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Five things Apple needs to improve about iCloud

I recently read somewhere that the problem Apple has in the battle of iOS against Android is that Google is improving in design faster than Apple is doing in online services . It is difficult to argue otherwise by looking at iCloud (not to mention Siri and the Maps). And yet the things it does well it does very well, noting that since it mostly works transparently to the user it is also ridiculously simple to use.

But there are also a lot of things that it does wrong, that need to change and that really don’t make sense when you consider that iCloud was born under Steve Jobs’ personal promise to do right everything they did wrong with Mobile Me (which in turn replaced .Mac). Apple, you need to improve this…

1. Speed and reliability

Five things Apple needs to improve about iCloud
Five things Apple needs to improve about iCloud

iCloud needs to be faster and more reliable, period. Everyone’s experience may be different but mine in particular is not like shooting rockets. Sometimes I modify a contact on one device and the change never seems to be reflected on another; I take a photo with my iPhone and even when I’m connected to my Wi-Fi network I never know for sure when it will appear among the streaming photos on iPhoto’11; I try to see on the iPad a tab that I have open on the iMac and all I find are the ones I had open hours ago, and let’s not talk about favorites, let’s just leave it at that. The only Apple application that seems to work as it should is the Calendar, something is something.

The web version of iCloud is not free and could use a speed boost. When Google launched Gmail, the key to its success was not how pretty it was (it was actually quite ugly) but that it was the fastest. When we access iCloud and try to take a look at our mail the first thing we see is a spinner on the icon, then the interface opens with another spinner in the middle and finally another one in the mail column.

2. Storage

5 GB should be enough, right? And they are… until they’re not. Only in backups I currently consume 4.1 GB of those 5 GB for free ; 2.1 GB for the iPad and 2 GB for the iPhone. If you had, say, an iPod touch or an iPad mini you would probably start receiving error messages like the one above, indicating that it is not possible to make the backup due to lack of space.

The solution is simple of course. 16 euros a year for another 10 GB doesn’t seem like much and if we need it, we can get up to 55 GB for 80 euros a year, but let’s be clear, it’s a double scam . First of all, iCloud prices have fallen quite far off the market after Dropbox improved their plans and doubled the storage space. Secondly, don’t you think the free 5GB should be extended with every new device we buy? I have an iMac, a MacBook Air, an iPhone, and an iPad associated with my iCloud account, and despite the investment, not only do I get more, but I get less by all sharing the same space.

3. iCloud.com

Although my experience with the cloud documents from Mountain Lion and iOS 6 is quite satisfactory, the web part of the equation is a disaster. The iCloud.com section dedicated to iWork needs to at least catch up by assimilating the lost functionality of iWork.com, i.e. viewing documents and collaborating online, but also editing these as we can do in competing services such as Google Docs.

Another improvement I should have had since day 1 is the version support . Currently if we upload a document to iCloud and download it from the web (one of the few things we can do right now from the web) we will find that the previous versions with the changes we have been doing (one of the new ones from Lion and Mountain Lion) have been improved. Great!

Finally, there are two “apps” that are crying out for their own icon on the main screen of iCloud.com. I’m referring of course to the shared streaming photos introduced in iOS 6 with which you can view our streaming photos (and video while you’re at it), manage the shared groups and comment on the photos. And Maps , a necessary web version of the one I talked about before.

4. Synchronization

Setting up a new device, whether it’s an iPhone or a Mac, by introducing our iCloud account to download contacts, calendars, notes and reminders is a delight, but what about the rest? Mail is automatically set up with our iCloud account, but not with the other accounts we use, so we have to add them again manually. What about the passwords ? what about the system settings ? what about the wallpaper?

Then there’s the old school wet dream (which I’m in), that Apple buys, licenses or imitates Dropbox and offers us an alternative to Finder’s integrated cloud documents for sharing and syncing our files between different computers and devices. There are tricks to doing this, but it’s not the same.

5. Flexibility with developers

Finally, the last section to be improved (although it should perhaps be the first in your priority list) is the API of iCloud open to developers and the conditions under which it is governed . In the App Store there are hundreds of applications that use iCloud to synchronize our saved games, settings and documents, but many developers have echoed that not everything is a bed of roses.

Apple only allows iCloud to be used with applications sold on the App Store and the Mac App Store, and for an application to be distributed in these stores it must be sandboxed, which is not always easy or even possible. Applications such as Yojimbo have not yet managed to solve all the problems they have encountered and despite their efforts for the moment they are still without iCloud support, something especially bloody considering that they do support Mobile Me.

Cinco cosas que Apple necesita mejorar de iOS, Mapas, Siri y Mac OS X

Worse, data synchronized by iCloud can only be used in iOS and OS X applications, which means that if you create an application like Evernote from scratch using iCloud and want to release a version for another platform like Windows or Android, or even a web version, you’ll have to start over and stop using Apple’s sync system. With our data at stake, it’s clear that Apple has to be careful about what it allows and what it doesn’t, but of course they still have to polish some edges.

In short, Apple needs to make iCloud faster, more reliable, more versatile, and more collaborative. Here Google is the master and Apple is the apprentice , an apprentice who has already repeated the course several times and who NEEDS not only to pass, but to apply himself once and for all to get a grade. We users will not settle for less.

At Apple

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