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Apple has welcomed developers to its iCloud.  (Source: 9 to 5 Mac)

Apple's locker size upgrades are pricier than Amazon or Google's offerings.  (Source: 9 to 5 Mac)

Top to botom: Mail Portal, Calendar Portal, Contacts Portal, iWork viewer Portal, and app (Portal) launcher  (Source: 9 to 5 Mac)
Details about new service flesh out as developer preview goes live

It's been a month since Apple Inc. (AAPLunleashed its vision of an affordable multi-purpose online music locker, and we're finally getting some of the final details about Apple has planned.  A developer preview website was launched yesterday in beta form, and filled in many of the blanks about the iCloud.

I. Pricing

According to Apple's previous statements iCloud would be free for basic use.  Users will be able to use the various web app services onboard (more on that later), upload music to the cloud, store photos from iOS 5 devices in the cloud (via the new PhotoStream feature), sync settings across devices, and store songs purchased on iTunes in the cloud. 

It was unknown -- until now -- how much storage you would get for your songs.  Apple revealed today that you will receive 5 GB of free storage.  That's relatively competitive with veteran online web service players like Google Inc. (GOOG), whose online mailboxes (which double as storage lockers) currently hold 7.5 GB.

The first way Apple will monetize the iCloud is via the $25 USD/year "iTunes Match" subscription service, which will upgrade MP3s stored in your iCloud account to higher-quality legal 256Kbps AAC tracks.

The second subscription offering will be a yearly fee to purchase a "bigger locker", so to speak.  The pricing on that was just revealed to developers -- $20 USD/year (€16,00/year and £14.00/year for Europe and the UK, respectively) for 10 extra GB (a 15 GB locker); $40 USD/year (€32,00/year and £28.00/year for Europe and the UK, respectively) for 20 extra GB (a 25 GB locker); and $100 USD/year (€80,00/year and £70.00/year for Europe and the UK, respectively) for 50 extra GB (a 55 GB locker).

The pricing notably does not give a bulk discount for buying more GB.  Also notable is that while the pricing increases at the same flat rate for Europe, the UK, and the U.S., the actual prices are not the same.  In USD the yearly rates for a 15 GB locker boil down to $20 USD for the U.S., $22.69 USD for Europe, and $22.76 USD for Britain.

For those hoping to host your lossless 100 GB music collection, sorry, you're out of luck -- Apple doesn't currently offer higher storage options.

Note, tracks you purchase directly from iTunes don't count against your usage total.

Unlike Google, Apple has promised not to vend ads within its iCloud interface.  Of course the service will likely drive device sales, and as evidenced by the developer preview, likely will have purchasable third-party extensions, both of which will earn Apple some revenue.
The various upgrades will be available for purchase, directly on Apple's internet-connected mobile devices (iPhone, iPad, or a Wi-Fi connected iPod Touch) via the iCloud app.

II. Services

It was already announced that the iCloud would sync settings -- mainly contacts -- between iOS 5 devices.  It has now been revealed that it will also feature a number of "portals" -- self-contained web apps.

Apple appears to be taking a page out of the playbook of one of its closest competitors -- Google.  Apple will include a web-app email client portal dubbed "Mail", an online calendar "Calendar" portal, and an online iWork documents viewer portal.  The calendar was previously found in the paid MobileMe service, but the other fresh apps appear to be a clear homage to Google's much beloved free services.

As mentioned, third-party web apps will also likely become available.  Apple's answer to Google's Chrome Apps, these apps will be launched from an iOS-like applications switcher, complete with oversized icons.  Presumably you will be able to purchase these apps via an iTunes app store, though details are currently scarce.

III. Outlook

Apple's iCloud actually offering actually looks quite promising. You get 5 GB of storage, a free email client, and a free calendar app -- all without a single advertisement.  While Google offers all these things -- and slightly more storage -- it places a text advertising bar currently above your email stream in Gmail.  Thus you could make a case for either service.

As for apps, Google certainly has a jump on the iCloud in this regard, as Angry Birds and other popular apps are already available in the Chrome Web Store.  On the other hand, the Chrome Web Store isn't fully optimized for Android yet, so perhaps Apple can gain the upper hand in mobile in-browser apps.

As far as music service goes, Apple's service has some advantages and disadvantages versus the competition.  

Amazon.com, Inc. (AMZN) offers a similar music-store tied service dubbed "Cloud Drive".  Like Apple, it comes with 5 GB of free storage.  But Amazon's tiers are cheaper and more plentiful -- 20 GB ($20 USD/year), 50 GB ($50 USD/year), 100 GB ($100 USD/year), 200 GB ($200 USD/year), 500 GB ($500 USD/year) and 1,000 GB ($1,000 USD/year).

Apple's main advantage over Amazon is iTunes Match, which in theory could give you hundreds of high-fidelity tracks for just $25 USD if you first download them illegally, then sanitize them with the subscription.  Also, Apple offers its "portal" apps, something Amazon currently does not.

The other major competitor is Google Music.  While still an invite-only sort of thing, Google offers a flat by song storage locker, which can hold up to 20,000 songs of any size.  The average 320 kbps track is around 10 MB, so this could easy work out to around a whopping 200 GB -- all for free.  Of course, you likely have to contend with ads.

Apple's service does have some advantages over Google's.  It offers you the iTunes Match option, and further integrates a legal music store inside for legal music purchases.  

When it comes to apps Google and Apple earn a draw, offering similar services, with Google perhaps having a slight edge with more establish web apps in place.

Best Buy Comp., Inc. (BBY) and Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (WMT) are also reportedly launching clouds of their own, though pricing details are hazy at present.

In short, if you have iOS devices, the iCloud definitely makes sense.  If you don't it's a mixed bag, and you may want to consider the competition instead.





"We’re Apple. We don’t wear suits. We don’t even own suits." -- Apple CEO Steve Jobs






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