Apple Arms Up for Battle in the Cloud

How many people does it take to create and manage a cloud computing infrastructure? No idea? Well, me either. But maybe Apple has a better idea: from recent job postings by Apple gathered around the Web, it would appear that they are in need of some extra help. I wonder why?

As it goes, I noticed a job few job postings on 37signals’ job board yesterday. The potential employer is clearly searching for people with experience in cloud computing. But then dawned on me, Apple is the company behind these postings. They are searching for candidates to help build the the company’s cloud-computing infrastructure.

Seeking Talent

The first job posting calls for talent in database management, which requires significant optimization for the cloud. As would be expected, they have quite a few requirements from the candidate who will ultimately fill the position:

– Internet scale services
– Caching architectures
– Multi-threaded programming
– Distributed systems
– Data Structures and Algorithms

– Non-blocking I/O
– Boost
– Memcached
– Embedded Databases

There is also another job posting that provides subtle hints that Apple’s productivity applications on the Mac and iOS could be receiving some upgrades. Maybe some of them will be cloud-based features:

Apple’s Productivity Applications team is hiring dynamic software engineers with the drive and desire to deliver beautiful and engaging applications on the Mac and iPad platforms. This team has delivered ground-breaking applications including Numbers, Keynote and Pages for the iPad and iWork and iWeb for the Mac. These positions are based in Cupertino, CA, Pittsburgh, PA, Vancouver, WA and Vancouver BC, Canada.

Finally, Apple is also seeking someone to transform MobileMe, a cloud-based platform that enables users to sync their data to the Web and other devices — which has received plenty of criticism in the past — into the service that it should have been in the first place:

MobileMe Product Design is looking for a Senior User Experience Designer who will be a key player in determining future features and user experiences for MobileMe, an Apple member-based online service. We are looking for a visionary designer who is ready to break new ground in the field of Web-based user interface and application design.

Sure, the job postings are mildly interesting. But there is a bigger point here: Apple is making a serious push into the cloud. This is an area where Microsoft and Google are dominating, and to step on the their toes is a huge move. Yet it’s one that is necessary to keep Apple competitive in the future. That future is will live and breath in the cloud.

Raising the Stakes

Having competitive cloud services is important for many reasons: it’s where future digital content will be hosted, development platforms of the future will live, and consumers will manage their digital lives. No pressure, Apple.

We can already see it in applications like Gmail, Google Docs, Facebook, Twitter, Last.FM, and so on. Even the iTunes marketplace is becoming increasingly cloud-centric. This points to a future where the cloud will act as our home; the browsers and apps will act as the doors to access it.

However, at at this current time, Apple doesn’t have too much to brag about when it comes to the cloud computing. Microsoft and Google are considered royalty in that area. But the potential Apple possesses should keep Microsoft and Google on their toes.

The iTunes marketplace, for example, is an ecosystem that encapsulates developers, consumers, and entire industries. The competition does not. So if Apple can find a way to take iTunes to the cloud and wrap it in a beautiful design and UI that Apple is already capable of, it could be a total game changer.

Some Cloudy Predictions

So what’s on deck for Apple’s future? Well, I have a few ideas.

Apple creates web-based productivity applications.

Google has Google Docs, Microsoft has Office Web Apps, and Apple has, well, nothing. Actually, Apple has a beautiful set of productivity apps — Pages, Numbers, Keynote, etc. — but they are limited in access. It’s an issue because knowing that you can access your files and applications from computer is very reassuring to consumers; consumers have that with Google and, to a lesser extent, Microsoft.

So I’m predicting that Apple will make online versions of their productivity applications, and sooner rather than later. Maybe they will be integrated with MobileMe or combined into a new product altogether. Either way, they will come.

Apple creates a web-based content distribution platform or, alternatively, a web-based streaming platform for personal use.

It also makes sense for Apple to leverage their impressive collection of content, right? This is why I believe that Apple will — if they don’t create a dedicated music streaming service — create an online storage service that will allow you to upload or store purchased music (and maybe video) content. This would give consumers more faith in Apple’s offerings because users could view their content on potentially any device with Internet access. That, in turn, could also help drive sales of content while generating the perception that Apple is being more open.

It’s also worth pointing out that content streaming platforms have been gaining traction: Spotify, while struggling to get the record labels onboard, is preparing to make its mark in the states; Rdio, from the creators of Skype, looks to have plenty of potential; Netflix is winning over consumers in the video streaming market; Google has been rumored to be working on a Web-based music service; and Amazon is arming up with its recent purchase of Amie Street.

While Apple has little to worry about today, these services will eventually eat some of Apple’s share of the pie. Steve Jobs is a smart man, however, and I’m sure he is already taking the precautions for when that happens.

Apple unleashes Ping on the World Wide Web.

And, because everyone is talking about it, Ping — a social network that functions more like a poor marketing tool — should also receive an upgrade or two (or three). The service is locked into iTunes, which, admittedly, adds a unique feature to iTunes, but it doesn’t serve non-iTunes users at all. This could open up the opportunity for another service — maybe Google’s music site, with some added social features — to exploit Apple’s reliance on the closed platform.

Moving Ping out of iTunes and onto the Web would enable users, regardless of their platform of choice, to preview, discuss, share, and possibly buy more music! People have already been suggesting that it should be its own application. So why not move it to the cloud; let everyone enjoy it, regardless of their OS. It’s a win-win scenario for Apple. (Also, I assume that if Apple moves Ping to the Web, the iTunes store will join it, which is also a brilliant idea.)

Conclusion

It might take awhile, but Apple and Steve Jobs have the gusto needed to compete with Microsoft and Google on the cloud front. They have an unbelievably rich platform that is just waiting to take the cloud by storm. If successful, Apple could reach out and add even more customers to the company’s incredible fan base. But they better not wait too long — the competition has a massive head start, and they are not going to make things easy for Apple.