(WIRED) -- Apple has revealed the name of its upcoming online media service: iCloud. But don't let the cute branding fool you. The company has tried this service before, and the iCloud rebranding signals a do-over on one of Apple's greatest failures.
The company issued a news release Tuesday about its software developers' conference to be held next week. In addition to previewing the new Mac OS X Lion and iOS 5 operating systems, Steve Jobs will share details on iCloud -- Apple's upcoming "cloud services offering."
Based on that terse description alone, we can decipher that iCloud will be Apple's sequel to MobileMe, a paid online service for synchronizing personal information, such as your calendars, address books, e-mail and photos, across multiple devices.
Tech observers agree that MobileMe has been one of Apple's most embarrassingly flawed products, thanks to its extremely buggy launch and limited functionality. MobileMe was itself a 2008 rebranding of .Mac, which began its life in 2000 as iDisk.
The rebranding hints that Apple may be ready to expand MobileMe into a broader online-storage service. Ross Rubin, consumer analyst at NPD Group, believes that iCloud shows Apple's intention to move into on-demand media, potentially allowing customers to access their iTunes-purchased music or movies over the internet with multiple devices.
"There's clearly an opportunity that Apple hasn't really exploited before in terms of media and centralization," Rubin told Wired.com. "The opportunity is to move forward with what they acquired with [music-streaming service] Lala and toward having media available on demand."
Apple's aggressive move into the "cloud" -- an industry buzzword to describe storing and accessing media from online servers rather than local hard drives -- comes late compared to competitors who have been finessing such services for a while.
Google has offered a suite of web-based collaboration and productivity tools for years, and the company recently introduced Music Beta, a service for Android customers to access an online music library.
Microsoft, too, has refined online media services Windows Live and SkyDrive, which are tightly integrated into Hotmail and the new Windows Phone 7 mobile operating system. Also, some apps in Microsoft's Office suite are available through a web browser.
Among smaller companies, San Francisco-based startup Dropbox is leading the way as one of the hottest online-storage solutions that works seamlessly on any computing or smartphone platform. Dropbox skyrocketed in the past year from 4 million registered users to 25 million.
By contrast, Apple has thrown weak jabs at online media synchronization with its notorious MobileMe. When it launched in 2008, MobileMe was riddled with bugs and glitches. An outage left at least 20,000 customers without access to e-mail for weeks. Critics labeled the launch "MobileMess."
Furthermore, after MobileMe recovered from the MobileMess debacle, it didn't mature into a solid online service. For instance, Apple blogger John Gruber pointed out in a keynote speech at Macworld 2010 that there was little sense behind MobileMe's web apps, as they don't offer any benefits for their native counterparts on the Mac or iPhone.
So now it appears Apple is giving online media services another try, with a new name. With iCloud, clues suggest that Apple is finally getting serious with online media services. The company began building a 500,000-square-foot data center in North Carolina in 2009, which would support an enormous volume of data.
Further revealing Apple's ambitions for online media, the company acquired music-streaming service Lala in 2009, and its new Apple TV set-top box transitioned to internet-streamed video rentals in 2010.
"The companies that are building the biggest data centers tend to also have the biggest cloud ambitions," said Rich Miller, an editor of Data Center Knowledge, regarding Apple's data center, in a 2009 interview with Cult of Mac.
NPD's Rubin believes that similar to competitors offering cloud services, Apple will integrate iCloud as a cross-platform solution -- as it does with iTunes -- while leveraging the service for Apple customers by giving special perks to owners of iPhones, iPads and Macs.
"That they're announcing iCloud in conjunction with these two new operating systems may indicate that that there will be deep integration in both Lion and iOS 5," Rubin said. "iCloud has an opportunity to be more of a bridge between the Mac and iOS than we've seen in the past."
Subscribe to WIRED magazine for less than $1 an issue and get a FREE GIFT! Click here!
Copyright 2011 Wired.com.