A Better iCloud: Missing in Action


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.



In Defense of iCloud

Screen Shot 2013-05-02 at 6.57.47 PM

You can’t analyze the industry as I do and not evaluate platform specific strategies to meet consumer needs. I study closely the platforms, ecosystems, and cloud services strategies of many companies. Right now the discussion is focused on Google and Apple for good reason. Google’s solution, similar to Microsoft’s, is hardware agnostic. Meaning the solutions can run on any hardware that allows it. Apple is unique in that many of their software and services solutions are available only to Apple hardware. Apple’s approach is rare, and rare is usually valuable, unless you work on Wall St.

Apple’s services strategy with iCloud has taken a beating from the media the past few months. Some of the criticisms are fair. One of Apple’s biggest challenges is to compete with other platform providers on cloud services and I think many of us agree Apple is not there yet. But, keep in mind Apple is an aspiring services company and I am confident they will get it right eventually. It just may take a little time, and the way market adoption cycles work, they do have time.

That being said, there is a cloud service that Apple provides that I think does not get enough attention. This feature happens to be one I personally find extremely useful. It is synchronization.

Change and Detect Engines

Sync has taken many forms through the years. I was first exposed to its power with the first and subsequent Palm Pilot devices. If you recall, sync played a key role on Palm devices. You had all your contacts on your PC, and if you wanted to access them on your Palm, you synched them. If you add a contact on your Palm Pilot you don’t want to re-enter it in your contact list on your PC so you sync them. The software knew what has changed and what has not changed on either piece of hardware and voila, the data stays consistent.

My company, Creative Strategies, worked with many sync services in those days with Intelli-Sync being the most public. They had an extremely useful bit of software that let your Palm Pilot sync with Microsoft Outlook. This was useful beyond measure at the time. As profound an experience as this was, the synchronization service that really got me thinking was developed by Microsoft and is called ActiveSync.

I first set Creative Strategies up with an Exchange server in 2000. It was one of the first things I did just after I joined the company. The whole experience sunk in when I started setting up the many Microsoft powered Pocket PCs I was using at the time. I would simply open up Outlook, put in my data, and boom, all my email was there. Wirelessly keeping my email in sync on all the screens in which I used email was and still is useful beyond measure. For years after that I told everyone who would listen that someday we will have the equivalent to ActiveSync for consumers that will keep all our digital stuff synced on all our devices. iCloud is exactly that.

Apple has heavily promoted the synchronization features of iCloud in many commercials. The idea of taking a photo on your iPhone and having that photo almost instantly show up on your Mac or iPad. Starting writing a document with Pages on your iPad and it picks up right where you left off with on your Mac. Any and all changes on one device are mirrored on all your other screens. When I only had one primary compute screen–the PC–this was not an issue. I only used one screen. But once I started bringing a number of compute devices into my life, cloud synchronization of key data became essential.

Currently there is not a single bit of critical information that I rely on for my day job and family life that is not synced across all my devices and those of my families screens through the cloud. For some of this key data I use Apple’s services and for others I use third party services. What matters is that I know I can get that document, photo, video, ebook, etc., on any screen at any time.

This is an extremely strong value proposition for consumers. When we interview first time customers to Apple’s ecosystem, often iCloud synchronization of things like photos come up as a highlight of their experience.

Are We There Yet

Of course this whole experience still has a way to go. But Apple has attracted the attention of many third party applications that are using cloud for data synchronization. My favorite, by far, is Tweetbot. I use Tweetbot on my iPhone, iPad, and Mac. I can be scrolling my Twitter timeline on my iPhone. Then when I move to my Mac or iPad, Tweetbot knows where I left off reading my Twitter timeline and takes me to the place right where I left off. For a Twitter addict like me, this experience is useful beyond measure.

I am, of course, not saying that Apple is the only one doing synchronization. Amazon syncs media, books, and more using WhisperSync. Google syncs data through drive, apps through the Play store, and more. What I am saying is that of all the platforms and ecosystems I have tried, Apple’s synchronization is the most encompassing and perhaps the most tightly integrated.

Cloud services and certainly synchronization is not easy. On all platforms I’ve used there are issues and sometimes things don’t work. People may say Apple is behind in some areas of their cloud services, but I can make the case that other companies are behind in theirs as well, namely platform integrated synchronization. And while I certainly don’t expect competing platforms to stand still, I don’t expect Apple to either.

