Last week, Apple unveiled its plans for the iCloud service and iOS 5.0 platform (see Apple Announcements).
Upon chatting about the new offerings with my colleagues, Tony Burbage (UI Designer) and Chris Nicol (UI/UX Architect), it became clear to me I didn't wholly understand the significance of the "PC Free" concept.
Apple has built the infrastructure to support this vision and since it's such a major, consumer-facing development, I wanted to take a closer look at it.
What makes Apple’s “PC Free” concept so groundbreaking?
Tony: "I don't think it's necessarily groundbreaking, but rather more transitional -- it signals the shift toward a new style of device. By demoting the PC, Apple is saying a device no longer takes precedent, or is the master of your data. Like they say, the truth will now be in (the cloud), and all the heavy lifting will be done there, taking the burden off the user. It also means that iOS devices have graduated high school, moved out of the house, and have their own university dorm. In other words, they are now independent of a parent device."
Chris: "This is not a new concept: Cloud computing has been talked about for a long time, and Apple is not the first to offer it. There are many examples of consumer-based cloud services that are very popular: Amazon, DropBox and more. What’s groundbreaking about this is that it’s going to be the most complete and most seamless example of cloud services yet. And it's on an ecosystem that is very popular with a high market penetration. So this will help inspire other companies to offer similar services."
Do you feel like the general public has underestimated going "PC Free"? Or perhaps people just need to eventually see it in action to better understand it?
Tony: "I think there is not a lot of focus on it now because it's potentially hard for people to wrap their heads around its significance. In industry terms, though, it is huge. Apple is essentially eroding the importance of the PC, a thing we have come to see as central to our digital lives, and shifting focus on a potentially more mobile and rich experience."
Chris: "I don’t think the general public really gets the potential here. It’s going to become something that we can’t live without. I’d compare the understanding to when the worldwide web first came out -- I don’t think many people got the potential at all, but you just started to use it and now we can’t live without it."
What excites you, personally, about this new approach to data use and ownership?
Tony: "I think what excites me is the fact that we are now moving into a different way of interacting with our data. It's signaling the new paradigm. Severing the connection to the PC will allow people to just buy, switch on a device, and get going. If you just take a look at apps like Garageband for iPad, you can see that it opens the world to a whole new, exciting and tactile way of interacting with data. It makes it a much more immersive experience than what's available on the PC. The PC element is no longer emphatically necessary."
Chris: "On a personal level, the most exciting thing is that this will force other companies to quickly follow suit. This is a natural progression, but just as with the first iPhone, it’s going to push competitors to innovate more quickly and catch up with Apple, which just helps the whole industry."
Where do you see other applications of this technology in the future? Anything particular to the software we build here at iQ?
Tony: "What they are doing is analogous to our efforts with iQ Catalog. It's conceptually the same. All our customers' data, products, pricing and vendors would live in the cloud. As people move to more mobile devices, we have the framework to just 'push' their content across devices. They would not be tethered to a particular terminal, and information could be accessed and updated automatically. It just works."
Chris: "At iQ, we’ve already embraced cloud computing. If you look back at some of the early versions of RQ4, we supported personalization settings so that no matter what computer you logged into, you’d still get all the settings that you left off with, everything from widget positioning to open and recent items, etc. More recently, the work we’re doing with iQ Catalog just shows how we’re taking this to the next level with a full product catalog in the cloud."