In iCloud I Trust

Ben Bajarin / March 7th, 2014

Given the beating Apple’s cloud services often take, I am sure you will be surprised at what I am about to say. I like iCloud. I rely on it quite a bit. What’s more, I trust iCloud. My expectations for iCloud have always centered on synchronization. This has always been the killer cloud value proposition in my mind. Even during the days when many in the industry stated with confidence that the killer app of the cloud would be backup, I was confident it would be synchronization.

I was convinced of this from the first time I used Microsoft ActiveSync for email. Whenever I would get a new PC, or PDA (remember those personal digital assistants), all I had to do was input my email credentials and magically all my email would appear and stay in sync across all my devices. This was when I knew what cloud synchronization would do for documents, media, and all forms of digital data. Since 2004, I told any major player in the industry who would listen that we needed a consumer version of ActiveSync. Today, the closest thing I use is iCloud.

The thing that is interesting about the cloud and synchronization, is that it is only truly valuable when you have multiple devices you want to keep in sync. When all one owns is a single device, there is no need to keep things in sync. All the content you own and produce resides on the device and the services that device connects with. As you start acquiring more personal computing devices you begin to spread time and data across them all. Keeping things in sync is an essential part of the multi-device experience.

Most of the ways I use iCloud regularly is to keep my documents in sync. This may be one of best aspects of the service to date. Having the ability to work on a new presentation, and have it auto save to iCloud, then pick up right where I left off on any other iOS or OS X device of my choosing is refreshingly convenient. However, the other day I realized just how much I trust iCloud and this realization raised an important question.

Trust, Questions, and Possibilities

I gather and generate a significant amount of original data on the tech industry. I also present this data in the form of presentations to dozens of companies on a monthly basis. Without realizing it, I have been slowly transitioning all our data to iCloud. I use Numbers and Keynote for our spreadsheets and our presentations. As I have been creating data in both programs, I have been storing them all to iCloud. It was simply the most convenient process since I rely on that data on any number of devices. I probably have well over 100 documents of original and proprietary data, presentations, and models, that are stored in iCloud. When it hit me that I was storing all this valuable data in iCloud, I asked myself whether or not I should back all this data up. This data is extremely valuable to me and more importantly recreating it would not be impossible but would be a gigantic undertaking.

Given this data is so important to me, can I trust it to iCloud? I have had no issue yet but what if an issue comes up? Are these files recoverable if something goes wrong? What if I accidentally delete a file on iCloud? Can I get it back? These were things I started thinking about. Apple does give instructions and recommend that you make copies and archive things stored in iCloud, however, this is a relatively tedious process and could be much more seamless. Suffice it to say, I did this just to be safe.

iCloud is certainly not perfect. I’d still love to see walls get broken down between iCloud accounts so families could have a more powerful synchronization engine. I wrote about this recently and called it a “framily cloud.” I’d love to be able to start making a movie on my iPhone and pick up where I left off on my iPad or Mac. I’d love a better way to keep photo libraries in sync across my devices and my families. The same with music.

Without question, iCloud still has a long way to go. However, I still believe it is one of the more encompassing multi-device synchronization engines I have used in some time.

Ben Bajarin

Ben Bajarin is a Principal Analyst and the head of primary research at Creative Strategies, Inc - An industry analysis, market intelligence and research firm located in Silicon Valley. His primary focus is consumer technology and market trend research and he is responsible for studying over 30 countries. Full Bio
  • Do documents saved in iCloud get backed up to Time Machine if you’re using a Mac?

    • Rene Stein

      That’s exactly the question that I was going to ask.

      For most of my life, I have been a one laptop person with an iPod or iPad as a toy on the side (hardly ever synced). One day, I would like to go all in and purchase a complete suite of devices (iMac or MacBook, iPad, iPhone, AppleTV) just to see what what life could be like. iCloud would be essential to that type of set up.

    • Brian M. Monroe

      Yes. But they are normally hidden. If you have a look at your Library folder in there is a Mobile Documents folder. That is where the iCloud documents live. They should be backed up with any good backup program along with the rest of the contents of your Library folder.

  • Space Gorilla

    I would like a lot more space on iCloud, and better management of users, as well as lots of other improvements. I think Apple will get there, slow and steady. Whatever they do has to scale for an incredibly large and active user base, so I’m not surprised they’re taking their time with it.