Making the Cloud Safe for Consumers: Time for Apple To Step Up [Updated]

iCloud illoThis has been the Year of the Cloud.  Apple, Microsoft, and Google, the three companies that matter most to consumers, have all been rushing headlong to establish personal clouds that will link consumers’ data across multiple devices, making it available anywhere, any time. What could possibly go wrong?

We learned the answer in dramatic fashion this week when a hacker, apparently just out for kicks, wreaked havoc on the digital life of journalist Mat Honan, wiping his iPhone, iPad, and MacBook, deleting data from his iCloud and Google Apps accounts, and sending out a stream of ugly tweets from the account of his former employer, Gizmodo. Honan’s Wired account of just what happened and how is long but well worth reading.

A watershed event. It’s rare that a single incident marks a true tech watershed, but this may well be one. The personal cloud is definitely looking like the Next Big Thing. But the problems raised for cloud purveyors including Microsoft, Google, and above all, Apple are not just issues of public relations or marketing. They are going to have to make some real changes to assure safety.

Apple bears the biggest initial burden because of the ease with which the still unidentified attacker winkled Honan’s password out of Apple technical support and the company’s utterly incompetent handling of the issue once Honan discovered his problem. (Amazon played a relatively small but critical role in the attack, which relied entirely on social engineering rather than a technical assault. Wired Gadget Lab reports  that Amazon has quietly plugged the hole.) But Apple, as it its wont, has remained stonily silent on the matter. According to Gadget Lab,  Apple appears to have shut down telephone iTunes password resets, the crucial point of attack against Honan, but the company has announced no policy changes.

UPDATE: Apple spokesperson Natalie Kerris confirms that the company has stopped providing password resets over the phone. It plans to resume the service at some unspecified point in the future, but when it does so, users will be required to provide stronger authentication.

By his own admission, Honan made several serious mistakes in this episode, the most serious being the way he linked his Apple iTunes, iCloud, and Google accounts. That allowed a successful attack on one to be used against all. But if a savvy and experienced tech journalist couldn’t get this right, how much greater is the risk for the average consumer? Apple all but forces you to use the same username and password for iTunes and iCloud; the password you use to secure 99¢ song purchases can open the way to someone wiping out the data on a Mac.

Friction isn’t always bad. Apple’s goal in setting up iCloud was clearly to make transactions of all sorts as frictionless as possible. But friction is by no means always a bad thing, especially when it slows down an attackers. There is nearly always a tradeoff between convenience and security, and its clear that the dial is going to have to be turned toward security.

Keeping the focus on iTunes/iCloud, iTunes itself does not require a very high security barrier. Although you have a credit card on file, it’s hard for an attacker to buy very much very quickly. The main change needed is that Apple should greatly speed up the process of sending email purchase notifications. On Amazon these are nearly instantaneous, but I sometimes don’t get iTunes Store or App Store notifications until a day after the transaction. Your best protection is to get immediate notice if someone is making unauthorized use of your accounts.

Changing account settings, especially the email address associated with the account, should require a much higher level of protection, as does access to any iCloud data and the Find My Mac, iPhone, and iPad features. These features are used infrequently, and introducing a little, or better yet, a lot of friction will provide protection with minimal inconvenience. And password recovery procedures need a top-to-bottom reconstruction. For example, an individual who cannot produce acceptable credentials online or on the phone might be required to go to an Apple Store with government-issued ID and a credit card to establish identity. Yes, it is inconvenient; it’s supposed to be. (In Honan’s case, stronger passwords would not have helped in the least since the attacker was able to obtain his password.)

Unintended consequences. Another issue the industry as a whole has to come to grips with is unexpected interactions among different cloud services. This is an old and very difficult problem in security. Amazon’s policy on revealing information on existing credit cards when you entered a new one was mildly dumb. But combined with a totally unrelated Apple policy that let anyone use the last four digits of a credit card number to recover an iTunes password, it became catastrophic. Honan thought linking iCloud to Google was an innocent choice, but it, too, proved to have disastrous consequences.

The personal cloud is far too valuable to put it at risk through stupid security practices like those that clobbered Honan. It’s time for the services to take the lead and fix the problems in a public and transparent way (I’m looking at you, Apple.)

