Apple’s Cloud Conundrum

Photo of tornado (© James Thew -


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.[pullquote]The fact is that both Microsoft and Google are far ahead of Apple in cloud services. And this stuff is really, really hard.[/pullquote]

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.






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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.

8 thoughts on “Apple’s Cloud Conundrum”

  1. Great article, demonstrably true. I think there’s an error in what is going to be your money quote. Don’t you mean, “The fact is that both Microsoft and Google are far ahead of *Apple* in cloud services”?

  2. “Just try to move PDF document from a Mac to an iPad.”

    I email my PDF’s between Mac OS and IOS. Not the perfect solution, but it works. But I agree, it should be painless and seamless. I’m hoping for good news at Apple’s next WWDC.

    1. I have several ways to move PDFs to an iOS device: email, SugarSync, DropBox, Docs-to-Go, and Send to Kindle, which I use for long documents. But none of them is completely satisfactory. And all leave a local copy of the document bound to the apps to which it was sent, which is sometimes troublesome.

  3. I mentioned in another post that I’m led to the conclusion that cloud services have not been a priority at Apple. The answer to the question of why they haven’t, seems to be buried in the culture of the company.

    But it sounds like Apple needs to put a bit more emphasis on bringing iCloud up to Apple standards, and not wait until 2015 to make that happen. I’m rooting for them.

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