iOS 5: iCloud, iTunes in the Cloud & iTunes Match

And, finally (for today), we come to Apple’s much anticipated iCloud. Apple’s less than stellar MobileMe service, which Steve Jobs described as “not our finest hour” during the keynote, is MobileGone. And, so is its $99 per year fee (for the most part). In its place, we have iCloud. Apple describes it like this:

iCloud stores your music, photos, apps, calendars, documents, and more. And wirelessly pushes them to all your devices — automatically. It’s the easiest way to manage your content. Because now you don’t have to.

It works on iOS devices (iPad, iPhone, iPod touch) as well as the Mac OS X and even Microsoft Windows desktop. It provides cloud storage for music, apps (including re-installing), photos, and device settings information. Singing up for the service (when it becomes available later this yaer) gives you 5GB of storage at no charge. Photos, purchased (key word) music, apps and books are stored in iCloud outside of the 5GB limit. All of Apple’s major apps will be iCloud enabled in iOS 5: iTunes in the Cloud, Photo Stream, Apps, Books, Documents (iWork), Contacts, Calendar and Mail. The iCloud API will be available for Microsoft Windows software as well as Mac OS X and iOS.

Photo Stream works with iCloud. It stores your most recent 1000 uploaded photos and keep them in the cloud for 30 days. The iCloud Photo Stream appears as a album in the iOS photo app. This is a lot like how Android and Picasa are tied together.

iTunes in the Cloud lets you download purchased music to up to 10 devices. There is an auto-downloads option too. Make sure you have the bandwidth and storage to deal with this option if you buy a lot of music. The service can also scan and match your library using a paid service named iTunes Match. iTunes Match is a $24.99 per year subscription. Here’s how Apple describes its operation:

iTunes determines which songs in your collection are available in the iTunes Store. Any music with a match is automatically added to your iCloud library for you to listen to anytime, on any device. Since there are more than 18 million songs in the iTunes Store, most of your music is probably already in iCloud. All you have to upload is what iTunes can’t match. Which is much faster than starting from scratch. And all the music iTunes matches plays back at 256-Kbps iTunes Plus quality — even if your original copy was of lower quality.

If it finds a match to a song on your computer, it will match it in the cloud service without uploading the file. This is a lot like the old service and unlike Google Music or Amazon CloudDrive.