October 5th, 2011

Let’s Talk iPhone

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iCloudWe all know what was rumored for several weeks, that the star of yesterday’s iPhone unveiling would not be the hardware. And it wasn’t. Sure it was upgraded: A5 versus A4, eight megapixels versus five etc. But the physical update ranked up there with Intel’s introduction of the 486 for emotional pull. For many loyal Apple customers, including myself, the news was disappointing on first impression.

Still, first impressions are not always the most accurate. The true star of yesterday’s event was the integration of the iPhone to the Cloud. From iCloud through Find My Friends, iTunes Match, Photo Stream, Backup and of course the Siri personal assistant, Apple has tethered its phone to a series of concentric Clouds that span the personal, familial and public.

Now, one can argue that every app on the iPhone has, in one way or another, always been a portal, in miniature, to some shared Web-like Cloud service. What makes yesterday’s series of Cloud announcements different is how intertwined these Cloud services have become with the core propositions of the iPhone. Apple has tried to tie Cloud to most of the primary functions of the iPhone: communication, music, photos, search, social networking, calendaring etc.

Clearly, Apple benefits from anchoring our devices to a Cloud of its own invention. Defecting to another phone platform will become more complicated and cumbersome because of the iPhone’s many Clouds. Despite this, there is no denying the benefit that accrues to me and every consumer of Apple products from the cocooning effect of the Cloud. Apple’s Cloud services simplify a range of tasks and make possible some like Siri, which would have been impossible otherwise.

Like all good innovators, Apple did not invent the idea of integrating the Cloud to a mobile device. Google has been experimenting with this for years. Even Amazon, with its new Kindle Fire, is leveraging its AWS Cloud to accelerate Web browsing. However, Apple has the mass market reach to truly make Cloud integration with mobile devices mainstream.

For enterprise software vendors like Oracle, IBM WebSphere and Layer 7 Technologies, which are marrying software with hardware to deliver integrated appliances, the lesson is obvious: software plus hardware may be incomplete. Perhaps a better mnemonic is: “Software. Hardware. Cloud. Complete.” This may explain why Larry Ellison chose to replace Mark Benioff’s Cloud keynote today at Oracle OpenWorld 2011 with his own.

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