The coming iCloud: Apple experts predict what’s about to debut at the WWDC

June 6, 2011, 7:29 AM UTC

Apple’s pre-announcements — of Mac OS X Lion, iOS 5 and iCloud — have only made things worse

Moscone West on Sunday night. Photo: PED

I’ve never see the Apple (AAPL) cognoscenti quite so confused. They’re all in town for the Worldwide Developers Conference that opens Monday at San Francisco’s Moscone West — the first one since 2007 that doesn’t feature a new iPhone. And without that shiny piece of hardware to anchor their thoughts, they seem to be adrift.

Last week, at least, there was something to focus on. Music industry executives who can’t keep a secret from here to the sidewalk made it sound like iCloud was all about music and their 11th-hour deals with Apple — deals that will allow their songs to be streamed from Cupertino’s servers to iPhones, Macs and iPads. But a music streaming service — especially one that is rumored to work only with songs purchased through the iTunes store — didn’t seem big enough to justify the high-volume build-up Apple has given this year’s WWDC.

So over the weekend, there was a flurry of deeper thinking about what iOS 5 (the new mobile operating system), OS X Lion (the new desktop operating system) and iCloud (the new Internet service) might add up to. Unfortunately, none of it quite fit together. With less than 12 hours to go before Steve Jobs takes the stage, three major threads dominated the conversation:

  • iCloud as MobileMe writ large. Credit former Apple, Yahoo (YHOO) and Google (GOOG) designer Kevin Fox for articulating this. The way Fox sees it, iCloud should be giving users seamless access to all their programs and data, no matter what machine they’re using, replacing a $99-per-year e-mail and calendar-syncing service that never really took off. In the new cloud-based service, you just enter your Apple ID, and it’s all there, instantly configured just the way you left it. “A major theme,” Fox writes, “will be the concept that a task doesn’t reside with any particular device, but instead with the person, so shifting devices doesn’t mean you have to shift or restart tasks. They’ll all be windows into what you’re currently doing.” See here.
  • iCloud as iTunes writ large. This one comes from Daring Fireball‘s John Gruber, an Apple blogger with good sources and an excellent track record. iCloud isn’t the new Mobile Me, says Gruber, it’s iTunes without the USB cable. “Rather than ‘Take this out, plug it into your Mac or PC [and] wait for it to sync before you actually play with it’,” he writes, “you might get something like ‘Take this out, turn it on, sign into your iTunes account, and start playing with it’.”
  • iCloud isn’t in a cloud at all, it’s your local router. This “exclusive” from Cult of Mac‘s Leander Kahney, a former news editor, dominated the chatter Sunday morning, thanks in part to the element of surprise. According to Kahney, “iCloud won’t be fed through Apple’s massive new data center in North Carolina, as you might expect. Instead, the system will be based on Time Capsule, Apple’s wireless router and hard drive backup.” Hmm. So everybody has to buy a new router before they get to use iCloud? That would be a surprise.

I have no inside information, and I’m not going to speculate. I’m going to go to the keynote, keep my ears open, and type as fast as I can.

The show is scheduled to start at 10 a.m. PDT (1 p.m. EDT). I’ll be there early.