Final bit of advice to users: Honan says his biggest regret in this episode was the loss of photos of his child’s first year. As useful as the cloud is, it is no substitute for a secure local backup or backup to a dedicated service. Sync is great, but it is not backup. You should understand how different sync services work. I’m a big fan of SugarSync, which not only stores data in the cloud but, for important files, creates up-to-date local copies of files on multiple PCs. For important data, a belt, and suspenders, and maybe a second belt isn’t too much.


The PC is Not Dead

I chose this title because so many still associate the term PC with a notebook or desktop computing form factor. Let me first start by re-affirming my conviction that tablets as well as smartphones are in fact personal computers. The reality is that consumers are using a multitude of devices to accomplish what we have always considered computing.

It is no secret that I am bullish on tablets growth potential. With all the data I am seeing around consumer adoption of tablets world wide, it is hard not to be. But my perspective on the tablet form factor has always been that the tablet, and even to some degree the smartphone, does not replace a computer with a larger screen like a desktop or notebook. Rather these other devices simply take time and even some tasks away from the classic PC.

I still believe consumers will own computing devices with larger screens, more processing power, more storage, etc. However, the big struggle many in the industry are facing is the reality that the classic PC is no longer the only device in consumers lives. When the category for notebooks was a huge growth segment, it was being driven by two things. First, the fact that the category was maturing and prices were coming down. Second, because notebooks were the only mobile personal computers in consumers lives. All of this has been turned on its head with tablets and with smartphones to a degree.

The perspective that needs to be emphasized on this topic is that although the classic PC is not going away, its role is changing.

There is No Longer a Dominant Screen

The classic PC for many years was what we liked to call the “hub of the digital lifestyle.” It was the primary screen used for computing tasks in consumers lives. Other devices like iPods and early smartphones for example, had a level of dependence on the notebook or desktop. Even when the iPad first came out this philosophy was employed and was dependent on the PC to an extent. The desktop or notebook was the center and other devices revolved around them in this role. This is no longer the case for many and will soon no longer be the case for the masses. As more consumers fragment their computing tasks to be done on a number of screens, each screen will find a role as a part of a holistic computing solution.

The Cloud Becomes the Center

Although no single screen becomes the center of a consumers computing lifestyle, another solution takes the place. And that is the cloud. Personal clouds will be the glue that tie all our devices together. This is clearly evident with Apple’s latest OS release OS X Mountain Lion. This is the first classic PC OS which embraces the paradigm I just described, where no single computing device is the dominant screen. Many of the same apps, the same data, the same media, all available on every Apple screen.

Whatever screen is the most convenient for a consumer to use to look at an email, answer an email, browse the web, watch a movie, listen to music, check Facebook etc., at the exact time they want to do it, is the right screen for the job. The important word here to understand is convenience. Our research shows that people grab the screen that is closest or easiest to access to do a task the second they want to do it.

If I am in line at Disneyland and I want to do the above tasks, then my smartphones becomes the right screen for the job. If I am on the couch with my tablet near me, then it becomes the right screen for the job. If I am sitting at my desk with my notebook or desktop then it becomes the right screen for the job.

The beautiful thing about OS X Mountain Lion is that it enables and even encourages this computing philosophy I just described. Which is:

– let the consumer choose the right screen for the job
– make sure they have access to any and all programs, documents, and media
– anytime, anywhere, on any Apple device
– so that no matter which of their Apple screens they have or choose to use, IT becomes the right screen for the job.

This is the beauty of the cloud and the clouds role as the center of our personal computing infrastructure.

The classic PC used to be the center to which other screens depended on. But now that role as shifted to the cloud. This reality, not just tablets, is what is disrupting the classic PC.

The market is embracing this concept of screens (whether they know it or not) and will soon be conditioned to depend on the cloud rather than any one screen. It is for this reason, that in Apple’s case, iCloud is just as important of a platform as iOS and OS X. Other platform and hardware providers need to confront this reality and find their place in it.

The Classic PC Still Plays a Role

This is why I am emphasizing that the classic PC still plays a role. It does not go away but its role does change and, perhaps more importantly for hardware companies, the classic PC lifecycle has changed. Some hardware manufacturers may emphasize its role more than others. Some software platforms may embrace its role more than others.

