While there’s good business in posting Apple rumors, sometimes one comes along that is just so out there that you have to think, where do they get this stuff? The latest is that the newly rumored “iPhone Nano” will sport a cloud-based OS. While “to the cloud” has become a popular idea in tech, the mobile world is not ready to join it just yet.
Why wouldn’t a cloud-based OS work for the newest Apple iPhone? There’s a multitude of reasons, and all seem to indicate that Cult of Mac’s sources (the originator of this rumor) may be a little off base.
1. Mobile data isn’t ready to support the cloud yet.
By and large, the majority of the country is on 3G technologies when it comes to mobile data. In some cases, the remotest areas (some even not too far from the major metropolises) still languish on 2.5G technologies. Add to this latency issues on some carriers, and it would result in a pretty crappy experience for the end user.
While basic services — contacts data, etc. — would probably be fine, data intensive applications would likely suffer. Users would need to continuously lean on the data network, causing further strain on already taxed systems. If the current trend among mobile operators is to cap data, imagine their consternation on a device that is wholly dependent on it! (Microsoft Kin, anyone?)
2. A cloud-based OS would require a new app platform.
Apple has built quite the ecosystem around applications on the device. While it did originally try to get developers interested in building Web apps, calls for the Cupertino company to allow access onto the device itself increased. Yes, companies could revert back to Web applications in order to offer services compatible with the rumored new iPhone, would they really want to?
Let’s face it, the Web applications were nothing more than Web sites with a little cosmetic surgery, and didn’t really take full advantages of the capabilities of the device. Apple would need to make some serious changes to the technologies it developed in order to make them sufficient for today’s uses.
3. No storage means no iTunes, a huge Apple business.
iTunes has become the centerpiece of every mobile device (player or phone) from Apple. Taking it to the cloud would mean everything would need to be streamed. With the RIAA and labels making it ever harder to stream content, Apple would need to renegotiate all of its licenses and on top of that rework iTunes itself to offer iTunes to a cloud-based OS. Would it really be worth the aggravation to do so, for what would look to be a marginal benefit?
4. Offline pretty much means no phone.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sit in the subway on my phone reading e-mails, playing a game, or updating my calendar and the like. While these days it seems like just about everywhere you go (even on those subways) there’s mobile access, it’s not everywhere. A cloud-based OS would mean if you are out of a coverage area, your phone’s all but bricked.
Now yes, I understand that the rumors state that Cult of Mac is claiming there would be storage space for data “buffered” from the cloud. But how does the phone decide what is stored? Is it all by user interaction? Would this mean I’d need to access everything I’d need before going out a coverage area to make the device useful? Again, a bad user experience, and with Apple products, that’s everything.
These are only the most high-level reasons why Apple won’t be bringing the cloud to iOS just yet. This said, it is entirely possible that MobileMe — the company’s successful cloud-based service — may be expanded, and should be. In the end, this could be a misread by these sources on what Apple’s trying to do.
I believe that MobileMe will work in the background to support the various iOS features more comprehensively, but in the end its going to be a device-cloud partnership. True devices that are completely cloud-dependent are still several years away, so Apple has plenty of time to plan this out and do it right.