fresh new burst of energy emerged advancing the fundamentals of the NC-OS.
The Next Wave Vision from IBM-Apple
In 2001, as if coordinated, two statements were made public within 24 hours of each other. IBM must have gotten word that Steve Jobs was going to make an announcement the next morning, and so they put out a rush press release the night before Steve Jobs was to speak with investors at an analyst meeting about their Digital Hub vision. It was later picked up by ZDNet as an article. Below you'll see the key points from their respective statements that are uncannily similar.
On January 31, 2001, IBM's John R.Patrick, Vice President for Internet technology wrote a story/press release called the "Browser Wars: Rest in peace." It's a great historical piece of the puzzle in terms of capturing one of those rare moments in time where you could point to and say, this was revolutionary stuff for its time.
- Most people think of the Internet and the Web as being the same thing. They aren't.
- There will be more and more applications that use the Internet and don't require a browser.
- We will see many applications being developed which look and feel like the native desktop but which utilizes the internet seamlessly in the background.
- We're only at the beginning of this new wave of innovation. Web-services creation tools, emerging standards and innovative ways to develop client code that connects to these Web services are going to trigger yet another wave of increasing Internet usage.
Twenty-four hours later Steve Jobs spoke to investors at an analyst meeting and made these key points:
We've all been blinded into thinking that the browser controls the Internet," he added. "But that's not true.
What's the most popular app on the Internet? [It's] e-mail. And you don't use a browser for e-mail….More and more of what we'll be doing will be in terms of such client applications.
We believe that the next wave of the Internet will be client applications that work intimately with the Internet, but not necessarily with a Web browser.
You can think of iTunes the same way, allowing access to Internet content through a specialized interface rather than a browser.
The vision as outlined by both Apple and IBM was exciting as they were in context with their respective visions as earlier laid out with Taligent/Rhapsody and TalOS/WebObjects.
Yet Steve Jobs' vision of consumers not having to manage their own data had to realistically be put on hold. Who knew that it would take another decade for it to come to life? Yet it's true that being too early with technology is as deadly as being too late to the party. Steve Jobs knew this better than anyone else with his experience with the Mac losing out to the PC, the Newton losing out to Palm and his NeXTStep OS being unable to crack any market to stay viable.
All of these products were originally way ahead of their time but just couldn't break through to the masses for countless reasons. So Steve Jobs decided to proceed initially with the Mac being the Digital Hub in 2001 until the internet and the right infrastructure would be able to support his long time vision about doing away with storage for consumer PCs. During his 2001 Macworld keynote, Jobs stated that "We don't believe the PC is dying; we believe it's evolving." As you'll see for yourself, it's a statement that would be later contradicted in 2010.
Apple's Post PC Era Revelation
In an in-depth interview with Steve Jobs in June 2010, Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher discussed a wide range of topics over 90 minutes. One of the most controversial moments in that interview came when he coined the phrase "The Post-PC era."
Steve Jobs spoke about the Post-PC era in a very philosophical light and described it as something that would make us all very uneasy. We now know that Steve Jobs knew full well at that moment in time that their revolutionary iCloud services were allegorically on the tarmac preparing for final take-off. When we first watched the D8 interview we presumed that his description of the Post PC era was in context with the iPad and other possible next generation "devices." No one even conceived that he was actually talking about their coming Cloud services and beyond.
Below is a transcript covering that precise moment in time when Apple's iCloud prophesy was made and yet not understood.
"When we were an agrarian nation, all cars were trucks, because that's what you needed on the farm. But as vehicles started to be used in the urban centers, and America began to move into the urban and then suburban centers, cars got more popular and innovations like automatic transmissions, power steering and things that you didn't care about in a truck as much started to become paramount in cars. And now, I don't know what the statistics are – maybe one out of every 25 or 30 vehicles is a truck – where it used to be a hundred percent."