Consumers will not abandon the classic PC. Because of this role change in classic PC usages, I believe some classic PC manufacturers will be confronted with some very challenging pricing economics in the very near future. (More on this in a later column)

My conclusion, however, is that anyone who does not have a clear focus on the cloud as the center and has a weak strategy for the rapidly changing role of hardware is headed for some very rough waters.

We Have Personal Clouds, Now We Need Family Clouds

Prior to the launch of iCloud last year I wrote a column looking at ways that iCloud might work well for families not just individuals. I have a houseful of Macs and other iOS devices and I like to keep them in sync. The problem is they aren’t all mine. Some are my kids and some are my wife’s. There are digital assets that we own that are communal and shared and there are ones that are personal. I had hoped that iCloud would address these issues more fully than it currently does but unfortunately iCloud is designed to be more a personal cloud than a communal one. It is the communal or family cloud that I think needs to be addressed.

Synchronization is at the foundation of any good personal cloud. If I have a multitude of connected devices which I use regularly I want them all to stay in sync. The power of this lies in software that contains what we call a change and detect engine. That means that when a change is made on one device, it makes a change across all devices. Take a photo on one device, it is already on the others. Buy a song on one device, it is already on the others. Edit a document on one device it is already on the others, etc. This solution has manifested itself in the marketplace for quite some time but only recently has it been any good. Personal clouds are evolving nicely but we need hardware and software makers to start thinking more communally as well.

Communal Clouds

One of the things that needs to be pointed out about personal clouds is that they only matter when you have more than one connected device which you use on a regular basis. If I only used one personal computing product, I wouldn’t really have a need to keep it in sync with other devices. But once you get a desktop/ notebook, smart phone and or tablet then the cloud data synchronization becomes important. This is also true with communal clouds.

When only one member of the family has multiple computing products then the notion of the person cloud works. But once several members of a family start getting connected devices then the problem grows. Link that up with the reality that not all family members share a same roof and you can see how a communal cloud could be of value.

There is certain data that is communal and of value to a larger group and there is certain data that is valuable to just the person. A solution in the market needs to exist that makes communal data sync as easy as personal data sync.

For Apple, they have built iCloud with mostly the personal cloud in mind. There are of course ways to sync libraries of photos or other digital data but they are mostly manual processes. iTunes library sync is great and to some degree. Home Sharing is a good start but what about photos for example? Perhaps some of the most communal content in any family ecosystem is photos and currently keeping photo libraries in sync across a number of devices and iCloud accounts in the family is a pain. My wife constantly complains that none of our photos are ever on her computer because I download them all to mine. My iCloud account helps me to a degree but she has her own iCloud account and both act and sync independently of each other.

Other areas of shared sync that could be of use are things like family calendar, chores or to do lists, family documents or spread sheets which can be worked on collaboratively– just to name a few.

Interestingly this is a concept Microsoft has actually marketed to a small degree. There was a line in commercial I saw earlier in the year during a commercial for Windows which said “It’s good to be a family again.” In the commercial the father was using a Word document on his Windows Phone as a shopping list. As he was shopping, new items kept appearing on the list for things like candy and other junk food items. He quickly realized what was going on and the commercial ended showing his kids adding to his shopping list from their Windows PC at home. Changes they made to a document were instantly there in real time on his phone. This idea of how a family uses the cloud in a more holistic way is one that I think needs further development in this new era of commuting.

This extends outside the home as well. It would be great if new photos I took were not just synced across mine and my wife’s iCloud account but also with my parents and her parents and her grandparents. I am constantly putting photos on thumb drives and moving them or uploading chunks the cloud or to DropBox to get them from one place to another. There are solutions in the market but I want the manual processes removed and key communal data to simply stay in sync with those for whom it is relevant.

The bottom line is personal clouds are great but if they only work for me personally than they are useless at a communal level. People don’t use technology in a vacuum and we need hardware and software manufactures to not only solve problems for the personal computing ecosystem but for the family computing ecosystem as well.

My Experience With The OS X Mountain Lion Developer Preview

Apple is on pace to bring a new OS X release on an annual cadence. They released today the first bit of information as a developer preview for their latest OS X release called Mountain Lion.

