Why iCloud is a Real Winner

Apple is set to debut iCloud sometime over the next couple months, their fourth try at cloud-based services after iTools, .Mac and MobileMe. iCloud will feature some pretty major changes to Apple’s software lineup, mainly centring around the syncing of data between devices and iCloud.com. Although the lineup of iCloud services is radically different from MobileMe, the premise is the same: “Exchange, for the rest of us”.

However, I put forward that iCloud is, in fact, a completely different use of the cloud. This isn’t bad, and may actually be a more preferential one for the reasons I’m about to set forward. Change isn’t always bad, and in the realm of cloud data, Apple is pushing an interesting new precedent.

How Does iCloud Work

iCloud does not work by storing things in the cloud in the convential manner. Instead, iCloud is all about syncing and keeping data up-to-date across devices, being more of a middle-man than a storage service. If, for example, you recieve a new email, it’s pushed and kept in sync between all of your iCloud devices, while if you buy an app, it’s downloaded to all your compatible devices.

The difference is that iCloud is not a web-based service where your data is available online via web-based interface. Rather, it’s about syncing your local storage across multiple devices so you can access your data natively, rather than in a browser. Personally, I prefer this method since it means I retain the benefits of the cloud (and get a few more), whilst relying on native apps to display my data.

iCloud in action syncing iWork documents

iCloud Isn’t Just About Apple

I just wanted to make it clear that iCloud is not the first to do this, nor will it be the last.

I use Wunderlist on a regular basis on my Mac, my iPhone, my iPad and the web to keep article ideas in sync, so, wherever I am, I know what i’ve got to do. Wunderlist has a cloud-based sync element here that works in the same way as iCloud. It does also have a beautiful web app that lets you access your data from your browser, just like iCloud will have some rather advanced web apps as well.

Many other apps have their own third-party syncing built-in, but these require the developer to build the infrastructure to make it work. Luckily, just as iCloud’s Mail, Contacts, and Calendar services are providing individuals with a business-like, Exchange-style environment, iCloud also provides indie developers with tools normally reserved for larger-budget organisations.

The concept is nothing new, but iCloud will hopefully push this forward to make syncing services available to everyone. So, in a couple of months time, your to-do list might be pushed out by iCloud, and you’ll appreciate the convenience.

Syncing > Storage

At the moment, I don’t reckon it’s possible to live solely in the cloud, unless you are in a niche market. The Chromebook works very well in an education market (should a school decide to get rid of the technical feature bloat of Windows), but not many people could survive purely using web apps. If your internet goes down or the web apps suffer an outage, your productivity rate will be hit severely.

Apple doesn't stream your music in iCloud, they just keep everything synced onto your local storage.

I like to keep my devices in sync, and have done so for through Google for some time. Yet, I’ve experienced a ton of problems with Google Docs. It’s not always been the best choice for me, especially if it’s important work I’m in the process of completing. Luckily, a couple of months back I started using Dropbox and love it. Having Dropbox installed on all my devices, and having my work located in the associated folder, means that when I edit a document on, say, my Mac Mini, my MacBook Air has the exact same document within seconds.

Dropbox works very well with third-party apps, too. When writing tutorials for WebDesignTuts+, I had to do so in HTML and used the Textastic app on my iPad. I could write on there and, with a few taps, have it instantly available on my Mac. If I didn’t have an internet connection, I could continue work because the file was available locally on all my devices.

iCloud basically does the same thing, but it’s deeply integrated into the app itself so everything is done even more seamlessly. Plus, with a standard API to work with, it should be much simpler for developers to add syncing to their apps without having to work to get Dropbox or a custom solution working. Suddenly, more of our apps may became cloud-aware than we would have ever imagined before.

Final Thoughts

iCloud contains a bunch of features, but the most interesting part is the core syncing features that can make more of our apps cloud ready than ever before. Although some apps like Mail, Contacts and Calendar have a web-based front-end (and most third-party ones will too), your main experience will be within the native apps. As I’ve said, this is much better because we maintain all the benefits of keeping our devices in sync, but don’t always need that great connection. iCloud is a winner not only because it’s bringing all these advantages to a ton of the markets Apple covers, but also introducing these tools to third-parties and, more notably, indie developers.