  • klahanas

    I’m so with you on this one. The syncing, that is. The killer feature of the cloud, anyone’s cloud is:

    -Syncing locally to several devices.
    -Redundant backup.

    Everything else is better on local storage. Local storage is much cheaper (both in purchase and use), much faster, and independent of connectivity (thus much more reliable). Even the killer feature, syncing, is killer because it stores locally.
    Possession is 9/10ths of the law. 😉

  • curious

    “I have been slowly transitioning all our data to iCloud.”

    Ben, if this data is sensitive, how well protected do you think iCloud is, against someone who might try to steal your data for commercial purposes?

    • benbajarin

      Now look what you have done. You have made me even more paranoid about this. 🙂

      I actually have no idea. It is something I have been trying to look into. Like I mentioned, this was something I sort of did unconsciously because of the value of sync. I could have used something like Dropbox, of course, but I like the clean integration of documents in the cloud with the application itself. I also prefer the UI to dropbox. It is the little things. 🙂

      You bring up a key question and one that is of importance to business small and large.

      • Space Gorilla

        On the issue of security, privacy, all around trust, I appreciate that Apple charges good money for their products and has a financial incentive, a profit motive, to do a good job handling my data.

      • curious

        I’m sorry for making you more paranoid, but you did say “I gather and generate a significant amount of original data on the tech industry” and that sounds like the data has commercial value, so I was just wondering what you’ve done to safeguard it. That, and the need for backup (which you did) are important questions with cloud storage, as you mentioned.

        You could ask an Apple advisor what Apple does to protect your data. Do they encrypt it? If the encryption is strong the information might not be of much use to someone even if they did steal it.

      • Brian M. Monroe

        While I think that curious did bring up a good point I would not get to worried about it. I am sure that Apple has really good physical security and policies at their iCloud data centers. So the risk for someone stealing the drive(s) that contain your unique data has to be quite low. The bigger concern would be an someone hacking in to your iCloud account. The good news is that Apple is quite good about sending out e-mail alerts to when you add another device to your iCloud ID. Of course a determined hacker could compromise your e-mail box to intercept those e-mail but if they are doing that you have bigger issues to deal with than a simple data breach. Of course I would make sure you are using 2 factor authentication with all of your accounts you can if you are worried about security. At least this will slow down any hackers that want to get in. Of course no matter what you do, if someone is determined to get in, they will. But the goal is to at least slow them down enough so you have a window to stop any hacking before they have total ownership of your online accounts.

    • Bill Smith

      Easy answer: use apps that store your data encrypted in iCloud.

    • kyussmondo3

      Steve Gibson of the Security Now podcast has done a thorough analysis of Apple Cloud services and he is very impressed with how Apple protects its users and its data.

      Personally I would trust Apple services over Google, Microsoft et al. any day.

      A lot of people in the tech world have jumped on the bandwagon of saying that Apple sucks at cloud. I have never had a problem with iCloud or iTunes. It was the same with Maps. You have to remember it was their first attempt and Google had a few years head start. Although now I open Maps on iOS and never wish to go back to Google Maps.

  • Mike N.

    For abstract data like contacts, etc. yeah, I like iCloud, but for files Dropbox works better and works across more apps and platforms.

  • TheEternalEmperor

    This is actually a stealth article about doing real work on iOS.

  • obarthelemy

    Try Bittorrent Sync ? Syncs directories one- or two-way, multi-platform (PC, Mac, iOS, Android, Linux), some journaling, and since data is on your own server, backup (or extra journaling) is a snap, as is working at LAN speeds when at home.

    For storage-limited mobile devices, the best is probably to have a “working” directory with only files you’re working on/with right now. And another set of directories for archiving.

    Side benefits: encryption supported via the respective host OSes; easy to set up document directories backups for friends and family (totally unobtrusive and automatic).

