As we previously reported, Apple has ambitious plans to put users’ Home folders in the cloud to make them available on any machine.
The system will use the iPhone 5, which will likely include a Near Field Communications chip, as an authentication mechanism. Near Field Communication (NFC) is a short-range wireless connection technology that would turn the iPhone into an electronic wallet or security passkey. Bump the iPhone 5 near a compatible NFC-equipped Mac, and the computer will load the user’s home folder and preferences.
However, it was unclear whether users would be able to load all their files onto the host machine. After all, iTunes and iPhoto libraries can get pretty large. Loading a massive iTunes library onto a guest machine from the cloud could be a lot of heavy lifting. And how about the applications to run them? What if the host machine didn’t have Photoshop installed?
Apple’s solution is that only a subset of user’s data and content libraries will be made available, according to a source familiar with a test version of the system. Specifically:
* iTunes: Apple will make songs purchased in iTunes available for streaming to a host machine. Anything the user has purchased (including videos) would be available after authenticating with an iPhone. However, the system is still not finalized with the record labels, our source says. The problem is contracts with the labels, which forbid users from streaming music to computers that aren’t their own.
* iPhone content: Because of these contractual issues, Apple is exploring an alternative system whereby the host machine would display the content from the user’s iPhone in iTunes and make that available — whether it was originally purchased in iTunes or not. If it’s on your iPhone, you’ll be able to play it on the host machine.
* iPhoto: The guest computer will only display photos and albums from the user’s phone and MobileMe account. It will not access a user’s entire photo library unless Back to my Mac is enabled.
Our source cautioned that the system is experimental and likely to undergo changes before it’s made public, if it’s released at all.
One commenter on our previous story noted that Apple’s online Mac App Store would dovetail nicely with this system. If the host machine didn’t have an app the user had bought, it could temporarily download and install it on the host machine.
Another commenter noted that Apple appears to have been working on remote computing systems for many years, and that previous incantations were patented as Home on iPod.