Philosophical differences: The Google cloud vs. the Apple cloud

Philosophical differences: The Google cloud vs. the Apple cloud

Summary: Pay close attention, because Google and Apple are taking drastically different approaches to the cloud. Here's a quick summary to help you understand the differences.


At the end of TechRepublic's live commentary of the Apple WWDC keynote on Monday, after Apple had unveiled iCloud, I had a conversation with the participants in our live chat in which I explained that Apple's cloud was a "store and forward" cloud as opposed to an "All your base are belong to us" cloud. Goofy Internet memes and technical jargon aside, that's a pretty good description of the difference between the Apple cloud and the Google cloud -- even though I was half-joking at the time.

Let's look closer.

The Google cloud

Google's entire strategy and approach to the cloud is based on the future, and not the Internet as it is today. Google is betting that the world will have low-cost, ubiquitous Internet access in the not-too-distant future, including fiber connections in offices and homes and super-fast mobile broadband in virtually every nook and cranny of the planet.

It is building its cloud for that world, and it's hoping that by the time it has its application stack refined and running like clockwork that broadband will be everywhere. That's absolutely necessary, since all of Google's apps are connection-dependent and all of the data is stored on Google's servers in the cloud. You've got to be online to take advantage of many of the best features, like simultaneous editing of Google Docs where you can see your co-workers' edits happening in real time.

I love Google's optimism about the future of broadband, but it's not going to magically happen on its own solely based on free market forces. There are too many places where it's just not financially profitable to deploy high speed access -- and probably never will be. In order for Google's vision to come to light, there will need to be more competition in the big markets and much stronger public-private partnerships in the smaller markets.

Google has started talking about making critical apps available offline, especially for Chromebooks. The company has already taken a few baby steps in that direction with Google Gears. However, the fact that offline access is an afterthought and not an intrinsic component of Google's solution tells you where offline and local syncing rank on the company's priority list.

The Apple cloud

Apple's approach is not to use the cloud as the computer-in-the-sky the runs all the cool stuff. It doesn't want or need everything to happen in the cloud. Instead, it views the cloud as the conductor of Grand Central Station who makes sure all of the trains run on time and that they make it to the right destinations.

With iCloud, announced on Monday at WWDC 2011, Apple uses the cloud to orchestrate data streams rather than control them. This is the cloud as a central repository for apps, music, media, documents, messages, photos, backups, settings, and more. A decade ago, both Apple and Microsoft talked up idea of the Mac and the PC, respectively, as the central hub of our digital life and work, with a variety of devices relying on it to coordinate content. On Monday, Apple clearly stated that's no longer the case. For it, iCloud is now the hub.

"We are going to demote the PC to just be a device," Steve Jobs said.

In this way, Apple is taking an approach unlike Google (which essentially mimics the old mainframe approach). Instead, Apple is doing something similar to what the popular startup Dropbox does. It is allowing users to sync their personal data and media purchases from their computers and mobile devices up to a personalized central repository. Then, that central repository on the Internet syncs all of the data and media files back down to all of the user's devices, so that all of them have the same data. Users no longer have to worry about constantly managing their files and music libraries in order to keep them up-to-date across a bunch of different machines and devices - a computer, a tablet, and a smartphone, for example.

Geeks, technophiles, and IT pros tend to love this approach because they still control their own data and have local copies of everything. However, syncing can also get a little complicated, especially if you choose to not automatically sync all of your devices (to save on performance and bandwidth). It remains to be seen whether mainstream users and business professionals will grasp the syncing concept and easily make it work.

Still, Apple's approach is probably more practical for the Internet as it exists today. But, in a world with ubiquitous ultra-fast broadband, will syncing still matter in 5-10 years? That will depend on whether users prefer to have local copies of their data for performance, security, and peace of mind.

Naturally, there have been heated debates about Apple iCloud in social media since WWDC. The most poignant comment I saw came from Lessien on Twitter, who said, "In Apple's vision, the cloud makes native apps better. Others see the cloud as a substitute for native apps."

Final analysis

All that said, let me try to boil this down into two sentences that shouldn't surprise you. For Google, the Web is the center of the universe. For Apple, your device is the center of the universe.

Can they both be right?

This article was originally published on TechRepublic.

Topics: Apple, Broadband, Browser, Cloud, Google, Networking, Telcos

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  • RE: Philosophical differences: The Google cloud vs. the Apple cloud

    Thank you for the analysis Jason.
    Like you, I belive that Google's version of the cloud is for the future, where every part of the planet is wired in. For that one would need technologies like LTE and WiMax, everywhere and they will have to be cheap and reliable as well. Who knows, we may one day get rid of our WiFi routers if Google has its way.
    Apple's version is more in tune with today's technology. I just hope that they iron out the problems that ailed MobileMe, once iCloud goes live.
    I still believe that the future will be some kind of hybrid of the two visions. I would even say that for the most part there will be huge clouds, run by the likes of Google, Microsoft, Oracle etc. but there will also be a bunch of cloudlets around for businesses and the most paranoid of private users.
    • it shure sounds the same to me

      if your device is only a terminal in both cases, what's the difference? Paid advertising?
      sparkle farkle
      • RE: Philosophical differences: The Google cloud vs. the Apple cloud

