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What makes Apple's iCloud different from Google and Amazon services

Mark Milian
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Will Apple's iCloud measure up?
  • Apple is preparing to launch iCloud, an Internet storage service
  • Amazon already has Cloud Drive, and Google has a variety of services
  • iCloud is tightly integrated into Apple software but seemingly less so in other platforms

San Francisco (CNN) -- Consumer technology giants are battling to provide the place where you store your files, and Apple is not about to be left out.

Capping a slew of software announcements on Monday, Apple unveiled iCloud. The free service lets users synchronize documents, photos and applications between Apple devices over the Internet.

Music purchased through the iTunes Store can be downloaded from any device connected to your account, and for an annual fee, tracks bought from other stores, ripped from CDs or procured through other means can be synchronized.

When iCloud drops this fall, Apple will join and Google, two major players that have already begun rolling out storage services.

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For music, Apple has the incumbent's advantage. ITunes is the world's most popular jukebox software, highest-volume music retailer and already has cozy ties to the record industry. That relationship enabled Apple to secure the deals that competitors are still negotiating for.

Those agreements resulted in iTunes Match, which was Apple CEO Steve Jobs' signature "one more thing" to end his presentation on Monday. ("It's a small thing," he said.)

ITunes Match will allow people to pay $25 per year to sync as many as 25,000 songs not purchased through the iTunes Store between their computers and gadgets. "It takes minutes, not weeks," Jobs said.

The weeks-long process Jobs is referring to is the offerings from Amazon and Google. Because they haven't secured rights with the record labels, they took an alternate route with their services.

Amazon's Cloud Drive and Google's Music Beta require users to upload their entire libraries to each service before they can be accessed from Web and mobile jukeboxes.

Apple, instead, uses a "scan-and-match" procedure, finding which of your songs are also sold in the iTunes Store and giving you the keys to access those. For the remainder of live recordings and other obscure songs you have, the system uploads them, just like other services do, but at a fraction of the time.

"We think we've got a great system here," Jobs said. "This is the first time we've seen this in the music industry."

Music files bought from Amazon can be automatically stored in a user's Cloud Drive. Google does not have a music store.

Cloud Drive offers 5 gigabytes (about 1,000 songs) free, and provides an extra 20 gigabytes for a year to customers who buy an album from Amazon's MP3 Store. Each gigabyte after that costs $1. Google's Music service is free this year if you can procure an invitation to join, and Google has not announced pricing for after that.

Apple's iCloud provides 5 gigabytes at no charge for e-mail, documents and backup file storage. Music, books, apps and pictures don't count against that total. ICloud will only store photos for 30 days. Apple did not say how much it will cost to lease Internet hard-drive space after filling up on e-mail and such.

"We want people to see what these devices can really do and what the software can do. So we're making it free," Jobs said.

Amazon's Cloud Drive can also store photos and video, but those files do count against a user's total. Amazon has e-book and app stores that provide similar syncing features as part of the package, but it doesn't offer e-mail.

Google breaks its offerings up into a series of applications and storage lockers. Music Beta is currently storing 20,000 songs free. Gmail provides 7.6 gigabytes of free storage and sells more. Google Docs can keep a gigabyte of files free and charges 25 cents for each extra gigabyte. Picasa Web Albums has an equivalent pricing scheme for photos. Google also has an e-book store and has begun offering video services beyond YouTube for home movies.

Microsoft also offers e-mail and document storage.

Apple has integrated iCloud tightly into the mobile and computer systems it makes, starting with Mac OS X Lion and iOS 5, which debut next month and in the fall, respectively. Files are saved and pushed to Apple's servers automatically.

Apple will also have websites for accessing e-mail, calendar and other features, as well as allowing Windows-PC users to sync photos to a folder. Don't bet on seeing apps for Google's Android phones or for BlackBerrys.

Apple has tried this sort of thing before with MobileMe, which cost $99 per year and was less ambitious in scale. It was viewed as a flop and experienced some embarrassing outages.

Shortly after the launch of the now three-year-old Web service, Jobs assembled the team who developed it and told them: "You've tarnished Apple's reputation," according to a story in Fortune magazine.

Jobs acknowledged the failure humbly and with good humor on Monday.

"Why should I believe them? They're the ones that brought me to MobileMe," Jobs said, mimicking the potential response to iCloud from critics. "It wasn't our finest hour. Let me just say that. But we learned a lot."

Amazon and Google have a proven track record in delivering vast amounts of information over the Web.

But Jobs says Apple is ready this time.

"If you don't think we're serious about this, you're wrong," he said, before transitioning to pictures of a massive facility Apple built in Maiden, North Carolina: "This is our third data center that we just completed. ... It's rather large."


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