Time Capsule as iCloud appliance

Update: Nice counterpoint on Forkbombr.

Apple’s high-priced Wi-Fi router/backup volume Time Capsule could become the iCloud device with minor tweaks. Here’s how I think it could work.

Those Local Snippets

Two weeks ago, AppleInsider revealed an Apple patent which describes how iTunes could sync a portion of a song to a user’s device. If these small “snippets” were the first few seconds of a song to be played as a stream buffers, wait time would be significantly reduced. Since a Time Capsule has a constant connection and internal storage, it could pull this off. In fact, a separate filing discovered in February describes how a user’s local media library could be merged with a cloud-based collection, generating an always-available master database of media.

In this way, the Time Capsule becomes a true iTunes media server. People have cobbled together homemade versions for years; I’m using an old MacBook Pro myself. Now the Time Capsule can hold your whole library, make it available to all approved devices on its network (think Home Sharing on steroids) and also sync to the iCloud for remote availability. An iCloud server, if you will.

Now We Know Why the Apple TV is Limited to Streaming

So how about accessing that master database? I imagine that any approved and registered iCloud-capable device will have streaming access to its contents. That helps to explain why the Apple TV is restricted to streaming. The 1st generation Apple TV was a front for the iTunes Store. The current model is a front for iCloud. Just purchase a movie, TV show or song from any approved device and boom! It’s available on all other approved iCloud devices. There’s no need to buy from the Apple TV because the purchase file won’t be stored there, anyway.

Backup to the Cloud

The Time Capsule (as it exists today) has two main purposes: back up your stuff via Time Machine and provide Wi-Fi connectivity. The only downside to local backups is that they’re local. If the flood that destroys your computer also trashes your backup disk, you’re SOL.

I could see the Time Capsule going all Dolly Drive and sending your Time Machine backups to the cloud (where “the cloud” probably means North Carolina). The benefit is twofold, of course. First, you’ve got a dependable off-site backup.Second, you could conceivably backup or restore from anywhere. Did you accidentally trash that spreadsheet while on the road? No problem. Use Time Machine to restore it from the iCloud backup.

When I spoke with Anthony from Dolly Drive at Macworld Expo last year, he described backing up his laptop from a Wi-Fi equipped plane. I can’t see why iCloud backups won’t do the same.

Remote Home Folder

Now that your backup lives off site, thanks to the Time Capsule, why not make your Home Folder available to any connected, approved device, Dropox-style?

What About those Tweaks?

I mentioned that the existing Time Capsule would only need a few tweaks to make all of this happen. Actually, I believe there’s only one, and it’s iOS. Installing iOS on Time Capsules would allow Apple to easily add the software needed to pull off these feats of magic and push updates easily. Also, it suggests the idea of Airport apps and utilities (AirPrint printer sharing for example). Finally, having a unified code base across the iPhone, iPod touch, iPad, Apple TV and AirPort products would be quite nice for Apple’s developers and coders.

Short Supply

Last week TUAW received several reports that Time Capsule stock was low at Apple Stores. While some have other base stations available, several noted that all of their Time Capsules, Airport Extreme Base Stations and Airport Express Stations were gone. Typically, Apple only lets supplies dwindle when a refresh is imminent.

Of course, a customer won’t need a Time Capsule to take advantage of iCloud, but having one will make the experience much more pleasant.