I’ve written recently about iCloud; about how it’s a black hole that swallows up your data and documents, and how Apple is stingy with storage. But when you think about it, iCloud is many different services, all wrapped into one. Perhaps there are too many. You often hear people complain that certain apps are bloated; perhaps iCloud is bloated too, and this bloat makes it hard to manage and use.
So what exactly is iCloud? Apple’s website shows the many things it does:
- Content everywhere: iCloud allows you to access purchases from Apple’s various stores – the iTunes Store, the iBooks Store, the App Store and the Mac App Store – on all your devices. You can buy items, download them on different devices, and have them automatically download to certain devices. And you can stream video content you’ve purchased – or rented – to Apple devices as well.
- iTunes Match: match your iTunes library, and access your music from iTunes, or an iOS device, anywhere. In theory.
- iCloud Photo Sharing: this is your Photo Stream. It shares photos from any of your devices to all of your other devices.
- Find My iPhone, and Find My Mac: this lets you find an Apple device, whether it’s lost or stolen, or whether you simply can’t remember where you put your iPhone.
- Find My Friends: this lets you keep track of where your friends are.
- Apps and iCloud: iCloud allows apps to store files and data, making them accessible across devices. This includes files you create with, say, Pages or Numbers, but also data that certain apps can store for you. This uses Apple’s CoreData, which has proven to be complex and unreliable.
- iWork for iCloud: this recent addition offers web-based versions of Apple’s iCloud apps, which show the same files you’ve created or edited on your Mac or iOS device.
- Safari: iCloud saves bookmarks, and even lets you access open browser windows on different devices.
- iCloud Keychain: sync your passwords and credit cards across devices.
- Mail, Calendar and Contacts: this is the heart of iCloud, and the part of the service that has been around the longest. Email is accessible on all your devices – even non-Apple devices – and on the web; contacts and calendars sync across devices.
- Backup and Storage: finally, you can back up iOS devices to iCloud, and store files there, from specific apps. This overlaps a bit with Apps and iCloud.
A reader recently posted a comment to one of my articles saying that “iCloud just works.” Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case. As I mentioned above, iCloud swallows up your data and documents, only giving access to the specific app that created them. Document syncing can be wonky, and I’ve lost files, and have heard from many readers who have had that problem too. (Have a browse of Apple’s iCloud support forums to see some of the many problems.)
I’ve found that data often doesn’t sync in a timely manner, doesn’t update regularly, and sometimes doesn’t update at all. I’ve had problems with contacts, repeatedly, and have had to zero my contacts and re-add them all again.
As for email, it’s fine when it works, which is most of the time. Oh, except the fact that iCloud deletes certain emails when it sees keywords it doesn’t like; it doesn’t tell you, whether they’re emails you’ve sent, or ones sent to you.
Safari bookmarks sync most of the time, but I have to wait a while if I want to open a web page that I’m looking at on my Mac on a different device. iCloud tabs works, but it’s slow.
iTunes Match sort of works for many users, but I get plenty of emails from users who have problems. I often get errors when updating iTunes Match, and the way it works is inscrutable. Problems with iTunes Match are legion.
Apps that sync data with iCloud often have problems. Granted, this may be partly because of the apps themselves not working correctly with iCloud, but there are enough developers with iCloud troubleshooting pages to suggest that the problem is systemic. Some developers simply gave up trying to get iCloud to work. And, don’t forget, only apps sold in Apple’s stores can even use iCloud, limiting its use. The Verge has a long article about apps and developers who have had problems with iCloud, mentioning many who simply gave up.
And regarding storage; again, 5 GB is not a lot, considering that I’ve spent, well, thousands of dollars on Apple devices. I don’t keep a lot of email on my mail servers, and my iCloud email address is not my main account. But I know people who do, and their email eats up a good share of their 5 GB. But there’s not much I can do with that storage, other than back up my iOS devices and store files created with iCloud-compatible apps. I can’t put files there to share with other users, as I used to be able to do with the iDisk (which was part of MobileMe). Yes, I use Dropbox, but if Apple wants people to integrate iCloud into their lives, a file receptacle is essential.
Apple has never been successful with online services. From iTools to .Mac, from MobileMe to iCloud, there have always been problems. Apple has constantly rebranded these services, hoping that users would forget the previous problems, but it’s still a nightmare for many users.
Perhaps Apple is trying to do too much with iCloud. Perhaps they need to scale back the service, or not lump so many things together. I don’t know what the solution is, but I’d really like iCloud to just work.