Steve Jobs announced iCloud along with Lion OS and iOS5 the other day at the WWDC. What is the iCloud and how will it effect the Education sector. iCloud can be explained as the new Digital Hub of our ever increasing digital lives; Photos, Video and Music. iCloud is the new solution to the masses of multiple digital files. It will sync all of our devices automatically because the function is integrated into the actual apps. iCloud not only stores your content it then wirelessly syncs it to all your devices.
The main components of iCloud include 9 apps. Three that we know already but have been totally rebuilt; Contacts, Calendar and Mail. Each of these apps store content, push it to all your other devices and automatically syncs them. Calendar now allows shared Calendars. This means that whenever you add an event anybody else that you have the shared facility with, automatically have their calendar synced as well. This would be an excellent tool in a school where calendar events are so important. You could even set up an event for;
- assessment tasks
- sporting events
- reminders to parents etc
The next three apps we have sort of seen too. The three include the App Store, iBooks and one we haven't seen Back-Up. The Apps Store has a number of features that will be utilised, including a purchase history on all devices which can be accessed from any devices. If you have an app on one device and would like it on another you can simple download it. This is handy for the new iWork for iPhone. Part of the demo showed the new Pages app, and a document being manipulated on the iPhone. This can then be pushed to your other devices with all the changes made - instantly. This is very impressive. This is going to be especially useful in a education setting. Not only will all the student's work be automatically pushed to all their devices but it also means that mobile devices like ipods, ipads and iphones all have the same value for content creation and information access.
The second app was the iBooks. Again any purchases can be stored and pushed to all your devices making sure that they are all automatically synced. The beauty of this is that you can be reading a book on your iPad, need to leave, and pick up where you left off on your iPhone - having saved a bookmark that was synced by iCloud.
Back-Up was the third app. For people who are ultra conservative about their content security and back-ups then this app will automatically backup all information once a day to the iCloud. This includes music, apps, books as well as your camera roll with photos and video. It also saves your device settings and app data, which is very handy indeed.
The final three sets of apps that Jobs introduced was Documents in the Cloud, Photostream and iTunes in the Cloud. Documents in the Cloud is a document sharing app for idevices. This means that a Pages document you create on your iPad will be instantly accessible on your iPhone or your Mac PC. All of the new iWorks apps (Pages, Numbers and Keynote) that were release last week have these capabilities built into them. Pages can be manipulated on the iPhone and the changes will be instantly accessible. The apps will manage the presentation of its own documents in much the same way that Mail manages emails. This means that complex documents can be stored, accessed and shared across all iOS devices or Mac PC computers.
The second last app was Photostream. Photosteam, as you can imagine, automatically syncs all your photos across all your devices. This includes photos you have taken as well as photos you have imported. There is nothing new to learn here. This all happens automatically. The only difference is that you will now have one more button in your photos folder. iCloud will maintain the last 1000 photos on your devices, All photos will be stored for 30 days, until you put them in a folder or allow them to expire. iCloud also recognises PC machines and will operate through the My Pictures Folder in order for people to also use the iCloud. This is really exciting as it is the foot in the door for iCloud to access files across platforms.
This has interesting uses for education too. This tool allows you to sync photos and video to multiple machines, as well as swap, shared and exchange photos from a Mac machine to a PC - across platforms. It also makes mobile learning a very real possibility for schools that did not think it possible. A student can sync a photo taken from the yard or even a different location or even an excursion back to the classroom. This could open up a whole new range of educational experiences for schools and brings a whole new meaning to the term "bring your own device".
The last of the tools introduced as part of the iCloud suite was iTunes in the Cloud. Again this is all about automatic sync but goes a lot further for existing features of iTunes. The app allows for all music that you have bought to be downloaded to each of your devices - FREE. This allow you to do this with up to 10 devices.
iCloud will allow you 5G of storage BUT that does not include mail, documents or photos and it does NOT count music, apps or iBooks you have purchased. I don't know how you use that much but that is what is on offer.
The beauty of this type of system is that it makes computer devices just so easy in a school situation. It is sort of what Dropbox and some of the document sharing sites have been doing for a while. We have been trying to sort out these problems with roundabout solutions. They will now probably be dumped for the iCloud. The fact that these tools have been built into the apps makes it too easy. No more moving from one app to another and back again to access documents or images.
Some students are really going to dislike this. There will never be an excuse again for leaving your homework at home - just access it in the iCloud. On the upside, they will be able to walk away from a Keynote presentation on a school Desktop, get home and simply pick up where they left off on their laptop or iPad. No more having to...... just "iCloud it". iCloud will now become another one of those verbs people don't like.
What I am looking forward to is the ability to go to a meeting and pull up a calendar, check the agenda that was emailed to me last week and them sync my minutes back to my desktop or share them instantly with the other participants. This can be used just as easily in a classroom. We have not even started to think of all the different ways that this announcement will impact on education. As people digest what it all means then a ground swell of ideas will be developed, resourced and shared.
If this is as good as it sounds than it could make the Apple range a more viable educational package. iCloud could create a situation where students can move from one app to another on any one of several devices. iCloud could create a situation where mobile learning is easy to implement, where differentiated learning can be the norm. It has completed a platform that now works as one, where all the apps are integrated and seamless. In the words of Steve Jobs, "It just works."