My buddy Dave Caolo has posted some thoughts on what iCloud may do with the Time Capsule. Dave suggests that Apple could use the Time Capsule to assist in streaming media and backing up media to the cloud and accessing it from any device.
For the sake of this argument, let’s assume that Apple can use existing Time Capsules and Airport Extremes with external USB hard drives attached. While the rumors of an iOS-powered Time Capsule ring true, I can’t imagine Apple making its new cloud service dependent on a new piece of hardware.
Lion’s New Tricks
Lion is set to include two new features that relate with saving data. One, named Auto Save does exactly what you think it would:
Say good-bye to manual saving. Auto Save in Mac OS X Lion automatically saves your work — while you work — so you don’t have to. Lion saves changes in the working document instead of creating additional copies, making the best use of available disk space. The lock feature prevents inadvertent changes from being saved and automatically locks documents after two weeks. And the revert feature returns you to the state the document was in when you last opened it, so you can feel free to experiment with confidence.
The second is named Versions:
Versions records the evolution of a document as you create it. Mac OS X Lion automatically creates a version of the document each time you open it and every hour while you’re working on it. If you need to revert to an older version or retrieve part of a document, Versions shows you the current document next to a cascade of previous versions — in an interface similar to that of Time Machine — so you can see how your work looked at any given time. You can revert with a click, or quickly copy and paste work from a previous version into the current version.
I think these two new features are about much more than keeping your local data safe.
I think that iCloud is going to be the glue that helps Apple’s products work together better. iDisk can be used for data transfers between iOS and the Mac, but only for people who are into pain. And suffering … maybe even meth.
Dropbox, on the other hand, is just magic. And Apple could crush it, if it leverages Auto Save and Versions.
With these two new OS X features, there would never be any doubt about which version is newer. Sync conflicts with files could be a thing of the past. Just imagine saving a Pages document, and being able to pick up an iPad and keep working on it, without having to sync iDisk or via iTunes. That would be killer. Data could be backed up as soon as it the system saves it.
Dolly Drive may be in trouble.
Taking the human element out of backups is what makes the Time Machine and Time Capsule combination so great. Auto Save, Versions and iCloud seem like the natural next step. If a backup is waiting on me to hit Save, it is a backup that might not happen.
I’d love to see Back to my Mac get tied into this. Getting files is possible with the service now, but just in Finder. And just if the stars are aligned.
If this is moved to the cloud, it could not only be faster — since Apple probably has better bandwidth pretty much anyone — but more reliable.[1. As it stands today, it is often faster to Screen Share via Back to my Mac into my home iMac and copy something into Dropbox from there and let it sync than to user Finder to copy files across the web to my office at work.]
Having access to all of my files, via the web — and iOS devices — would make living with multiple Macs much easier.
This could be about more than individual files, though. What if developers could sync app data, preferences and more across iCloud? Dropbox is used by some apps to do this now, and there are hacks floating around to use the service to sync things like Safari history and MarsEdit drafts, but it feels a tad janky. I’d love to see Apple come out with something that works much better.
So, Why the Time Capsule?
Putting the Time Capsule in charge of this is genius, really. By letting it mirror data to the cloud — even backups — it takes risks out of data security for the end user. It is always on, and always connected to the Internet. Unlike most Macs, which go to sleep and get stuffed into backpacks.
I like Dave’s idea that iTunes streaming could live on a Time Capsule.
But I don’t have a need for streaming media. I have an iPod and an iPhone. And my iTunes already lives on a RAID. So I don’t have much to say about this particular bit of conjecture.
The Big Disclaimer
Of course, all of this is just dudes with websites tossing stuff at the wall at this point. We’ll see what sticks tomorrow.