Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

How the Apple iCloud Works


iCloud's Challenges and Competition

Many of iCloud's challenges are the same as those faced by other cloud service providers. Users are limited to using software specially designed to access that particular cloud. Though iCloud is available anywhere you can access the Internet, it still requires some sort of front end application to manage the connection between you and your data. This is either built into the app you're using, or is available by browsing to icloud.com.

iCloud also faces the same Internet access challenges as other cloud player products. One way Apple has addressed this is by limiting the iCloud software so that certain interactions can only occur when using a WiFi Internet connection. This means your device won't eat up a limited 3G wireless data plan just for regularly scheduled synchronization tasks.

One unique challenge for iCloud started in a courtroom rather than a computer. Within days of Apple's June 2011 announcement naming the iCloud product, an Arizona voice-over-IP (VoIP) provider filed a lawsuit. The firm, iCloud Communications, had owned the right to its company name since 2005. Apple had filed eleven trademark applications for the iCloud name and brand and purchased the icloud.com domain from Swedish company Xcerion. According to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, iCloud Communications didn't register the iCloud brand itself, leaving it up for grabs. One legal expert predicted that Apple would settle the lawsuit out of court, but the case was not yet resolved as of this writing [sources: Hollister, Keizer].

Since iCloud isn't the only cloud storage service out there, how does it stack up to its competition? In terms of legally providing music with cloud service, a court ruling in August 2011seems to have cleared the air for these new type of music services by ruling that they could offer scan-and-match services without the consent of record labels [source: Milian]. With that issue out of the way, it's all down to which service provides the features and quality you want at the right price.

Here's a quick look at some other cloud storage services and how they compare to iCloud:

  • Amazon Cloud Drive and Cloud Player are probably the closest to iCloud in terms of how buying and using content are tied together. Both services let you upload or purchase content and access it from any device. However, because Amazon is not attached to a suite of operating system software, it doesn't have the deep OS integration that iCloud has on Mac and iOS systems. Amazon also limits your free storage space to 2 GB, though your Amazon digital purchases don't go against that total. Amazon's biggest advantage over iCloud is that it provides a music streaming option for mobile devices running Amazon MP3 Player software.
  • Dropbox, like Amazon Cloud services, offers only the first 2 GB free and lacks iCloud's deep OS integration. However, it has been around a while, and enterprising developers have used its application programming interface (API) to produce well-designed Dropbox-connected apps for every major desktop and mobile operating system. Dropbox's biggest disadvantage compared to both iCloud and Amazon is that all your stored files, no matter what type they are, count against your total storage limit.
  • Google Music is designed specifically for storing and streaming music. Google Music offers features comparable to Amazon Cloud when it comes to audio tracks, but it doesn't have the flexibility of iCloud or Cloud Drive to store and synchronize all types of data.
  • Microsoft Windows Live SkyDrive is designed for sharing documents, videos and photos between multiple users. In contrast, your iCloud content is limited to use by your Apple ID only. SkyDrive also offers a whopping 25 GB of storage space for free. SkyDrive is nearly as integrated with Microsoft products as iCloud is with Apple products, so choosing between them may be a matter of why types of computers and mobile devices you plan to use.

Now you know some basics about how iCloud works and the features that make it a true competitor among end-user cloud storage services. If your head's already in the iCloud and eager for more, check out additional information on the next page.