Apple ditches MobileMe, introduces iCloud at exciting price point: free

Although Apple’s cloud services have been rumored for years, no real information has surfaced before today about exactly what to expect. But at their Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) today, Apple announced that they’re going cloud in a big way: starting this fall, MoibleMe (a paid service to synchronize your mail, contacts, and calendar) will be replaced by a new, free service called iCloud.

What is iCloud? At a basic level, it’s a replacement for all of the services that MobileMe used to cover: iCloud provides free synchronization for your Mail, Calendars and Contacts through new applications that push your updates to any iOS devices you may own, including the iPad, iPhone and iPod touch. Similarly, App Store and iBookstore purchases are now automatically synchronized between multiple devices. What does that mean for you? Hassle-free work from the field, with the same calendar and mail set-up on your phone or tablet (provided those phones and tablets are the iPhone and iPad!)

The real win for small business users comes in the form of document sync, however. Last week, Apple announced that their iWork suite of apps, including Pages, Numbers and Keynote, we’re being ported to work not just on the iPad but also the iPhone and iPod touch. These apps, for those who aren’t familiar, are Apple’s answers to Microsoft’s Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, respectively.

Today Apple is announcing that their iWork suite of apps will allow document sync through their iCloud service, with 5GB free storage for documents. While 5GB isn’t a huge amount of storage for music or pictures, it translates into thousands of documents sync’d seamlessly across your devices. For users on the go, this may finally make Apple’s iWork suite of software a viable alternative to Microsoft’s suite of desktop software or even Google Documents.

A few other features of note: Apple is also announcing iBackup, a feature that securely backs up your iOS devices over Wi-Fi whenever you charge your devices. Not only are your apps, books, and music backed up, but also your device settings. This should make things easier for users upgrading from the iPad to the iPad 2, or from the iPhone 4 to whatever comes next from Apple. As well, it should relieve some stress from users worried about having to connect their iPad or iPhone to their computer via USB every time they want to manually backup their devices.

Other things like photo sync and iTunes in the cloud offer services to sync your photographs and music between devices, and you can read the full details in Apple’s press release.

The New Dropbox for Android is Ready for Business Use

Regular readers of this site are probably familiar with Dropbox, as it’s one of Terrence Gaines’ favorite mobile apps, and with good reason.  The popular cloud-based service provides users with 2gb of free file-hosting storage space (though you’ll have to bribe the company with some real legal tender if you need additional gigs), which can then be accessed and/or modified from nearly any device (so long as that device is powered by Windows, Mac OSX, iOS, Linux, Android, or Blackberry… which it probably is).

For enterprise and small-business users employing Android phones, however, Dropbox has provided more angst than joy over the past couple years, as the Dropbox Android app has suffered from buggy performance and limited functionality.  The company recently released a thoroughly revamped Android app, which promises to finally bring full parity to Dropbox’s mobile offerings; but does it?

One of Dropbox’s most efficiency-catalyzing features has been its ability to automatically synchronize files; if a sales agent in the field secured a new order, a Dropbox-enabled spreadsheet in the central office would immediately reflect the change in inventory.  That’s how Dropbox worked on an iPhone, at least, but until this most recent version of Dropbox, Android users were forced to manually upload files.  I’m happy to report that Dropbox’s Android app finally incorporates full automatic synchronization, which works like a charm over both wi-fi and 3G connections.   As for the erratic performance of earlier iterations of Dropbox for Android, my extensive testing found none of the hang-ups or crashes that plagued earlier builds.  This is a robust, solidly performing app that’s ready for the challenging rigors of business use.

Despite the significant improvements Dropbox has implemented, prospective users should be aware that the mobile app does not have the full functionality of a desktop Dropbox client.  For instance, within the Android app, it’s impossible to move files from one folder to another, and external apps are needed to properly view documents, PDFs, or movie files (QuickOffice is one great doc app, and offers built-in Dropbox compatibility).

For those burned by bad experiences with previous versions of Dropbox’s Android app, the stability and improved functionality of Dropbox’s latest iteration make it worthy of a second look.  While the Android app’s features can’t match those of a full desktop client,  the limitations are unlikely to be noticed by most people working in the field.  Dropbox has finally released an Android app that lives up to the high standards set by the company’s other OS offerings, which makes it easy to recommend this app to any business looking to improve their information-sharing capabilities across disparate devices or users. What are you waiting for? Sign up for Dropbox today, and then get the Dropbox app for Android.