Futurology : Apple goes after the NAS market with HomeCloud

September 8th 2017

Futurology : Apple goes after the NAS market with HomeCloud

For the past few years, I've been wondering why Apple isn't a major player on the NAS market. After all, the company previously showed experience in networking technologies. It's becoming more and more a media/entertainment company. So today I'm playing futurologist and I predict that the Cupertino company will come up with such a product.

Let's get this right away: I'm not at all a specialist in this field. My only knowledge comes down to a Synology NAS. The whole server thing has been simplified, the setup process is easy. They developed plenty of mobile applications to manage files. There is a great ecosystem of services and a brilliant community. So for an introduction to the personal server, my experience is pretty good - apart from those ARM-based chips baked inside the NAS that offer really really crappy performances... but then this is another story.

A smarter development model

I would not be surprised to see Apple rationalize their less popular products - relatively speaking of course - and glue them all together into one single box. Of course, I'm thinking of the Apple Extreme/Express, of the forgotten Time Capsule and of the Apple TV.

Should Apple gather all those products to make a single one, it would drastically strengthen its position in the hardware market by offering a device that is truly complementary to its other products like the iOS and macOS devices. In the end, Apple users would probably feel the need to buy it. Let's call it the HomeCloud, or iCloud Home.

I could, for instance, download a movie on my way back from work directly from iTunes right in my HomeCloud and stream it to my TV via AirPlay once at home.

Apple targeting the "Pro" market

To be more precise I can already picture two versions of the HomeCloud: one for everybody, and one for the small businesses. Microsoft, Google or Canonical are well-known on the server market and target big companies. They are, however, not so much present within small companies. Sure, they do offer web-based solutions like Office 365 or GSuite. But what if that small team want to host its own files and documents without having to manage a whole Windows Server? They'll have to turn to Synology or QNAP.

Of course, the Pro version will certainly be faster - on media decoding for instance - and house a bigger storage solution. It could also have an extra disk inside specifically configured to perform a local backup of the other disks with a special type of RAID "invented by Apple".

The ultimate alternative to iCloud

Let’s be honest, Apple has never been really successful at online services. The Web apps look great but they lack tons of features when compared to those of Google or Microsoft. And it seems Apple is not ready to invest in this area. It would make more sense for Apple to build a form of private cloud. It would not only spare its servers but also empower its vision of privacy and provide a product that those other big companies do not currently offer to the public.

A new business model

Apple is gradually multiplying its App Stores with the phone, the Mac, the watch and the TV. Now, what about the NAS?

Let's imagine an editor developing a calendar or an address book app which CalDAV and CardDAV feeds would automatically synchronize with HomeCloud. Or what about a tool that would automatically create a daily or a weekly backup of all the authorized devices connected to the same Wi-Fi network? What about a Dropbox-like client similar to Synology's CloudStation or a HomeCloud-based app taking advantage of third-party storage services APIs to create a local backup of those documents hosted god-knows-where?

Obviously, there is a great potential, be it only to unload you iPhone photos on a weekly basis to optimize the device storage. And who knows, Apple might as well resurrect iWeb to have us self-host websites, weblogs or web galleries.

It is interesting to see that Synology has come up with a subscription-based business model for its new version of MailStation. This is certainly an idea that Apple could borrow.

So it does seem to me that Apple is rather in a pretty good posture to release an HomeCloud-like device. I can already picture Tim Cook marketing it as a privacy-focused device, as the definite media hub and as the ultimate private partner for you iPhone or you Mac.