The big story around Mountain Lion is iCloud. Apple, with Mountain Lion, has taken another step in tightly integrating iCloud into OS X the same way iCloud is tightly integrated into iOS 5. This is key because when OS X Lion came out last year iCloud was not yet released. iCloud is becoming the glue which ties all your Apple products together and with Mountain Lion that glue is coming to OS X.

The other key takeaway beyond iCloud is that OS X Mountain Lion brings many of the primary apps and iOS 5 experiences to the Mac platform. Things like Notifications, Notes, Reminders, iMessages, Game Center, Twitter and other quick share features, along with many more. Although this is an early developer preview, I am guessing there are a few surprises with Mountain Lion up Apple’s sleeve.

I have had the privilege of using an early beta release of the developer preview of Mountain Lion for a little while now and I want to share my experience with this latest release. Keeping in mind the software is still in beta yet it is a VERY solid Beta.

There are three key experiences I want to share along with one final point that should not be missed about OS X Mountain Lion and China.

I do a lot of texting. Other than email, texting is one of my primary forms of communications with a range of people in both my work and personal life. Having iMessage on my Mac has been a profound experience.

Perhaps this is because it feels as if it is the union of two things near and dear to me, Instant messaging and texting. From about 1998 to 2004 I used AOL Instant Messenger heavily. iMessage is like the union of texting and AIM and it is bliss for those deeply committed to the Apple ecosystem.

When someone texts me, the ability to quickly respond without having to pick up my iPhone or iPad is terrific. Primarily because when I am on my Mac I am generally writing a column or an in-depth analysis for a client. Responding to a message with iMessage on the Mac allows me to quickly respond and get back to what I was working on without fundamentally disrupting my work flow. This is probably the case because I am a part of the multi-tasking ADD generation and this was something I used to do with AIM as a part of my work flow. Also having all my message threads in sync across my Mac, iPhone, and iPad is tremendous as well. Basically I can pick up whatever device is most convenient at the moment to respond with and my conversation threads are always in sync.

iMessages on the Mac is something I have wanted since I started using it on the iPhone. I am glad Apple agreed.

Next up is how useful notifications on OS X truly is. Notifications were one of the features I was most excited about with iOS 5. Mostly because notifications are one of my favorite features with Android, but I don’t use an Android device as my primary phone for a variety of reasons related to personal preference. So this feature with iOS 5 was great for me as an Apple customer. Apple bringing notifications to OS X is equally exciting.

On this point, it is important to note that I have set my applications dock to hide and not stay visible all the time. Therefore having a “badge” show up on the application in the dock is not terribly useful for me. With that established, you can see why having a better notification for important things like email has always been a desire for me. In fact I have purchased at least three different third-party plug-ins for Mac Mail in order to notify me of email and many of them were more hassle than valuable.

While writing a column, analysis, creating a presentation, etc, being notified of new email from key contacts, as simple as it sounds, has been a great experience–and it works even while in full screen app mode.

AirPlay mirroring in iOS 5 was more valuable of a feature to me than I originally thought it would be–especially with the iPad. It turns out that I use AirPlay Mirroring from my iPad to my TV quite a bit. Whether it is playing a YouTube video, sharing photos from my iPad, playing a game, or sharing a website, I love moving content from my iPad to my TV. I wrote a column about that experience on how my iPad is taking over my TV.

Bringing this feature to the Mac opens up many new possibilities. For example, streaming TV shows from the web. Not all TV shows are available through things like Hulu+ or other network apps. However, nearly all network shows are available as a catch up TV solution through the web browser on a notebook or desktop. AirPlay Mirroring in OS X Mountain Lion will bring the full web in all its glory to your TV wirelessly. And in HD since OS X Mountain Lion AirPlay mirroring supports streaming 720p HD as well as resolution matching of your display to the TV.

Apple products are also invading the enterprise and corporate accounts in large numbers and this includes Mac products as well. I will bet that AirPlay Mirroring within OS X Mountain Lion is going to be a very handy feature for many conference rooms and work place settings.

Even creating Mac OS X apps that work in conjunction with your TV to give you a “two-screen” experience, similar to apps that do this on iOS, is exciting un-explored territory.

Don’t Miss Mountain Lions Impact to China

Lastly, I want to point out something that I think is very important. Because Apple so tightly controls not only the hardware they sell around the world but also the software, they are able to make very specific regional solutions as a part of their operating system. They have done just that by tightly integrating some incredibly useful features for the Chinese market.

