Apple dumps MobileMe for free iCloud content sync

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Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) unveiled its iOS 5 mobile operating system update and its long-anticipated iCloud digital media storage platform during the computing giant's annual Worldwide Developers Conference event in San Francisco. The free iCloud solution, which replaces Apple's premium MobileMe, automatically syncs content on Apple servers for access across iOS devices as well as Macs and PCs--each day, iCloud Backup backs up all of the user's iOS devices over Wi-Fi, storing content including purchased music, apps and books as well as photos, videos, device settings and app data. In addition, Apple's App Store and iBookstore now download purchased iOS apps and books to all authorized devices, not just the unit on which they were purchased.

"Keeping these devices in sync is driving us crazy," said Apple CEO Steve Jobs, returning after a medical leave. "We've got a great solution to this problem. We're going to demote the PC and the Mac to just be a device."

The iCloud also touts re-architected and rewritten versions of MobileMe services like Contacts, Calendar and Mail, and touts calendar sharing with friends and family as well as ad-free push Mail access. "[MobileMe] wasn't our finest hour, but we learned a lot," Jobs said. "We threw away the MobileMe contacts, calendar and mail apps, and have rewritten them from the ground up to be iCloud apps." MobileMe--which cost $99 annually--"ceases to exist," Jobs added.

Also new: iTunes in the Cloud, which enables consumers to download previously purchased iTunes music to all iOS devices at no additional cost. New music purchases can be downloaded automatically to all devices as well. For music downloaded from sources other than Apple's digital storefront there's iTunes Match, which essentially mirrors music files with a 256 kbps AAC DRM-free version culled from the iTunes Store, which now tops 18 million songs--iTunes Match also uploads unmatched music. iTunes in the Cloud is available now; Apple will launch iTunes Match this fall, priced at $24.99 per year. Apple did not indicate when or if it will add film and television content to iTunes in the Cloud.

As for iOS 5, available to consumers sometime this fall, Apple promises over 200 new user features alongside 1500 new APIs for developer partners. Chief among the new additions: iMessage, a service that lets consumers send free text messages, photos and videos between all iOS devices--already, some analysts are proclaiming iMessage as a potentially lethal threat to operators' premium SMS services as well as rival solutions like Research In Motion's (NASDAQ:RIMM) signature BlackBerry Messenger platform. New iOS 5 features also include Notification Center, a tool to more efficiently view and manage alerts in one place without interruption; Reminders, essentially a virtual Post-It Notes tool that syncs across iOS device and integrates with Calendar; Newsstand, a tool to more easily purchase and organize newspaper and magazine subscriptions; and PC Free, which enables users to activate and set up iOS devices out of the box and receive software updates over the air, with no conventional computer connection.

As expected, iOS 5 brings deep Twitter integration allowing users to sign in once and then tweet directly from all Twitter-enabled apps--among them Photos, Camera, Safari, YouTube and Maps--with a single tap. In addition, iOS 5 features an updated version of the Safari browser including Safari Reader to simplify scrolling and reading as well as Reading List (which stores articles for future access) and Tabbed Browsing. An enhanced Game Center introduces mechanisms to add photos to user profiles, purchase new games from within the Game Center app and more quickly find friends and new games. According to Apple SVP of iOS software Scott Forstall, Game Center users now top 50 million: "To put that into perspective, Xbox Live has been around for about eight years and they have around 30 million users," he said.

Forstall added that Apple has now sold over 200 million iOS devices, with iPad sales exceeding 25 million just 14 months after the tablet first launched. "That makes iOS the No. 1 mobile operating system, with more than 44 percent of the market," Forstall crowed. The App Store now exceeds 14 billion downloads, with developer revenues surpassing $2.5 billion, and iTunes sales now top 15 billion songs.

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