        @sparkle farkle
        As Jason said, Apple's version of the cloud is not about carrying dumb terminals with us. Google's version most closely resembles the mainframe model of old.
      • RE: Philosophical differences: The Google cloud vs. the Apple cloud

        @sparkle farkle Apple sells expensive hardware for you to use, they are not going to push cheap dumb terminals! Google on the other hand has all these expensive Data Centers all over and doesn't sell much hardware outside of one discontinued phone, so Dumb terminals are the way they roll! It's all about how they make their money!
    • RE: Philosophical differences: The Google cloud vs. the Apple cloud

      Well, cloud computing mostly consists of SaaS (which is primarily remote compute), IaaS (which is primarily remote storage) and PaaS. Apple's iCloud is basically remote storage plus some synching technology. Therefore iCloud is a subset of cloud computing. Not really an issue whether who is right or wrong here.
      TVT, software architect.
    • RE: Philosophical differences: The Google cloud vs. the Apple cloud

      Well, cloud computing mostly consists of SaaS (Software as a Service, which primarily relates to remote compute), IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service, which primarily relates to remote storage) and PaaS (Platform as a Service). Google hopes to provide a full set for cloud computing. Apple's iCloud basically is remote storage plus some synching technology. Hence technically iCloud is a subset of cloud computing.
      However, iCloud obviously places the liking of Apple's common customers at its centre. So marketing-wise, iCloud looks like a winner.<br>
  • Not enough electronic bandwidth

    Technicians try to increase the amount of bandwidth even on short distances, like between a CPU and RAM but it's very hard. People complain that a HDD, with read speeds of up to 60MB/s is the slowest component in the computer, why should I then switch to an even slower storage medium like the internet ? And one that might not be even available at some times and/or places ? Fiber optics everywhere ? What Google wants can only happen in a comunist regime, where the costs are not important, only the final outcome is. Will there be revenue to compensate FO everywhere ? Maybe ! But capitalist thinking can't cope with "maybe" in a business plan.
    Herr Spiegellman
    • Actually Google's approach uses less bandwidth per transaction

      @Herr Spiegellman

      All of your concerns about computer speed are probably the reason for an approach like Google's where the App AND the data are stored in the "cloud" (I still hate that markitechture name) and you are only viewing the data/portion of the data at any given time via your connection.

      Using the "cloud" as a store and synch approach means that when you do actually have to get data from it then the bandwidth requirements are much higher.
      Robert Crocker
    • RE: Philosophical differences: The Google cloud vs. the Apple cloud

      @Herr Spiegellman Depends on what you're storing where... If you store applications on your local system, you'll get satisfactory IO for the realtime disk IO intensive applications. If you store documents and metadata in the cloud, since they're limited in size (closer to 1MB) performance will be satisfactory.

      Let's take the example of a computer game. Let's say you store all of your character and save data in the cloud, and then you store the binaries and resources locally. That's a good use. That's how world of warcraft works. The key here is limiting the size and scope of what goes into the cloud...

      Another example is how chromebooks store the OS and the browser on the onboard SSD.

      The key to deployment success is using fast storage where necessary, and slow storage where possible.
  • Going with Apple

    I'm going to stick with Apple for now... I don't get Google's approach and I don't trust Google. Perhaps Facebook will build a social cloud and finally put Google out of it's misery.

    One thing is for sure, iPhone 5 will come with 4G to handle all this data! can't wait.
    • Google is easy to 'get': they earn their money via advertising, so they ...

      @Hasam1991: ... <b>have to have you connecting to their cloud and make you see the advertisements there.</b><br><br>With Apple's approach, it is not possible: mainly syncing local copies of data/settings between devices does not have room to put all of these blinking advertisements in your throat.
      • Not possible with Apple..?

        @DeRSSS - Give us a moment to prepare your transfer. We'll be right back after you watch this.
    • RE: Philosophical differences: The Google cloud vs. the Apple cloud

      @Hasam1991 You trust facebook more than Google? That's just laughable even for you... Have you been keeping up with what facebook does on a regular basis?
      • RE: Philosophical differences: The Google cloud vs. the Apple cloud

        Amen. That's definitely the pot calling the kettle black.
        x I'm tc
    • RE: Philosophical differences: The Google cloud vs. the Apple cloud

      @Hasam1991 You trust Facebook more than Google?
  • RE: Philosophical differences: The Google cloud vs. the Apple cloud

    Personally I see Apple's/Microsoft's Software + Services (Cloud) approach the more realistic.

    Today Web Apps are very poor in comparison to Desktop Apps and even if this were to change, Local content will always be better from a user perspective than downloading content held elsewhere.

    The future is in local Apps, local data but also web based apps, web based data.
    • RE: Philosophical differences: The Google cloud vs. the Apple cloud

      @bradavon: But Apple is not offering you the use of Web-based data. Just synchronizing your device with the cloud. And Microsoft offering is much similar to Google: Store in my cloud, use my cloud applications with your cloud data... It's really different.
  • RE: Philosophical differences: The Google cloud vs. the Apple cloud

    Lets not also forget, contintents like Africa cannot even get broadband period, let alone decent speed broadband. It's going to take decades for Google's vision to come to fruitation.
    • Fruitation is not a word, you mean fruition. (NT)

      • RE: Philosophical differences: The Google cloud vs. the Apple cloud

        @RicD_ Isn't "fruitation" what Apple tries to do to markets?