A Better iCloud: Missing in Action

Steve Wildstrom / October 23rd, 2013

icloud

If anyone mentioned iCloud at Apple’s announcement event yesterday, it went by so quickly that I missed it. And that means that a glaring hole will remain in its otherwise strong ecosystem for the foreseeable future.

iCloud does a few things reasonably well, notably syncing contacts and calendar among iPhones, iPads, Macs, and to a limited extent, Windows. It also provides a clunky conduit for moving documents created in Pages, Numbers, and Keynote among devices, along with files for some third-party offerings whose developers have found a way to work with the baroque iCloud APIs.

But this leaves Apple way behind the competition in the increasingly important area of cloud services. I use SugarSync to make sure that important files are available on all my documents. I use DropBox to share files among my devices and, on a very selective basis, with third parties. I’m an officer of a non-profit that runs on Google Apps and we use Google Drive to share documents all the time. And I make occasional use of Microsoft SkyDrive and Amazon Cloud. All of these services are more comprehensive and useful than iCloud, which I is relegate to calendar and contact sync and Photo Stream.

iCloud’s 5 gigabytes of free storage is also relatively stingy compared with SkyDrive’s 7 GB and Google Drive’s 15. Using iCloud for music storage is essentially impossible without a paid account unless you have a really small music collection. And the fact that you cannot use it to store arbitrary file types severely limits its usefulness.

At a time when  Apple is both beefing up its key iOS and Mac apps and driving their price down to free, its failure to provide a better–and cheaper–iCloud remains a strange anomaly.

 

 

Steve Wildstrom

Steve Wildstrom is veteran technology reporter, writer, and analyst based in the Washington, D.C. area. He created and wrote BusinessWeek’s Technology & You column for 15 years. Since leaving BusinessWeek in the fall of 2009, he has written his own blog, Wildstrom on Tech and has contributed to corporate blogs, including those of Cisco and AMD and also consults for major technology companies.
  • Shameer Mulji

    We do know that is Apple is busy building its server infrastructure in Oregon, & Reno so I assume the infrastructure to support a better / cheaper iCloud is not ready yet.

  • TheEternalEmperor

    With iTunes Match, don’t you get 25k songs for 25$ a year?

    • Idon’t Know

      You get music from any source matched to 320k AAC which you can keep forever.
      You get streaming, and also no ads on iTunes radio.
      It’s quite a good deal for $25 per year. Nobody else is even close.

  • Idon’t Know

    Well this was a terrible article.
    iCloud was mentioned quite a lot as a syncing mechanism for apps.
    It does what it was intended to do quite well these days and I have used all iterations of it including in beta.
    Apple is not in the business of hosting cloud storage. Shocker.
    I sure would not put anything on Google Drive or apps that was at all confidential. In fact my company prohibits use of Google anything for this reason.
    iCloud is free so what is cheaper than free?

    • TheEternalEmperor

      To be fair, it is only free for 5GB. I hit that, so I pay $20. No big deal. I would say the service could be improved. Here is what I want with respect to devices. I back it up, all of it to iCloud. I get a new device, hit restore, ALL of it restores. Everything. Right down to photos that are not in the Camera roll. It is easier than ever, but it could be better.

      I would say it speaks volumes that every every app doesn’t use iCloud for syncing data. I’m talking to you Wikipanion!! It seems to be agree upon that syncing data with iCloud is hard.

      I wouldn’t be against more out of the box storage. Just as iRadio, music and books ecosystem is becoming table stakes, it would be nice to get 1TB with your account for photos and video. It’s the ecosystem, right? 😉

      I’m with you with Google.
      1)” Do you want ads with that?” is not a compelling proposition to me and I don’t want to think about that and encrypting each time I put something there.
      2) Google has a habit of dropping tech. I would be wary of hitching my wagon to them no matter how important it seems to them today.

  • Quicksingle

    Spot on Steve, icloud is dismal compared to other offerings. Anyone defending this hasn`t experienced the competition. Wondering whether Apple has the chops to produce quality cloud integration and services. I suspect Apple may try to push hard into this area.

    • TheEternalEmperor

      Disagree. I see nothing in Dropbox(which I use) that shows that it would allow me to restore my iOS devices. Frankly, I’ve stored video on it, using their app and playback is a dog.

      For getting to word docs across devices and exchanging files with people, it is great.

      For syncing photos, video and messages across my iPhone, iPad and AppleTV, not so much. I don’t have a Mac, but instead a Win7 PC and I find iCloud adequate for Photo Stream integration.

      I have to agree with Daniel. In a lot of cases, it is Apples to Oranges.

  • The reason that you are disappointed with iCloud is because you want it to be something which it was never intended to be. iCloud was not designed to be Dropbox – let’s clear that up. It was designed to be the syncing backend for Apple’s software products – not for every single file you ever wanted to save.

    For that use dropbox, sugar sync or whatever.

    Once you start using iCloud they way Apple intended, you will not have anymore issues.

    It works perfectly for me and I love it. PhotoStream, iMessage, iWork, iLife, email, app data and device backups all work perfectly on iCloud and that’s what they were designed for.

    Let’s please stop with the iCloud bashing once and for all and rather let the use educate themselves.

    • Armando

      +1

  • Dennis Baker

    Where iCloud has been for some time:
    — iWork already had solid syncing, I use it consistently with little problems.
    —Safari bookmarks, reading lists, and even sessions sync over iCloud.

    Here’s what I saw.
    — Apple released a version of iWork that runs on iCloud and allows collaborative editing with anyone.
    — Apple’s iCloud keychain now sync’s passwords transparently between installs.
    — Garage Band, iMovie, and the Podcast app are now also on iCloud and sync.

    Your link to third party developers is out of date. At WWDC Apple revamped the iCloud APIs significantly and publicly acknowledge the older ones were clunky. Whether they’ve solved all the problems or not isn’t clear, but the fact that this obvious pain-point to developers hasn’t gotten any more press since WWDC suggests to me that the situation has probably improved—the press covers complainers, content users get ignored.

    Apple isn’t going to be able to duplicate what Google, Amazon, or Microsoft have spent billions of dollars building over 10-20 years in 2-3 years.

    • steve_wildstrom

      What I haven;t seen since WWDC is a lot of third-party developers who have been avoiding iCloud adding support to their products.

      I don’t know how Apple pulled off that collaborative editing demo, but it my experimenting with it, the updating, at least between a Mac an an iPad over iCloud and the public internet, is was too slow to be used in the way they showed it. It’s a nice feature, but nowhere close to real-time.

      • Dennis Baker

        I honestly haven’t seen much in the way of third party support for iCloud either, but it’s hardly “missing”, it’s just inconclusive. You didn’t even acknowledge that they attempted to address it.

        For me, the multi-user editing works well between web clients but not between web and iWork on my Mac. I got a call during that particular demo, I’d just assumed that the collaboration was a web only thing.

        It’s not that I think Apple’s done something amazing or trailblazing on the cloud, but to suggest they haven’t made any progress is way off base. They are finally making some forward progress after lagging way behind for years.

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