Apple planning social overhaul of iCloud to compete with Instagram?

15 May 2012

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Tech giant Apple is planning a major overhaul of its iCloud cloud computing service that will include new photo-sharing services that could see it rival Facebook and Instagram.

The move follows deft cloud moves in recent weeks by Google which unveiled its Google Drive service that includes greater integration with Google Docs. Google also moved to integrate Gmail with its Google+ social network.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Apple could be preparing to unveil an overhauled iCloud service in time for its Worldwide Developers Conference on 11 June.

Stalwarts like Apple, Google, Flickr, Facebook, Microsoft and YouTube are seeing their initial edge in the photo and video sharing worlds being eroded by the arrival of new services like Instagram and Viddy, for example.

At the same time, Apple’s iCloud is competing against Google Drive, Microsoft’s Sky Drive and up-and-coming player Dropbox.

Apple’s edge in the device space is assured and it is understood that so far more than 125m Apple device owners have signed up for iCloud.

Apple has an existing photo-sharing service in iCloud called PhotoStream which syncs photos to Apple devices. Another service, iTunes Match, syncs music from any Apple device into iCloud.

Photo Stream currently allows users to access the last 30 days of photos on Apple and PC devices via iCloud.

But the operative word here – in my opinion – is visibility. Services like Instagram and Flickr are visible in most users’ news streams on Facebook or Twitter and in their own right develop a sense of community around them. Apple needs to do something radical … and social.

Apple and the social glue

I have always felt that Apple has been missing the social glue that allows users to share their prized photos and other digital assets onto their favourite social networks. Okay, you can do much of that now through the iPhone and the new iPad, but what about the overriding cloud/social experience?

An attempt at this in the form of Ping hasn’t been very successful. However, there’s still a tantalising opportunity for Apple to drive music sales to iTunes by adopting a new approach to selling music, perhaps a subscriptions model like Spotify or Deezer. A service that tells users what you’re listening to from your iTunes library could help spur on sales perhaps.

But photo-sharing, as WSJ.com points out, is a red-hot area in technology right now and Apple’s iPhone and iPad platforms are ripe for sharing creativity into the cloud.

Microsoft’s recent overhaul of Bing to be more social is a step in the right direction for its social network.

Ironically, Apple is the main instigator of sharing capabilities to the cloud and social web via its iPhone and iPad devices – hell, it set in motion the move to the mobile web that others have copied – so why is it denying itself a greater share of the spoils?

Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com