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iCloud nets 85M subscribers as sign-ups outpace device sales

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During Tuesday's earning conference call, Apple Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook referred to iCloud as an integral part of the company's future after the cloud storage and syncing service saw an almost overwhelming adoption rate of over 85 million users.

Following a rocky beginning, Apple's iCloud has seen incredible growth, and the number of new subscribers added during the three months ending in December outnumbered the combined sales of Macs, iPhones, iPads and iPods.

"iCloud is off to a great start with more than 85 million customers signed up as of today," said Apple Chief Financial Officer Peter Oppenheimer. "With iCloud, customers can store their music and photos and documents and keep their personal information and content in sync across all their devices, automatically and seamlessly."

The massive numbers are not solely customers who sign up after purchasing a new product, but also includes those who have transferred old MobileMe accounts to the new cloud service.

Unlike Apple's previous attempts at centralized storage and online management systems seen in .Mac and subsequently MobileMe, iCloud is free and offers a much more comprehensive and seamless user experience. With .Mac and MobileMe, users had to sync data manually, pay for storage and deal with a sometimes clunky interface, which could explain why iCloud is enjoying such success.

"It was a fundamental shift recognizing that people had numerous devices and they wanted the bulk of their content in the cloud, and easily accessible from all the devices," Cook said.

When the service launched in October 2011 alongside iOS 5, users were granted access to seamless syncing of emails, calendars, contacts as well as cloud storage for all their Apple devices. At the time, one analyst said that iCloud was the most important Apple service since iTunes, and guessed that it would one day lead to gadgets "we haven't thought of yet."

It remains to be seen what devices Apple has planned in their product pipeline, but Cook is clear as to how important iCloud is to the company's future.

"It's just not a product. It's a strategy for the next decade," Cook said.