A few key features for China:

  • Better suggestions: As you type, Mountain Lion offers more up-to-date and relevant candidates for words and phrases.
  • English and Chinese: You can now type English words in a Pinyin sentence without switching keyboards.
  • Better handwriting: Mountain Lion more than doubles the number of Chinese characters supported in handwriting recognition.
  • Autocorrection: If you enter Pinyin incorrectly, Mountain Lion suggests a likely candidate for the word you meant to type.
  • Fuzzy Pinyin: Mountain Lion adds support for Fuzzy Pinyin, which makes text input easier for users who type Pinyin with regional pronunciations.

Also full support for many popular services in China like Baidu search in Safari, Sina weibo, Youku, Tudou, is integrated right into Mountain Lion.

What is important to point out is that all of these specific features for the Chinese market will increasingly become a key differentiator for the Mac in that market. This also sends two messages. The first that Apple is very serious and committed to China. The second is that Apple is telling Chinese customers that they are interested in innovating uniquely for them.

Related: Don’t Miss OS X Mountain Lion’s Potential in China

Mountain Lion proves that Apple is still innovating specifically for the Mac. Yes the growth in iPhone, iPad and iOS is astonishing but the Mac remains an important part of the Apple ecosystem.

From what I have seen with the Mountain Lion developer preview, I see a myriad of things for Mac app developers to be excited about and many features consumers will find valuable.

Apple iCloud Shortcomings Provide a Competitive Opportunity

Apple iCloud launched two months ago to huge fanfare and punditry. It’s no surprise given the huge future opportunity with the cloud. Also, it was a big deal for Apple given their past online endeavors had been so unsuccessful that even Steve Jobs issued out one of the few apologies Apple had ever made. In that case, it was about MobileMe. Two months in, Apple has done an admirable job, but it’s clear if they don’t plug some holes, competition has the ability to swoop and and deliver a much more user centric, comprehensive solution.

iCloud Problem #1: Lack of video sync
Unlike photos with Photostream, iCloud will not sync videos taken off of an iPhone and sync to a consumer’s iPad, PC, Mac, or Apple TV. So that last minute winning basketball score…. you are out of luck. Lose the video? Oops… With advanced and mainstreamers users already embracing video this is a huge hole that will be be filled by someone. Bandwidth isn’t an excuse because there’s certainly enough of that over WiFi at home or the business. This is a hole that Google could easily fill in that they get video via YouTube. And with Apple owning both ends of the pipeline, they could even develop a proprietary CODEC that shrinks and expands the files minimizing bandwidth even over WiFi. Microsoft certainly has the capability given they own the PC market and with Live Mesh could provide an solution that never touches an external server.

iCloud Problem #2: Fractured productivity pipeline
Unlike photos, iCloud requires significant user intervention to sync documents, presentations, and spreadsheets between iOS devices and PCs/Macs. If a user creates a document on an iPad and wants to pull it into Pages for Mac, the user is required to download from iCloud.com. After changes are made on the Mac, the user needs to drop it back into iCloud.com. Seems like syncing documents folder on the Mac and PC would have been a whole lot easier. Again, an opportunity for Google Docs and Office 365 from Microsoft.

iCloud Problem #3: Lack of on-line photos
Unlike Google Picasaweb and Yahoo Flickr, iCloud provides no way to go online and view, download, and share pictures from a web browser. This is a very basic feature that is surprising in its absence. Microsoft Live Mesh and Windows Live service can easily fill in this gap.

iCloud Problem #4: PDFs are books, not documents
For most consumers, PDFs are intended to be files intended to be uneditable documents. They are so pervasive that even global governments use them as standard document formats. How does iCloud treat them? As books, of course. In Apples war with Adobe they have crossed the line and have sacrificed the consumer in the process. This is easily addressed by Google and Microsoft.

Filling the Gap
Many companies can fill the gap opened by the lack of iCloud comprehensiveness, timing, and completeness. They fall into two categories; niche plays and comprehensiveness plays.

