Apple’s Cloud Conundrum
Apple is really bad at the cloud. And while that is not hurting the company much today, it is going to become a growing problem as users rely on a growing number of devices and come to expect that all of their data will be available on all of their devices all of the time.
Apple’s cloudy difficulties are becoming apparent through growing unhappiness among developers about the many flaws of Apple’s iCloud synchronization service. Ars Technica has a good survey of developer’s complaints about the challenges iCloud poses for developers. This long Tumblr post by Rich Siegel of Bare Bones Software is a deeper dive into some moderately technical detail.
These developer issues matter to both Apple and to its customers because iCloud is not being integrated into third-party apps, and some that have integrated it are abandoning it. This leaves users with limited and often complicated solutions for access to their data. Like most tech writers, I’m an extreme case, working regularly on a large assortment of devices working in different ecosystems. I rely on a variety of tools to sync my data, an approach that can be a configuration nightmare. But even someone living entirely within the Mac-iOS ecosystem cannot count on iCloud to provide anything near a complete solution. Just try to move PDF document from a Mac to an iPad.
The fact is that both Microsoft and Google are far ahead of Apple in cloud services. Microsoft has built on its years of experience with SharePoint and Exchange, plus such commercially unsuccessful but technically important projects as Groove and Live Mesh, to build SkyDrive and its associated services. Google has always lived in the cloud and has put its expertise behind Google Drive. Smaller vendors, such as DropBox and SugarSync, also offer solutions far superior to Apple’s. But all of these companies have taken years to get where they are in large part because this stuff is really, really hard. None of them offers a complete multiplatform, multidevice, multi-application solution, but they are getting there.
The fact is that both Microsoft and Google are far ahead of Apple in cloud services. And this stuff is really, really hard.
Cloud information management solutions are only going to get more important as users choose among multiple devices to pick the one best suited to the need at hand. For many, these devices will be heterogeneous, perhaps an Android phone, and iPad tablet, and a Windows PC. The winners will be service providers who make a full range of services available to all devices on all platforms. Microsoft and Google come close, working hard to look beyond Windows and Android, respectively. Apple provides only grudging iCloud support to non-Apple devices, another self-imposed handicap.
Apple has the advantage of starting in this new multidevice world with the best-integrated solutions. But it is serious danger of blowing that lead unless it can drastically improve its cloud offerings.
And one more thing: The cloud imposes new security challenges for service providers. This is a problem no one has solved yet, but Apple has failed particularly miserably. Check out this Verge article for a good rundown on iCloud security failings.