Apple launches its iCloud suite of services today, offering 5GB of free storage (more if you pay) for music, photos, apps, and other data, all of which sync effortlessly across any number of Apple devices: iMacs, Macbooks, Mac Minis, Mac Pros, iPod Touchs, iPhones, iPads, Apple TVs, and AirPort Expresses.
This will strengthen a trend that began with the iPod: Once you buy one Apple product, it makes sense to buy another. A study found last year that 92 percent of iPad owners own an iPod, 74 percent of them own a Mac, and 66 percent own an iPhone. The sample size in that study was only 448 people, but it confirms what many of us know firsthand: Once you go Mac, you don’t always go back, even if it means spending more money.
Steve Jobs reportedly resisted launching iTunes for Windows back in 2001, and was “persuaded” to do so by his employees. This is an unlikely scenario for two reasons. First, 95 percent of the desktop market was Windows back then, and Jobs needed a way to crack that market. Second, instances of Apple employees telling Steve Jobs what to do are exceedingly rare, his failed attempt to institute a cult-style dress code being a notable exception.
That Windows iPod/iTunes launch was highly strategic in retrospect, because it arguably caused hundreds of millions of Windows users to buy their first Mac product. As just one example, I used 100-percent Windows computers back then; the iPod was the first Apple product I ever reviewed, and it led, directly or indirectly, to my purchase of several Mac laptops.
Apple’s launch of iCloud today makes its devices even more contagious, because now there isn’t just a metaphysical connection between Apple’s products, but a literal one, in iCloud. As Wired.com notes in its review of iOS 5 (which also rolls out today),
Overall, in its current state, iCloud is mostly beneficial for people who own an Apple family of products: a Mac and at least one iOS device. I doubt Windows users will get much out of iCloud, because the only easily usable feature available to them is PhotoStream.
And that’s really Apple’s goal: to reel you into its ecosystem with the convenience of iCloud. If you own an iPhone, now it makes more sense than ever to have a Mac and an iPad, versus a Windows PC and an Android tablet, just to take advantage of iCloud.
Exactly. The iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch are already incredibly “sticky” devices, because after you’ve bought some apps, switching to Android or Windows Phone 7 means throwing out all of those apps as well. But after today, it will also mean throwing away your ultra-convenient iCloud storage account, because Apple would sooner give away iPads for free than port iCloud features to Android. After today, one Apple device increases in actual value if you own a second.
Apple’s new strategy, to borrow an unfortunate metaphor, is akin to that of a roach motel: Once Apple lures you into its ecosystem, you’re already likely to stay put, and iCloud will make that doubly true. This strategy is not wrong or evil, just smart. But it could end up costing you money over the years. Unless you want to chuck it all and start over, you’ll only be buying hardware and much of your software from a single company.