Apple Should Develop an "iCloud Home Server". Here's Why.

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Apple has had a pretty great 10 year run. Really, as I've said more than one time before, one of the best 10 year runs of any company, ever. Lately, analysts have been itching for Apple to release another "hit" product.

I think that an iCloud Home Server may be the next massive success, and that it's an opportunity Apple can't afford to pass on. Here's why.
In the late 1990s, Apple was in a tailspin, releasing products like the $6,000 "Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh", and the "LC" series, which were more or less incapable of running their own software. It looked as though Apple may be at the end of its rope.

But Steve Jobs turned things around, and rather quickly. While there are a number of reasons for Jobs' sudden and unprecedented success, we'll focus on two of his major initiatives.

First, Apple totally revamped and simplified its product line, ditching about 80% of its models to focus on a core few. The iMac. The Power Mac. And nothing else.

Second, Apple remained focused on the Apple / iTunes ecosystem. They made sure that every new hit product that they introduced was connected to their existing product lines, in new and exciting ways.  

Now, these were standalone products, mind you. You didn't NEED to buy additional Apple gear in order for your iPod to work. It would just work a little bit *better* if you did.

So for 10 years, people who wanted an iPod would immediately download iTunes on their Windows machines, which then led them toward getting a Macintosh (after all, there were a few additional features available), which led them to picking up an AirPort device for their network (way, way easier to set up on the new iMac), and then to an iPad, and an AppleTV (have to watch that iTunes content in the living room, after all), and then to iCloud in order to sync their contacts and calendars.

So every Apple purchase you made reinforced the good feelings you had about your prior Apple purchases.

And more importantly, each Apple purchase would leave you more heavily invested in the ecosystem, so you were more likely to make future Apple purchases.

It has been a phenomenal success. But the amazing growth of this ecosystem has led to some weird outcomes.

iTunes, for instance, has grown from a simple music organization application into a marketplace AND and organizer - for music, photos, movies, TV shows, iOS apps, and even books. There's no logical reason why you'd use "iTunes" to back up and sync your iPhone or iPad. It kind of just happened.

In the meantime, the Macintosh - touted as the "center of your digital life", has been left as the final and often single source repository for all of our digital data. That made sense at the outset, when we were talking about our music library, and the occasional video we'd watch at our desk. 

However, it's become pretty clear that our digital libraries are QUICKLY outgrowing our Mac hard drives. My iMac is now tasked with serving up music, movies, family photos and so on, to devices all around the house. And more to the point - conceptually - why would I want to store my digital library on my desktop computer? 

My desk is, literally, one of the LAST places I'd choose to consume content.

My digital libraries are overwhelming my iMac's hard drive. (And it's not small!)

I want to focus my iMac on creating content - not on storing and delivering content.

The answer, obviously, is that the digital library should be moved to a home server - accessible to my iMac, my iPhones, my iPad, and my AppleTV. Everything in the library accessible through iTunes Home Sharing, and streamable with AirPlay.

There are third-party ways to do this. Synology, for instance, has incorporated AirPlay in its latest products, and Plex / XBMC make it simple to send content to all of your devices.

Setting up a home server could be simpler. It could - and should - be a first-party Apple device

This would fit in with both of Apple's two initiatives outlined above. It wouldn't overcomplicate the product lines -- in fact, it would make things simpler for the "casual power user", a person looking for a home NAS, but who may be scared off by incorporating 3rd party solutions.

And more importantly, it would serve to strengthen the iOS/OSX ecosystem. A first-party Apple "iCloud Server", running OSX Server and distributing media throughout the home, would act to "lock in" Apple customers even more.

If your own personal iCloud could push media to your iPhone and iPad and AppleTV, you'd be pretty unlikely to move to a competitor's devices.

It would also act as an automatic backup device, with redundant drives. That's already provided by the Time Capsule - but this step would allow "casual power users" like me to separate their networking from their backup.... allowing each component to be upgraded separately.

It wouldn't even be difficult for Apple - they already make a server variant of their OS. Simply put a Mac Mini in a larger aluminum enclosure, with room for - say - 4 hard drives, and slap an iCloud logo on the side. Develop an "iTunes Server" application, and incorporate AirPlay and Time Machine functionality.

Based on what we know about Apple, it's likely that an "iCloud Home" would be a lot more "walled-in" and less customizable than a full home server - but that's kind of the point. Apple has demonstrated, time and again, that there is a market for beautiful, simplified computing devices.

They can succeed where others have failed, just by making their devices really, really simple.

I know this is pretty unlikely. In fact, I'm picking up a Synology device to do all of this, in short order. But seriously, Apple - this is a great opportunity to meet an underserved need, and to allow users to bring their entire "iTunes ecosystem" into their homes. Go for it!  

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