The only downside I see is that we still have to pay for storage, and, for an iPhone or iPad, just an extra 16GB can cost you over £100 ($160), meaning Apple’s opportunity for an entirely iCloud-powered phone or tablet has vanished. Yet, when we consider the price of a service that did require Apple to have a ton of storage, we can let them off.

I, for one, am very excited to see what October brings to the Apple product stool.


Responses

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  • Yeesh, it’s like you only read Apple’s website about iCloud and not the details it conceals. By focusing on devices only (and Apple devices for that matter), iCloud has severe limitations, which people take for granted with cloud-computing. Read more here http://redwan.posterous.com/56665875

    • Can you explain a realistic scenario where it is limiting because it’s not on the web? I can understand that an iPhone or iPad is limited by it’s storage capabilities but, as I see, people don’t use these devices as the main device to work on, they are generally used for their purpose which is whilst on the move, away from home or away from the office where you generally don’t need all your content, at least I never have.

      Losing a device does mean there is a data protection issue but Apple does have security options on all devices, including the Find My iPhone app that you can use to remotely wipe your device.

      Having local files means you have greater access to your files when accessing the web just isn’t possible – planes, trains, remote areas, hotels.

      The article talks about the fact syncing is only available with WiFi, which is a limitation, but to access web content you really need WiFi, yes you can use 3G or a wired connection on laptops but a wired connection is not always available and 3G has it’sown limitations in terms of speed and availability.

      iCloud does focus on apple devices and I can see this as a realistic limitation. I use a mac at home with iPhone and iPad but have a PC laptop for work. I know others who are in similar situations but to be honest when I’m at work I don’t listen to music, read books, download apps or require access to my personal files over and above what I could get from my iPhone during work hours. If my work changed to a Mac environment and then started using iCloud then I’d have access and the requirement for web access would again be nullified.

      I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.

  • I’ve got to disagree. Putting all my eggs in Apple’s basket means that everything runs much more seamlessly. Using a combination of Dropbox, Google and Apple’s stuff is just messy on my devices right now.

    “However, I put forward that iCloud is, in fact, a completely different use of the cloud. This isn’t bad, and may actually be a more preferential one for the reasons I’m about to set forward. ”

    Also, your note about loosing an Apple device is completely opposed by iCloud’s functionality. You lose your device, you use iCloud to wipe or lock it.

    You refer to iCloud as cloud computing, which is the wrong category. iCloud is a cloud service to facilitate syncing. You highlight the 1000 photos limit, but iCloud is not a storage lot in the cloud. It’s meant to be the middleman in syncing your data between your devices. I think 1000 photos is highly generous and the 5GB for other stuff is just a starting point.

    • True, iCloud is not cloud-computing. It should be called iSync.

      Anyways, one major problem that still arises (as I pointed out) is limitations by device storage levels. It’s impossible to have everything synced on all devices because device storage, especially on iPads and iPhones are minuscule.

      • Tough to say, actually. They’re making some really nice Mail, Calendar, and Contacts web apps for iCloud, and who knows what else they might have up their sleeve. I’m hoping there’s a way for Devs to build iCloud integration into other web apps, so you could sync Desktop Web Apps Mobile/Tablet seamlessly. It should be interesting to say the least!

  • Only Apple can get away with releasing a product (physical or virtual) that does less than what is already possible with another product, and have it hailed as revolutionary!

    For people stuck in the Apple world, I’m sure it’s a great service and they’ll love it. But for those such as I who have no interest in going down that path, the freedom, flexibility, and price of alternative services will be a hard sell for Apple to make.

    • Care to offer names and reviews of these products you refer too?

      • As mentioned in the original article, DropBox handles syncing over many devices very well. Many apps also have DropBox as an option to store their data (like 1Password and stuf). DropBox also seems to have a more attractive (meaning cheaper) pricing structure.

        I’m already disappointed with Apple’s MobileMe service and only subscribe to it in order to keep my app data synced (those apps that don’t yet offer DropBox support). And from the sounds of it iCloud’s “features” will finally push me to cancelling my annual subscription (not sure how they will be handling current MobileMe subscribers anyway) and looking for other data syncing methods …