updated 03:00 am EST, Wed February 15, 2012
Both poised to drive company into the future
During his rare private appearance at an investors and analysts technology conference hosted by Goldman Sachs, Apple CEO Tim Cook talked on a number of topics, but raised some eyebrows when he mentioned that Apple's iCloud service, which was just launched in October, was now at 100 million users. The last time Cook had mentioned iCloud numbers -- during the quarterly analyst conference call on January 24th -- he said it had just over 85 million users.
Just three weeks have passed, indicating that iCloud signups are happening at an average rate of five million per week. Part of this comes naturally from users who are just purchasing new Macs or upgrading to Lion, but based on previous sales figures that would account for no more than a half-million per week. The majority of new signups to the free service is therefore being driven by iOS buyers, and if so would hint that sales have not substantially dropped off from the holiday period at the end of last year, when Apple was selling a million iOS devices on average every 18 hours.
The free service offers syncing of selected data (including browser bookmarks, e-mail, contacts, calendar appointments and more), a personalized e-mail address free of advertising, 5GB of personal storage space, document exchange for iWork files and what is likely to be the most popular selling point, free backup of iTunes app and music purchases. For an extra $25 per year, users can use iTunes Match to back up their entire music library (up to 25,000 songs not purchased from iTunes) and have it available for streaming or downloading on Mac, Windows and iOS devices almost immediately.
Cook referred to both Siri and iCloud as "profound innovations" that will continue to fuel the company's strategy "for the next decade or more." He recounted how Steve Jobs had positioned the Mac as the "center of the digital hub" back in the first decade of the 21st century, but that now "you and I live off of multiple devices," which was making having the Mac at the center of the digital hub "no longer a great customer experience." Thus, iCloud turns the whole idea of the digital hub "on its head," Cook said. Once you started using iCloud, "it made your whole life much easier."
He reiterated that iCloud and Siri were not products with "a year or two" life cycle, but important parts of Apple's future. "I've never felt like I couldn't live without a product that was in beta before," he said about Siri.
Cook compared it to the first time a customer discovers that an app like FaceTime can make video calling easy and enjoyable -- "aha, it can work!" -- and likened Siri and technologies like it to the paradigm shifts that occurred when Apple made a graphical file system and mouse mainstream, and when the iPhone made multi-touch a mainstream idea for mobile devices. "Siri is a profound change in user input," he said.