Tuesday, June 14, 2011

iOS 5 and iCloud

Lukas Mathis:

There still doesn’t seem to be a workable way of managing more than a few documents, and it’s still hard (or sometimes impossible) to move files from one app to another. But at least we won’t have to use iTunes to copy files to and from iOS devices anymore.

iCloud seems to do a good job of handling the most common case, and it’s certainly interesting from a developer perspective, but the scope is surprisingly limited. From the perspective of a user like me, OS-level support for Dropbox would have been preferable. I want to see the same documents in different apps and in a folder in the Mac Finder.

Also, we’ve heard a lot about the North Carolina data center, singular. The recent Amazon outage got a lot of press, and yet Amazon seems to be operating on an entirely different plane from Apple for availability and redundancy.

For some reason, Apple doesn’t want to use the word «synchronize». Gruber thinks it’s because there’s only one official data storage, the one in the cloud: «As Jobs put it on stage, iCloud’s data is “the truth”. This means no conflicts or merging.» But I don’t understand how having cloud data avoids conflicts.

This is the other elephant in the room. Calendars and contacts can sync and merge, but those are built-in apps that already had their own special support in Apple’s cloud. Apple did have a (troubled but improving) cloud syncing API in Sync Services and MobileMe, but to my knowledge there has been no official statement about whether this (or even iDisk) has a future.

iWeb, apparently, does not, and it’s not clear what will happen to MobileMe Galleries. Their predecessor, .Mac Homepage, has already been shut down. With a track record like this, I can’t see recommending an Apple service for hosting photos or Web content.

Also, double-tapping the home screen will allow you to jump directly into the camera app, similar to WP7.

It was probably one of the easiest features to implement, but my guess is that this and the volume shutter button (first seen in Camera+) will be my favorite improvements in iOS 5.

I still think webOS does the best job with its multitasking UI, and I wish Apple would just do multitasking in iOS the same way.

The iOS task switcher is unpredictable enough that I find myself going to the home screen rather than double-tapping the Home button. Since the switcher uses app icons rather than thumbnails, it doesn’t feel like a switcher, anyway—more like a DragThing dock for launching recent apps.

Update (2011-06-14): InfiniteApple says that iCloud is partially built atop Windows Azure and Amazon Cloud Services, which seems like a good idea to me.

Update (2011-06-24): Apple has posted some more information: no iDisk, no iWeb publishing, no photo gallery, and no keychain/Sync Services syncing.

Update (2011-09-05): The Register has more on iCloud, Azure, and Amazon AWS.

7 Comments RSS · Twitter

Let me just point out that there's a difference whether iWeb lives on and whether MobileMe's iWeb hosting lives on in iCloud. That said, maybe iWeb isn't their highest priority these days either, but it's the antithesis of iDVD, which has been idle for longer.

@Jesper I suppose I look at it the other way. iDVD still works, the DVDs I burned with it still work, and I can make more if needed. A Web site is more likely to need updating, and the integrated hosting is possibly the most important feature for the typical iWeb customer, so it’s a much bigger deal if it goes away.

Joshua Ochs

I believe that in a Q&A session Apple said it has three data centers - it's just that everyone has been focusing on NC. Still nothing like Amazon's scale, but also not a single point of failure (well, if set up properly).

iCloud certainly synchronizes - there's no other way to address this type of problem. If Apple doesn't want to call it that, it's purely marketing. Given the percentage of time that devices will be online between WiFi and 3G, I imagine there will be far fewer conflicts to deal with than in the old "sync every few days if you're lucky" mode. They'll still happen, but rarely enough that you shouldn't need to worry about it.

Agreed that a Dropbox-like system would work much better for iCloud - but I wouldn't want a core system service like that to actually be dependent on an external entity like Dropbox.

@Joshua Thanks for that info on the data centers. I don’t want to say too much given the NDA, but the keynote certainly gives the impression that Apple is avoiding the word “synchronize” because they are punting on true syncing (except for the built-in MobileMe data types). The document in the cloud is the truth, and you can either take it or replace it.

Joel Bernstein

"I want to see the same documents in different apps and in a folder in the Mac Finder."

They have been pretty tight-lipped on what the Mac side of iCloud looks like, but they are saying things like:

"So you’ll be able to paint a masterpiece, create reminders, edit stock lists, and more — and have it all stay with you on all your devices, including your Mac or PC."

which seem to indicate that you will have access to these documents as an iCloud drive that shows up in the Finder.

[...] the answer is indeed “No,” that would make dropping iDisk even more of a loss of functionality. I suppose that will just send more people to [...]

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