  • Michael

    Ben, great commentary as always. I do disagree with your statement “The thing that is interesting about the cloud and synchronization, is that it is only truly valuable when you have multiple devices you want to keep in sync. When all one owns is a single device, there is no need to keep things in sync.” I disagree because everyone has a second “implied” device. If you have one device (e.g. iPhone) that is lost, stolen, or damaged then you will most likely replace that device with a similar or newer device. Once you enter your iCloud account info, you’re back up and running in a matter of minutes. It is this second “implied” device that benefits greatly from your iCloud syncing. Also, if your device is temporarily lost or otherwise inaccessible (e.g. dead battery), you can always access your synced documents, contacts, calendar, notes, email, etc. through your online iCloud account.

    The nightly backup to iCloud achieves roughly the same thing (for a single device owner) but if you make changes to documents, contacts, calendar, notes, pictures, etc. during the day and lose your device, then you will only be able to recover what was on the previous backup if you’re not syncing.

    I agree that syncing is probably the most valuable feature of iCloud but I also think that iCloud’s value added services and automated backup capability run a close second.

  • pk_de_cville

    Ben,

    “…is that it is only truly valuable when you have multiple devices you want to keep in sync.”

    I believe you’re overlooking the automatic real time backup function.

    Pretty significant multiple AND single devices.

  • I’m not going to lie. As far as I am concerned, almost all carping regarding Apple;s services seems to come from people labouring under factual errors regarding what it is that iCloud does/doesn’t do. The fact that iCloud is not duplicating the capabilities of (insert random other web service/company here) is the standard nature of the criticisms.

    As for me, when I send an iMessage, it’s instantaneously updated across all devices that have that have a running conversation with person open. When I make a note in the Notes app, within minutes if not seconds it’s across all my connected devices including my desktop. Thru Match my music is everywhere I am, all 22 thousand matched songs. My pictures are all constantly backed up and the new sharing services allow me to include friends and family in multiple photostreams. iCloud is not Dropbox, it’s not Exchange, it’s not eBay. And I wish people would stop blithering on as if it was supposed to be any of those things.

    As an aside, given that Apple runs one of the largest online content portals in the world that contains services that allow you to get a practically everything you have ever purchased thru them or uploaded thru Match across multiple devices both portable and not, I would really like it if some of the tech press would dispense woth the idiocy that Apple doesn’t “get” the web.

  • Cam

    One thing iCloud still needs is an app for Preview. You can’t upload pdf’s to iCloud and therefore can’t access them like you can with Pages and Keynote. As of now I use Adobe (acrobat.com) to upload things and then have the app on my iPad to view them from my iPad, which gets annoying.

  • SamRobinson

    Do I trust iCloud? (Short answer:Yes)

    Does Apple suck at cloud services, depends who you ask and what they base their assumptions on. (No?)

    iCloud gets a bad rep from iOS developers, and the tech crowd/journalist that like to fan the flames. Except most of them (the non developers) have no idea what they are talking about.

    The problem the developers had is with the incremental syncing of MySQL Lite databases used for iOS apps. iCloud was having growing pains with this, which everyone in the know, realizes.

    What iCloud was ( is doing better now ) with the incremental syncing with MySQL Lite databases, is something that isn’t currently supported by google drive, skydrive, or Dropbox. Those services have to replace an entire MySQL Lite DB file rather than incrementally changing it. (Core Data)

    iCloud is more like Azure or AWS, and if you have LittleSnitch on a Mac, you know that some features of iCloud actually use Azure and AWS. PhotoStream for example.

    Yet the tech nerds/press lambast iCloud, not realizing that iCloud means many different services under one name.

    MobileMe had some rollout problems from what I have read. I never had any, but I had a pre-MobileMe account with .Mac

    I actually got iTools account back on Jan 5th 2000. It included a 100MB iDisk, a virtual disk in the cloud that is the predecessor to what Dropbox is today. You could share links like Dropbox does today. You could also mount the virtual disk on another Mac with your iTools account.

    IIRC, in 2003 OS X 10.3 Panther introduced calendar, address book, and Safari bookmark syncing between Macs. That is a part of the current iCloud too.

    iTunes Store opened in April 2003.

    Think about this and these dates……

    Sorry for the rant but it comes down to 2 issues.

    1
    I’ve been using iCloud and it’s predecessors for 14 years without a problem. I trust my data on Apple servers more than I trust my my Macs and PCs to boot every morning.

    2
    When people say Apple can’t do cloud services compared to Google and whoever, in my personal experience they did them years before Google and I’ve never had a problem.

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