Thoughts On iCloud

Tonight I got into a rather heated debate with several of my buddies on a podcast we recorded (TechFan). The debate centered on iCloud and it's functionality, or more to the point lack of functionality or working functionality. Mark Greentree, Dennis Freitas, Jeffrey Bradbury basically took the point of view that Apple just didn't deliver on the promise of iCloud. My contention was that iCloud is a work in progress and what it does, it does well. What it doesn't do, it will probably do in the next 6 to 12 months. I can see why they were and are frustrated. The début of iCloud was met with huge demand. So much demand that Apple obviously couldn't keep up. The demand to switch to iCloud also put more pressure on Apple servers as the move required no less than 3 major downloads: iTunes 10.5, Mac OS 10.7.2 & iOS 5. Each iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch needed its own independent download of iOS too. The smallest of the downloads was iTunes, but both 10.7.2 and iOS 5 were relatively large; and due to demand took many hours to download.

Once a user had the software download, they had to install the software and then run the update on their iOS device; which required checking into Apple's over burdened servers. Ouch, that took some time. Once that was done, there was a conversion from MobileMe to iCloud that had to take place; again more pressure on Apple's servers. For many the process took hours. I was spared this pain as I had a developer account and my wife opted to wait to do her upgrade until later in the weekend. So maybe that spared me the pain and kept me from being as jaded about the rest of the experience.

iCloud brings many great services. The best and most important service is PC Free. Before iOS 5, if you bought an iPad, iPod Touch or even an iPhone YOU HAD to connect the device to a computer to activate using iTunes. That meant if you walked into an Apple Store and out with a shiny new iPad, if you had Apple turn it on and activate; you still had to do it all over again when you got home. If you didn't own a computer, then you really couldn't fully use the power of your iOS device. That all changes with iCloud. If you don't own a computer, no big deal. For many people this is a game changer and they will now buy an iPhone or an iPad.

PC Free just doesn't mean you don't need to connect to iTunes to activate; but you also no longer need to connect to your computer to since or back-up. When you plug your iOS 5 device into a power supply while on a WiFi network, your iOS 5 device will look for your computer to sync (if you have one) and will back-up all your settings, photos, home videos and app data to the cloud. That means that if your device needs to be restored, you can do so from the cloud without connecting to your computer. As a matter-of-fact, I actually upgraded to my iPhone 4S without ever connecting to my MacBook Pro. It worked without a hitch!

They also don't like PhotoStream, and think it is broken. While I have issues with PhotoStream as well; I think it's just the beginning. My friends, and many others, want to be able to delete items from the stream. I don't blame them. I do too. I just don't think it's a huge deal. I know eventually Apple will give us that ability; if they didn't plan it originally I think they will see the writing on the wall.  I also think they will also give you the ability to share your PhotoStream.

Finally they didn't like how iWork data works. Mark really wants Pages documents to be easily transferable from Mac to iOS 5 Device back to Mac. While I too want this functionality, I think it is missing because the file formats between the two version of Pages, Keynote and Numbers isn't identical. Syncing could cause loss of formatting. In time I feel confident that iCloud will be fully introduced to Lion, Snow Leopard and maybe even Leopard. MobileMe is going away, so it seems like a broader release of iCloud is very possible. More features are definitely coming and developers will start doing more with iCloud. I'm willing to bet that iCloud will be a cornerstone of the 2011 WWDC.

iCloud isn't broken. It's just still a work in progress. Should Apple of waited and debuted with more features? Maybe, but the features they début with work pretty well and will make 80% of all users very happy. Those who have never used a smart phone before (many iPhone users) are going to love iCloud and all it offers. Long time Apple fans will find aspects not to like, but they are constantly looking for Apple to change the universe with every step they make. Some changes though come in small strides, not always huge leaps like the iPhone release of 2007.

My friends are right, the launch wasn't perfect. I though give Apple credit for keeping the lid on the launch. It was one of the biggest launches in the history of consumer electronics; maybe the biggest. What they achieved is nothing less than spectacular. It's what they do with iCloud over the next several months that will truly tell the tale. If they just let it languish until WWDC, then I will be upset. I think though that we will have an update by January of 2012; if not sooner. It won't be huge, but I think it will address some concerns.

I'm already looking forward to WWDC 2012, because I'm sure we will see iCloud or Mac OS Lion take center stage; then things really get interesting.