Apple is holding its big developers' conference this week in San Francisco, and the event kicked off on Monday with a keynote unveiling some of the new products and features Apple has in store. This includes upgrades to both its Mac and mobile operating systems.
Apple also introduced a new product, iCloud that will store users' music, photos, apps, calendars, and documents online and then push them to all Apple devices, whether they're iPhones, iPads, iPod Touches, or Macs. The service includes 5 GB of storage for free.
Apple is hardly the first company to make a foray into online storage. But with the popularity of Apple's products -- with consumers in general and with educators in particular -- it may be that Apple's new offering will help popularize the idea of cloud computing, a term that's familiar in tech circles but still unclear to a lot of consumers.
CEO Steve Jobs took to the stage at the World Wide Developers Conference on Monday to explain Apple's new service, saying that iCloud was the company's "next big insight." Contending that the PC is no longer the "digital hub for your digital life," Jobs predicted that with iCloud, the company will "demote the PC and the Mac to just be a device" and instead that our digital hub will be "in the cloud." And if nothing else, iCloud offers a way to demonstrate what cloud computing means: it's online storage, accessible anywhere from any device over the Internet. All that data will in fact be stored in massive data centers instead of locally on your hard drive.
But what does iCloud mean for education?
Syncing information across devices has great appeal. It means that students and teachers will be able to access their documents, their projects, their videos anywhere, whether they've created them at home or in the computer lab or on their mobile phones.
But the major problem with iCloud is that it works only with Apple products. If you use a Mac at school but have an Android mobile phone, or if you use an iPhone but have a Windows computer at school and a Mac at home, then syncing isn't so seamless. iCloud doesn't really fulfill the promise of "access anywhere."
Furthermore, along with the need for people to move their own data across their personal devices, people are increasingly needing to share this information with others. Google Docs and Dropbox, for example, have both seen widespread adoption in schools because of the ability to do just this -- collaborate and share -- without a restriction on device or operating system.
It may be that Apple has more in store with its iCloud product that will make it better suited for education. The company will have to do precisely this if it wants to be able to compete with other major technology companies that have already made advances on this front, such as Google Apps for Education or Microsoft Live@edu.
Schools are increasingly recognizing the cost savings and efficiencies associated with cloud services (no need for maintaining district servers, for example). But schools should be wary about vendor lock-in here and about selecting cloud services that restrict rather than open the possibilities for collaboration.