"PC's [later clarified as Personal Computers of any kind] are going to be like trucks. They're still going to be around. They're still going to have a lot of value but they're going to be used by one out of x-people. And this transformation is going to make some people uneasy: People from the PC world, like you and me. It's going to make us uneasy – because the PC has taken us a long ways. It's brilliant. And ... we like to talk about the Post-PC era but when it really starts to happen I think it's uncomfortable for a lot of people. And because it's change – a lot of vested interests are going to change and it's going to be different. So I think that we're embarked on that. Uh, is it the iPad? Who knows? It could happen next year or five years or seven years from now – who knows!? But I think we're headed in that direction." Who knew that "next year" was the right answer – ha!
Apple's Vision Finally Comes to Life with iCloud
Don't we all just love a good bombshell thrown at us once in awhile just to let us know that we're still alive? Well we sure got it between the eyes this time around when Steve Jobs delivered his quietly delivered keynote "We're going to demote the PC and the Mac to just be a device. Just like an iPhone, iPad or an iPod touch. And we're going to move the digital hub, the center of your digital life into the cloud. Because all these new devices have communications built into them, they could all talk to the cloud whenever they want. "
"And so now if I get something on my iPhone it's sent up to the cloud immediately, let's say I take some picture with it …those picture are in the cloud and they are now pushed down to my devices completely automatically. And now everything is in sync without me having to think about it. I don't even need to take the devices out of my pocket. I don't have to be near my Mac or PC."
"Now some people think that the cloud is a just a hard disk in the sky - Right? And you take a bunch of stuff and you put it in your Dropbox or your iDisk or whatever and it transfers it up to the cloud and stores it. And you drag out what you want back out on your other devices. We think it's way more than that and we call it iCloud."
"Now, iCloud stores your content, in the cloud, and wirelessly pushes it to all your devices. So it automatically uploads it, stores it and automatically pushes it to all of your other devices. But also, it's completely integrated with your apps. And so everything happens automatically and there's nothing new to learn. It just all works … it just works."
One of the key points that Steve Jobs hammered home in his keynote, and is shown in the slide above, is that the "iCloud is integrated with your apps so everything happens automatically." That's exactly what was stated back in 2001 by both IBM's John R.Patrick and Apple's Steve Jobs. So this notion that Apple is somehow copying Google and others is simply dead-head wrong and misinformation at its finest. Steve Jobs understood the next wave of computing before WebObjects came to market and years before Google was even born.
Forstall: We're Ushering in the Post PC World
To rub it Microsoft's face a little, Scott Forstall belted out during his portion of the keynote that "We're living in a Post-PC World. In fact, especially with the iPad, we're ushering in the Post-PC world. We have a lot of customers coming to us and saying, I want to buy an iPad as my only device. I don't own a computer. I want to buy an iPhone as my only device …"
"We know that we're selling into a lot of places where the household just don't have computers. And they want to buy an iOS device as their only device and that's exactly what we're going to support in iOS 5."
I think that we could all relate to that. We all know a friend or neighbour that just couldn't care less about computing beyond email. A dear friend of mine who lives in Montreal is like that but floored me last week when she got all excited about touching an iPad at the Apple Store and wanted to buy one. So yes, this next wave of the internet is going to bring a lot of new people into the fold that would have never joined otherwise. So without a doubt, Apple has tapped into a new vein of the market and its there's to take. But not all will be rosy in this coming cloud revolution.
The Dark Side of Cloud Computing
Yes, clouds also could have a dark side to them and here's a case in point. One of the many points that Intel's Kirk Skaugen made during his IDF keynote in Beijing earlier this year was that if you happen to work in a data center keeping your company's servers humming year round, you might be out of job sooner than you think. Intel, according to Skaugen, is out to save businesses 25 billion dollars (view this around the 6:30 mark of the keynote) over the next 4 years by killing off jobs related to IT departments around the globe: Ouch! I understand that progress has its costs – but at a time of high unemployment, I don't think that Intel should have been so cheery about the consequences of their action. I'll leave it at that.
