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.