For a company that operates on secrecy and the element of surprise, Apple's naming of "iCloud" earlier this morning as part of the lineup of products to be shown off at next week's Worldwide Developers Conference was out of character.
Apple has a long history of saving big announcements for a show, even if various details about a product or a service have been leaked well ahead of time.
For last year's show that product was the iPhone 4. Photos and videos of the device were posted by Gizmodo nearly two months ahead of WWDC 2010, where it was officially unveiled. Apple CEO Steve Jobs even joked during the event that attendees might have already seen the phone. Ahead of that event, Apple's press release said only that Jobs would be giving the keynote speech, and that the show had sold out in eight days.
This time around though, things are a little different. The rumor mill has pegged the iPhone 5's release date for much later this year, likely September. More importantly, that iPhone is said to be an iterative update to the existing model, tweaking a handful of features, supposedly warranting only enough of a change to name it the "iPhone 4S." Even if Apple ends up unveiling details about that device in introducing iOS 5, the message for now is clear that this show is all about the software.
As for iCloud, part of the reason for Apple including a mention on an unreleased, and previously unannounced service could be that the cat's already out of the bag. In late April, blog GigaOm unearthed that Apple had snapped up the iCloud.com domain from cloud services company Xcerion, which has since rebranded its service "CloudMe" and now redirects to CloudMe.com while telling users to change their bookmarks. That deal was reported at $4.5 million, however that amount remains unconfirmed.
What still remains largely unknown is how iCloud will work, how it will fit in with Apple's existing software and services, and how much it will cost. There have been quite a few details on who's involved in Apple's cloud efforts, from music labels to movie studios, but the rest is under wraps.
As for the other two WWDC items on the docket: Mac OS X Lion, and iOS 5, we've already gotten a public preview of Lion, with developers getting several builds since Apple first unveiled the software in October. The mystery there is the price and the release date, along with if Apple throws in a few extra features, as it's been known to do with previous major OS X releases.
iOS 5, on the other hand, is a big mystery with this being the first mention of a version number, despite the fact that the last version was the first to be dubbed with the "iOS" moniker. This in itself is also a departure from Apple, announcing a proper version number whereas it had previously been referred to "the future of iOS." A report last week claimed that Apple planned to completely overhaul its notification system, as well as add widgets. Questions have also lingered about what devices will be able to run it--a decision that is tied closely to whether or not new mobile hardware arrives.
So why lay out the groundwork for what things should be called ahead of time? For one thing it sets expectations. If Apple takes the wraps off a next-generation iPhone at the event, it will be a huge surprise since the company has now tempered expectations toward seeing just these products. This move also puts these specific products into the minds of developers, press, and everyone else as they're going into a show, so the focus will be on what's there, not what isn't.