From a comprehensive standpoint, there are three options, Google, Microsoft and an OEM. Google and Microsoft solutions are straightforward, but the OEM play is a bit complex. Google and Microsoft can build cross platform smartphone, tablet and desktop apps that keep everything in sync. Google already has many desktop apps, with Picasa 3 already filling the comprehensive photo sync role to Picasa Web. Microsoft already has a comprehensive solution with LiveMesh and Office 365 but need to provide more robust smartphone and tablet integration. OEMs like HP, Sony and Dell could either build their own infrastructure or partner with companies like Box, Dropbox, or Sugarsync to fulfill that need. They could also partner with Microsoft and Google as well, but sacrifice some level of integration and control.

The niche players are in the market today, companies like Sugarsync, Box, Dropbox and even Evernote. Essentially, a consumer looking for a specific, non-integrated solution can look to these players today to provide cloud sync. While they aren’t always integrated into an end to end pipeline into the apps, they provide a solution today, and maybe even tomorrow who don’t want to get locked into a solution. Most sophisticated and experienced users will actually prefer this approach as they understand the complexity and see the downside to being locked into an app environment. Probably many reading this blog in fact.

Microsoft, Google, and Independents Fill the Gap
I believe Apple is rolling out online, integrated services as fast as it can, prioritizing what it believes consumers will want first. Services hasn’t been Apple’s core competency, as Ping and MobileMe highlight this. It’s on a slow pace which will let Microsoft and Google edge into a market leading position, regardless of Apple’s prowess in phones and tablets. Microsoft will leverage their ~95% share in PCs and Google will leverage their market share advantage in smartphones and search. The big question is, can Apple accelerate into an area rife with competition in an area which isn’t it’s core competency?

How iCloud is Like Amazon’s WhisperSync

One of the interesting features I am picking up on iCloud is not the usual data syncing but how some apps are integrating iCloud. A good example of this is with games that are built to support iCloud.

Games or apps in general that are built or updated to support iCloud bring with them the ability to know where the consumers last usage point was and let them pick up where they left off on other devices.

This is a feature similar to Amazon’s WhisperSync with e-books, also a feature built into iBooks now, that lets you pick up where you left off of any book on whichever device you choose.

Clearly there is a great deal of value to the consumer to be able to use the same app on multiple devices and always be able to pick up where they left off. Some apps, like games for example, this is more practical for but I expect developers to find more creative ways to use iCloud app syncing in the future.

What is strategic about this for Apple is that this feature begins to become more valuable the more iOS devices you have.

If all I had was my iPhone then I would never be in a position to use the app on any device but my iPhone. Therefore, the need for apps to sync my last position isn’t all that necessary. This feature becomes more valuable, as does iCloud, the more iOS devices I own. The more possible devices I have in my personal ecosystem the more something like iCloud becomes valuable.

The game experience has been extremely useful and for the time being has encouraged me to play more games knowing I can pick up where I left off on another iOS device. This is the case in many times where as I play a game on iPhone and then when I get home I want to play the game on my iPad.

I can see value in this with music and perhaps video also. Suppose I was watching a TV show at Starbucks on my iPhone, because it was the only screen I had with me, then when I get home I want to pick it up where I left off on my iPad. I can see a great deal of value in that experience.

Given that iOS and iCloud are so new, I imagine that over time we will see these experiences get better and more comprehensive.

In many ways we are just scratching the surface with the personal cloud concept and I am excited to see where it goes.

iCloud is Awesome Yet Incomplete

After release to developers at Apple’s WWDC, the Apple iCloud is available to all consumers today with access to iOS 5 and updated iTunes.  In many ways, it is incredible that millions will have access to the consumer power of the cloud.  It’s very integrated into the experience, but then again, it’s not as complete or comprehensive when compared to the best-in-breed cloud apps and services available today.  Will that make a difference in consumer acceptance?  Let’s see.


What Makes a Great Cloud Experience?

