Reality Absorption Field: Backups Capsule

Ross Rubin
R. Rubin|05.08.13

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Reality Absorption Field: Backups Capsule

Despite the great success and momentum of the iPad, the iPhone is still probably Apple's product that continues to receive the most attention by the broadest number of consumers as well as by investors. The smartphone slips easily into a pocket, accesses cloud from virtually anywhere, has a slick and engaging user interface, and supports hundreds of thousands of apps. It has been updated every year since its introduction and makes billions for the company. Microsoft covets its success.

But Apple has another product that in many ways is the anti-iPhone. It usually never leaves the home, doesn't access any cloud services and has no apps or even local user interface. Its rare updates often consist of little more than a capacity increase. And if Microsoft, which keeps chasing the idea of a cohesive user experience, wouldn't gain much from the revenue it drives, it would still do well to offer its benefits.

That product is Time Capsule, Apple's router/backup appliance that sits quietly on a home network, seamlessly and reliably sucking in incremental backups of every Mac it can find. In an era where the best-selling version of Apple's once straightforward iPod music player is an iPhone-like software chameleon, where hard drives are considered the dinosaurs of consumer storage, and the cloud is the place where shared files are stored, Time Capsule is a throwback. It is the hardworking Morlock to Apple's converged device iLoi.

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Like any tech product, Time Capsule has its share of compromises. Backups can get corrupted, causing Time Machine to falter at the beginning or end of a backup. Time Capsule's doesn't provide a ton of status information on what's going on. And if the unfortunate circumstances require that you use it to restore, it can take hours as is the case for any network backup product.

And when it comes to features, Time Capsule's name is more than just a clever play on words. Unlike with cross-platform "shared storage" products from storage and networking companies including Netgear, Seagate and WD, there's no access to Time Capsule storage from outside the home network. It can't send video to most TVs or Blu-ray players due to a lack of native DLNA. You can't add capacity to Time Capsule or back up the backup.

Other companies have created slick iOS apps for accessing photos and other data on home networks from across the Internet. In an ironic contrast, though, Apple hasn't created one for Time Capsule, which could serve as a personal cloud alternative to or extension to iCloud much as Pogoplug has married its home storage and cloud storage products. Instead, only Mac-owning iOS device users can take advantage of Apple's network backup device, and even then only indirectly by having their Mac-based backups backed up.

Ah, but in conjunction with Time Machine, Time Capsule remains the best integrated home network backup experience on the market. It may never be the kind of thing that convinces someone to buy a Mac, but anyone who has ever been saved by it will consider it a reason to stay with the platform.

In contrast, while Windows had an integrated backup app before Apple did, its network backup strategy has been divided between a feature found only in the Professional version of Windows and the sputtering path of Windows Home Server that came closest to Time Capsule's automation and integration, but couldn't approach its simplicity. Windows 8 has added a file history feature that's network-drive agnostic, but that's only part of the solution. If Microsoft would offer a simple backup appliance that works with software built into Windows, it would instantly strengthen the case for all Windows PCs, including tablets such as Surface for which a key marketing point is the robustness of the Windows ecosystem.

Of course, it would also be great to see Time Capsule expand to back up Windows PCs, or even iPads and iPhones, or enable remote access, but one has to wonder how much more attention Apple -- fighting Google with its head in the cloud -- will give to its reliable relic.

Ross Rubin is principal analyst at Reticle Research, a research and advisory firm focusing on consumer technology adoption. He shares commentary at Techspressive and on Twitter at @rossrubin.

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