iCloud Is Bloated

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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.

10 replies
  1. swedish chef says:

    Hi Kirk. Just a wee correction: in my comment I didn’t say ‘iCloud just works’. I said ‘It may not be the way users think of it, but Apple sees iCloud as a premium service that “just works”, rather than simply another place to dump files.’ So although I agree with much of what you say about iCloud, and so do a lot of other users, I think Apple sees it differently in terms of their vision for iCloud.

    • Kirk McElhearn says:

      Point taken. But it is supposed to “just work,” and it doesn’t, at least for many users. But I agree with you: Apple doesn’t want it to be a fiddly service, where you have access to files, just as they don’t want you to have access to files on iOS devices. Unfortunately, this is part of what causes problems. And you still don’t have the equivalent of the iDisk.

    • nevermark says:

      Wow, great logic there. I haven’t ever got malaria so I guess that must no longer be a problem for anyone.

      • Onemorething says:

        Don’t be an ass, the poster expressed what their personal experience is with the service.

        I haven’t had an issue either, so you may have malaria since it seems your talking incoherently.

        Have a nice day.

  2. John says:

    You sold me I’m going back to Microsoft after 13 years of using Apple products. Seems like Microsoft has it together with the Zune and Surface or maybe I’ll try Android but what manufacture and guess I’ll pay for a service that Apple is offering for FREE.

  3. TS says:

    I continue to have problems with Mail, bookmarks and notes; especially with duplicate notes. It usually occurs when I go from my home network to cellular, especially if I start a note on a Mac and edit it later on an iOS device. This seemed to make duplicates most of the time. Just a few days ago, it happened while on the same network and from iPad to iPhone. It has always been inconsisten, but now that it is happening between iOS devices, is worse, not better. Apple should be embarrassed by its abysmal showing in the sync services arena, historically and currently.

  4. Jack Zahran says:

    No doubt iCloud needs a complete rethink. Too many different disjointed Apps, a common interface for related data and functions with a single “news” stream for mail, messages, activities tying in documents from the other apps would give it significant functional use.

  5. Patrick M McMaster says:

    Apple has never had the right vision for the “Cloud”. It is an after thought tacked on because Apple is expected to provide these services so the products they sell will just work. I wish this were some new phenomena, but it is not. Right now the best cloud designers and innovators work at Microsoft, Amazon, Google and the various cloud start ups.

    If you remember back to Steve’s famous complaint about iCloud’s predicessor, It ran something like: Can anyone here tell me what MobileMe is supposed to do? No one in the crowd of over 100 employees answered, but I get the idea that if they had and had succeeded in impressing Steve, he would have delegated the whole mess to them right there. I can’t recall Steve Jobs admitting that he didn’t know how an Apple product was supposed to work before that occasion.

    The upshot of that meeting was the death of MobileMe and the iCloud was born. The head of MobileMe was fired and someone else was given control of iCloud. I don’t know the names of either of those people either and I probably know 10 other executives who have either testified in a trial or spoke at a keynote that are part of Apple’s senior staff. Do you see the pattern here? Steve Jobs didn’t understand the cloud, and no one still at Apple in upper management does either. This is a serious structural flaw in Apple’s business team that needs correcting.

    I took the time while I was writing this to see Apple’s web page on the top leadership, and the name at the top with responsibility is Eddie Cue. I do believe he is very important to Apple and deeply involved in the iCloud. I do not believe he is an engineer or someone who daily writes code. He was responsible for negotiating much of iBooks and iTunes which means he is a business person first and technical person second.

    If Tim is reading this he needs to add this to his huge to do list for this years top 100 people meeting: Apple needs someone at the very top who thinks, eats and breaths servers and cloud based services. Microsoft now has a CEO who understands this business and the need to succeed in these services is becoming more critical to Apples products not less. Other competitors like Amazon and Google already have core competency in these areas. It is not enough to simply use the people you have to build a good team. You need to have the best people in each area so the struggle for solutions is driven by the best minds available.
    Steve would say you need A-Team people to get the best out of your work group.

    The other less appealing alternative is to partner more closely with someone like Yahoo to improve all of this area. If I did that, I would want some seats on the board at Yahoo and some 20% of their stock in return for the huge pile of cash that would be required to make it happen. I wouldn’t quibble over the price, I would want a long term commitment and proof of ability to produce. If the rumors that Apple and Yahoo are already talking are true than you can see there is more at stake than just mobile search.

    One of my favorite things about Apple is their level of focus on what they do best. Taking on the best companies in the world in an area where you are not naturally competent is not necessarily a good idea. Being the top guy at Apple means you are responsible for charting the course forward. Any world class company in technology who is skating to where the puck will be needs a major stakeholder who understands the Cloud’s infrastructure and weaknesses.


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