At today’s Worldwide Developer Conference, Apple unveiled iCloud, the company’s long-expected solution for the multi-device, multi-connection world. With iCloud, Apple has liberated its customers’ iPhones, iPads, and [more recent] iPod touches from their tether to a Mac or PC, recognizing that these products play an increasingly primary role in their owners’ lives. For product strategists (vendor strategists can read my colleague Frank Gillett's take here), the most important attributes of iCloud are:

  • Its pricing. How much does iCloud cost Apple’s customers? Zero. Zip. Zilch. Well, at least in the basic form that Apple contends will suffice for a vast majority of its customers, iCloud is free for anyone who owns an iOS or MacOS device provided she doesn’t require more than 5 GB of storage for all the stuff Apple will hold on her behalf. Apple’s message to its customers is: you’ve always got your stuff, on whichever device you prefer at this moment. This stands in stark contrast to other cloud-based services like Dropbox and Sugarsync that force consumers to think carefully about butting up against their storage limits, just as the soon-to-be-the-default capped data plans force them to think about how many bits are traveling up and down which network.
  • Its value to Apple. How can the company, having invested untold tens of millions of dollars into its purchase of lala and at least one billion dollars into the construction of its massive North Carolina data center, justify iCloud’s basic service [non-]fee? By increasing customer engagement with and loyalty to its platforms, and the revenue it derives from all the forms of content that its customers consume on them. Forget any characterization of Apple acolytes who queue up at its stores as soon as the next iWhatever is imminently available — Apple’s products span a wholly mainstream audience because the product experience gets consumers directly to what they want and need. And with iCloud making that experience seamless across all their devices, Apple customers will deepen their commitment to iOS and MacOS devices, purchase more of them in the future, as well as gobs of music, video, and apps to consume on them.
  • Its reflection of consumer behavior. While iCloud embraces the post-PC computing world — of ubiquitous, casual, intimate, and physical computing — it recognizes and reflects the key role that the PC continues to play in that world, and the continued importance of local storage. Consumers will rely on iCloud for seamless, instant access to the content they care about, but some material will continue to rely on the Mac or PC as the primary repository and backup source — including photos, music (for those consumers with ripped music who eschew iTunes Match and its $24.99 annual fee), and the myriad documents created by apps outside the Apple ecosystem.

iCloud will further secure Apple’s expanding base of loyal customers, giving them even more reasons to benefit from the rich product experience that the company delivers across its entire platform reach.