updated 09:30 pm EST, Tue January 24, 2012
More users than entire active Mac base combined
One revelation from Apple CEO Tim Cook that has largely escaped investor and analyst notice in today's conference call was the remarkable success of iCloud, which now has 85 million users in just a bit over three months. To put the number in perspective, it is a significantly higher figure than the total number of estimated Mac users worldwide (which is thought to be around 60-65 million currently). The service hit 20 million users in its first week.
The shift of content storage to the cloud and the resulting ability to synchronize multiple devices was credited by Cook as the main factor in the service's "incredible" success. He said that iCloud, which is free of charge and available to both Mac and PC customers, "solved a lot of problems that people were having" with keeping content organized "and made their lives easier." While the installed base pales in comparison to Google's GMail (estimated to have around 260 million users), it also offers different services than the Google eco-system of web-based apps.
Cook went on to describe the overall trends of recent years (increased internet storage reliance, the rise of mobile computing machines as people's primary-use devices, the growth of cloud-based storage and services) as "a fundamental shift" both in terms of usage and consumer trust. This is why, he said, iCloud wasn't just a product -- it is "a strategy for the next decade." Cook added that he believed that users wanted the bulk of their content backed up and easily accessible in the cloud, and that iCloud's success was an example of "seeing the response."
It was not clear from Cook's brief mention of iCloud whether or not the 85 million base includes current Mobile Me members who cannot (or are not yet willing to) transition to iCloud (which requires OS X 10.7 or higher on the Mac, and iOS 5 or later on iOS devices). Although Mobile Me had a history of service issues and never fulfilled its promise, it nonetheless had millions of active users, a large number of whom are still connected to it (the service will go dark in late June, with Apple giving users free time to transition their personal websites, photo galleries and other stored items that won't be included in iCloud to other services). He also didn't break down the numbers by platform, so it isn't possible to say what percentage of iCloud users are Windows users, for example.
The iCloud service offers free IMAP e-mail (unusually for such a offer, the e-mail is free of any advertising); 5GB of storage space;, automatic backup of all iTunes Store purchases; automatic "push" syncing of calendar, contacts, bookmarks and selected other information; a photo-synching service called PhotoStream; device and friend locating services, iWork document sharing and other features for free. The optional iTunes Match service ($25 per year) also offers to back up the entire iTunes library (not just songs bought from iTunes) of music, and additional storage can be purchased as well if desired.