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Cloudtastic

Apple launched three big new products today. The first was Mac OS X Lion, the tenth version of the tenth version of Apple's Macintosh software (try to keep up). The second was iOS 5, the latest version of the software that powers the iPhone, iPad and, lest we forget, the iPod Touch. And the third was iCloud.

iCloud? We hear you ponder. Has Apple finally invented a weather-control machine? Well, no. iCloud is really an umbrella name for a bunch of different new services Apple are offering, all of which aim to take your information and back it up online, and keep it in sync between all your devices.

So email, contacts and calendars, which Apple used to sell in a service called MobileMe, are now free - and part of iCloud. You can also use iCloud to back up your documents automatically from your iPhone and iPad, and keep them in sync. Photos are automatically uploaded into a special 'photo stream'.

But that's not all. iCloud also overlaps with iTunes. As expected after Apple made all those deals with record companies, they're putting iTunes in the cloud - from now on, on any edition of iTunes on any device you'll be able to re-download any song you've purchased from the iTunes store, free. To our surprise, Apple are even willing to host and let you download songs you haven't bought from iTunes - though that service, iTunes Match, will cost you $25 a year.

All in all, it's a cautious but significant step into the cloud for Apple. There's no sign of Google-style online document editing or music streaming, but then Apple's a device company not an internet company, so you can't really blame it. Still, iCloud is a super-useful addition to the Apple ecosystem, and it's free - so who's to complain?

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