Steve Jobs, Apple’s chief executive, returned from sick leave to announce the company’s new cloud storage service, iCloud. The free service syncs users’ content – including emails, apps, documents and music – on an online server so that it can be accessed on a computer or a mobile device.
Speaking at Apple’s annual Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) in San Francisco, Mr Jobs said iCloud was Apple’s “next big insight”. He told the audience that for a long time people had synced all their content with a computer but this process was broken.
He said that every device now contains music, photos and documents and “keeping all these devices in sync is driving us crazy”. iCloud will ensure that a song or an application bought on a mobile device will automatically be available on other devices too. It also lets users sync their documents and photos between multiple devices.
The music storage part of iCloud has attracted the most attention in recent weeks. The free part of the service syncs music bought from iTunes but for an annual subscription Apple will also scan the music that you haven’t bought from iTunes and add it to your iCloud service if it is in their library.
Mr Jobs noted that Apple had tried cloud services before. He said that some would say: “Why should I believe them? They’re the ones that brought me Mobile Me.” He admitted that Mobile Me, the cloud service that stores photos, contacts, emails and calenders, “wasn’t our finest hour but we learned a lot.”
WWDC is the event at which Apple has typically announced the new iPhone but Mr Jobs began the event by saying he wanted to talk about “the soul” of Apple’s products, its software, before handing the presentation over to the company’s senior executives.
Apple also announced iOS 5, a major upgrade to the operating system that runs its iPad, iPhone and iPod touch mobile devices. The new version includes deep integration with Twitter, the social network, and upgrades to the Safari web browser and a quick-start mode for the camera.
The company also gave details of Mac OS X Lion – the new version of the operating system that runs Apple’s desktops and laptops. The update brings more gesture-controls to Apple’s computers, based on some of the innovations that the company has made with its mobile devices.
Michael Gartenberg, an analyst with Gartner, said on Twitter that the auto-save feature was “reason alone to use a Mac”.
Mr Jobs absence for much of the keynote was noted by observers. John Gruber, a blogger and developer who has written about Apple for many years, described the speech as “the first Post-Steve” keynote.
Mr Jobs has been on sick leave from Apple since early this year but returned in March to announce the iPad 2. Yesterday, he took to the stage to the strains of James Brown’s ‘I Feel Good’. [header photo via Jeremy Williams/Flickr]