The Winds of Change Have Only Begun
At the end of the day, we know that the concept behind the marketing brand of iCloud was in Steve Jobs head for more than 15 years – and public records bear that out. The concept of consumers not having to deal with storage one day was foreseen and even forecasted by Steve Jobs back in 1996 in his Wired Magazine interview where he detailed WebObjects as the next great thing.
The historical timeline as laid out in our report clearly showed you Apple's steady progress towards fulfilling their long standing vision which included some ups and downs along the way. And not to gloss things over, Steve Jobs did admit last week that their MobileMe wasn't their finest hour – but that's what gives this story some of its character. Nothing in life goes along in a straight line and sometimes a good kick in the ass is what you need to get you back on track and deadly focused. And back on track they went.
While the vision behind iCloud is bold, I must admit it's not for everyone all of the time. Jobs got it right when he said that it would make some people uncomfortable and to a certain degree I'm one of them and that's okay. At the moment, I liked what I heard from Intel in Taiwan two weeks ago concerning the transition of the PC and what's coming down the pipeline via their upcoming Haswell processor that's being designed from scratch. Haswell brings many of the strengths of the tablet to future notebooks that Intel is now promoting as the coming Ultrabook. It has the features that I want and will also be in harmony with cloud services: A balance. Intel is also already working with dozens of the top tech titans in the industry to establish cloud standards that are interoperable, secure and automated.
In hindsight I found it a little ironic that back in 2001 Steve Jobs took the Macworld stage to defend the PC with his every breath by stating that Apple didn't believe the PC was dying and that in fact is was simply evolving. A decade later and it's now Steve Jobs who's saying that the PC is dying and Intel who is the voice of reason here by stating that the next shift in the PC is just another evolutionary stage – No more, no less. This clash of visions is likely to continue for many years to come.
Yet when all is said and done, iCloud will usher in a new kind of computing and one that's more in-tune with this generation that's always on the go and on in general. It offers tremendous convenience and will be ubiquitous. The fact that any change that you make on a document on one device will be instantly downloaded to all of your other devices is simply too hard to resist. But until it's in our hands, speculation will be all over the place and we'll just have to wait until it all unfolds. But without a doubt, the winds of change are upon us. While many of us will likely continue to choose a next generation personal computer and supplement it with smart devices, the vast majority of the globe may in fact want cheap and mobile and that spells all-things iCloud related. It's something to get excited about and not fear. Life is a journey – so enjoy its many twists and turns.
But there's one more thing. Last week Apple filed two interesting new iPod trademark applications in Europe which got me thinking. How could Apple pump up cloud computing without it incorporating some form of change to their future hardware lineup? Won't some form of hardware roll out that's in sync with their iCloud vision? And that's when it'll begin to hit home hard when Apple's hardware starts to reflect and support their iCloud vision.
It may not happen overnight – but be rest assured that the other shoe has to drop at some point in time. It may start out simply as being an iCloud-centric iPod, iPad or even iPhone. But if Apple is serious about demoting the Mac or PC as just being another device, then they're going to have to set the tone here and deliver on that powerhouse statement. Do they have the courage to take such a leap? Well of course: I don't think that Steve Jobs would have made such a statement without foreknowledge of such a unit on the drawing board. When and what it'll entail is anyone's guess at this point in time. But if Apple wants to set the tone for iCloud's future, then you could almost bet it's going to be a winner. We'll know in time.
So in the end, make no mistake about it, the winds of change supporting the Post PC era are already underway in Apple's many research labs at this very moment. Apple's patents have already pointed to completely new kinds of devices in the making including a "desk-free computer," a cool "Visual Head Display" and even a hybrid tablet device. Apple's patents pointed to their coming iPhone in 2006, a year before it debuted in 2007. It even confirmed that iTunes based cloud services were coming before they actually debuted. Apple's patents will continue to clue us in on their next wave of innovations and I can't wait to cover them all.
Get ready – the winds of change have only begun.
Other Apple Cloud-Centric Patents