A few applications define by example what a great cloud app or service can provide.  To a consumer, this will change over time and will also be dependent of their comfort and knowledge.   Some sites that are ahead of the cloud service game are Evernote, Amazon Kindle, and Netflix.  What makes these great examples of consumer cloud offer?   While very different in terms of usage, they share similar variables that in aggregate make them awesome:

  • Cross Platform: Windows, OSX, iOS, Android and the web.  Kindle and Netlix are even available on special-purpose devices like the Kindle and Roku.  Consumers can buy into the service and not worry about the platform going away.
  • Continuous Computing: Continuous computing means a few different things. On content consumption, the next device picks up exactly where the last device left off. On Netflix, if I am halfway through a movie on my iPad I can pickup at the same spot on my Roku. When I pick up another Kindle device, it asks me whether I want to go to the latest bookmark.
  • Sync: While a step back from continuous computing, it does assure that the same files are on the same system. On Evernote, every change I make is in synch when I open up the next device.
  • Continuous Improvement: Monthly and even weekly updates to add features and functionality.
  • Compatible and Data Integrity: Even with all these updates, the data keeps its integrity.  If the service has a question about which version is the master, it asks me.  Evernote will tell me that I have a duplicate entry and lets me pick the version or content I want.

iCloud: Cross Platform

As we all know, Apple by design works in its own “walled garden” but that doesn’t mean its completely closed off.  You cannot get iCloud-enabled apps like Pages, Numbers, Keynote or iBooks for Windows or Android.   Even worse, you cannot get to your photos and PhotoStream on any mobile device other than iOS.  To be fair, users can get access to Photo Stream on a Windows PC , but users should at least be allowed access to their own photos over the web if they want. Users can access iWork compatible documents on all “modern” browsers by going to iCloud.com and downloading files.  Windows users then need to drag and drop the updated file inside the web-based iCloud.com to update the file. – Grade D

iCloud: Sync

iCloud will automatically  “sync” photos (Photo Stream), purchased music and TV shows (iTunes), apps, letters (Pages), spreadsheets (Numbers), and presentations (Keynote), Reading Lists and Bookmarks (Safari), reminders (Reminders), calendar (Calendar), email (Mail), notes (Notes), and contacts (Contacts).

There are some major exceptions.  iWork documents will not auto sync with the Windows “Documents” folder, as I think users would expect.  Sugarsync and Drobbox will automatically sync documents with Windows and any other file type with Windows.  Also, personal videos and commercial movies do not sync on any iCloud platform which I don’t fully understand.  Maybe its a concern with storage on iOS devices or storage and throughput  in the iCloud.  – Grade B

iCloud: Continuous Computing

Within iOS phones and tablets, users can start right where they left off for TV shows (Videos) , games (Games Center) and book bookmarks (iBooks).  These are real awesome capabilities especially for those where it’s hard to know where you left off.

imageiCloud will not save the “state” for playing music (Music), playing movies (Videos), or web pages (Safari).  Add the PC and Mac into the continuous computing arena and iCloud experience starts to degrade for most all use cases for a variety of reasons.  iOS games don’t run or sync on a Mac or PC and on Windows  platforms iWork isn’t available.  Consumers over time will expect continuous computing on every usage model on every platform, the way Evernote does it today.   Grade C

iCloud: Continuous Improvement

I cannot definitively answer this question as it will emerge over time, but I must extrapolate from what I have seen from previous drops of Apple software. Apple software app drops, with iOS in particular, have been consistent, very often, and very solid code. – Grade A

iCloud: Compatible and Data Integrity

So far so good, even on difficult to manage applications like word processing, spreadsheets, and presentations.  I make a one line change to a document without going back to “Documents” inside iOS and web Pages, the one line changed on every other system. – Grade A

What, not Straight A’s and Does it Matter?

Apple has never needed to achieve a 4.0 in everything to be successful.  Getting all A’s in the core segment of users and building useful solutions that just work has been the Apple hallmark.  The first iPhone proved this and the iPhone 4s will prove this again as everyone else offers 4G but Apple doesn’t have to. A good fallback to Continuous Computing in good Sync, and I believe that as long as Apple still allows other services with better cloud capabilities into their walled garden, it won’t be an issue now. Over time, I believe Apple will fill in the gaps in iCloud and that have fully thought through where they could add the most value and that’s what they hit first.  Your move, Google, Amazon and Microsoft.

Apple’s iCloud Will Be Great for Families

As the dust has settled from Apple’s WWDC Keynote and iCloud announcement, I have taken some time to reflect on the full implications of iCloud. One of the conculsions I have reached is that there is not just a great deal of value for individual consumers but also for families.

iCloud will be the glue that ties all of a consumers Apple products together. What’s more is that it will be the glue that will tie all of a families Apple products together.
Continue reading Apple’s iCloud Will Be Great for Families