The Future is Coming to the Masses

About once a month I, again, come to the realization that I’m living in the future compared to my family and friends. On a daily basis I do things that they don’t even realize are possible. Moving data between my iPhone and Mac with ease, slinging video from my iPhone or iMac to my Apple TV, or creating my own “curated newspaper” by subscribing to RSS feeds. All of these things I take for granted because I’ve been doing them for years, but is beyond the average person’s understanding of what a computer can do.

I have to re-realize this so often because I forget it when I spend time at home doing so much with my computers so often. I routinely, pause a video streaming from Netflix so that I can show my girlfriend the latest video of my niece on YouTube. The video gets pushed from my iPhone to the Apple TV over AirPlay, all while my iPad waits for Fever to finish checking for the latest news on my favorite sites. But, anytime I go to someone else’s house and see that they’re watching live television and sitting through the commercials, pulling out a newspaper to check the weather, or having to pull everyone into the other room to watch a YouTube video on the computer, I’m reminded. I haven’t done any of these things in nearly 5 years. I don’t know anyone personally that comes close to this type of connectedness.

The closest I can think of is my sister reading news on her iPhone while streaming music from Pandora. But, that’s one device doing stuff on one screen. The idea of being able to push things around on your home network or over the web is baffling to her. And trust me, she’s a smart woman. But, the average person just isn’t doing even close to the type of advanced stuff that us geeks are.

There’s a ton of software companies spending a lot of time making features that us geeks use the heck out of. But, most software companies don’t spend nearly enough time trying to make those features easy and intuitive for the average person to use and understand. And, I have a feeling that intimidation is the number one reason that the average user isn’t able to do these types of things. But, it’s up to software companies to make these features easier and to encourage users to explore applications so that users use them to their fullest.

I’ve spent the past week trying to wrap my head around Apple’s WWDC keynote. Lion and iOS 5 look great, but this entire keynote (including Lion and iOS 5) are really about iCloud. And, I think the whole point of iCloud is to bring the average user one step closer to the future that us geeks have been living in for so long.

Most of what’s in iCloud us geeks have been using for years. Keeping your mail, contacts, and calendars in sync on all of your devices has been possible with MobileMe (and even .mac) for quite some time. But, they’ve always been paid services. Geeks pay for MobileMe because the syncing features are incredibly useful, but $99 a year is a bit too high for the average user. Bringing the price to free means that everyone is going to be using it.

And, how different, really, is documents in the cloud than syncing Notational Velocity and Simplenote? Documents in the cloud just expands on that concept to all file types and applications that choose to make use of them. Simplenote sync has been in Notational Velocity since January of last year. And, there’s also Dropbox. Applications have been using Dropbox to move files between your computer and iOS devices ever since the API became available (couldn’t find an exact date but appears to be sometime in 2009).

Of course, there is some new stuff for us geeks too. You’ve always been able to redownload applications in the App Store and books from iBooks but redownloading music is new. And, it’s a pretty huge deal. It might be the most interesting part of iCloud. Especially when you consider that Apple is offering iTunes Match for just $24.99 per year. iTunes Match will allow you to download music from iTunes for free that you’ve acquired from other places and have in the iTunes library on your computer. The idea of downloading music from iTunes that you had previously purchased is already a big deal, but iTunes Match is even bigger. Apple doesn’t come right out and say it, but I don’t see any reason why iTunes Match wouldn’t work for pirated music too. This is almost an attempt to legitimize the music that people have pirated in the past by turning the files into legal music. And, all while upgrading the audio quality to 256Kbps AAC.

I said in the past that if iCloud was just a music streaming service I wouldn’t be interested. But, iTunes Match is something I am very interested in. If I can pay $24.99 to turn the music that I illegally downloaded in the past into legal music, I’m going to do it. I’m not proud of illegally downloading music, but I have done it and am interested in ways that I can turn those files into legal files. $10 an album isn’t an easy option, $24.99 for everything is.

iCloud is pulling the most important features from MobileMe, Dropbox, and Simplenote together into one place. Giving us geeks some new stuff and making it easier to do things we have been doing with other services. Apple is also bringing the average user one huge step closer to the future that us geeks have been living in for years. iCloud’s a big deal. But, the reason that it’s such a big deal is because there’s never been a service that in such an easy way brought so many people into the feature-set that geeks take for granted, all while still giving geeks a reason to be amped up about all of the features that they can take advantage of.

Apple hit a home run with their announcements at WWDC. It’s a shame that iCloud had to be announced last, though. I understand why it was — it’s the biggest news — but I wish it was announced first so that Apple could have demoed more integration between iCloud, Lion, and iOS 5. But, no matter how you look at it, iCloud is going to change the way that most users think about their devices and the data they have on them. When all of those users hit the update button in iTunes this fall, they’re device is going to feel like it’s from the future.