Apple’s broken promise: Why doesn’t iCloud ‘just work’?

“iCloud, perhaps more than any Apple software product, is meant to ‘just work.’ When Apple introduced iCloud, it made clear its hopes to eradicate settings menus and file systems in favor of automation. Steve Jobs pledged to do a better job than he did on MobileMe, Apple’s notoriously horrible stab at web services a few years ago,” Ellis Hamburger reports for The Verge.

“With iCloud, changes you make to documents on your computer show up instantly on your iPhone and vice versa,’ Hamburger reports. “‘It just works,’ Jobs exclaimed when he first demoed the service in 2011. ‘Everything happens automatically,’ Jobs continued, ‘and it’s really easy to tie your apps into iCloud’s storage system.'”

Hamburger reports, “Nearly two years later, customers demand iCloud integration more than ever from third-party developers, but it’s a total mess to implement. ‘iCloud hasn’t worked out for us,’ wrote Daniel Pasco, CEO of development studio Black Pixel this past week. ‘We spent a considerable amount of time on this effort, but iCloud and Core Data syncing had issues that we simply could not resolve.’ Pocket lead developer Steve Streza piled on with a cutting tweet: ‘Remember that @blackpixel has many of the brightest people in Cocoa development. If they couldn’t get iCloud working, who can?’ … WWDC 2013 is just around the corner, and while many of iCloud’s syncing issues have been fixed, dozens of bugs remain unsquashed. So can these issues ever be solved?”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: With Scott Forstall out, Craig Federighi in, and Eddy Cue saddled unexpectedly with Maps just five months ago, rather than blasting away, we’re inclined to cut Apple a break while they get their house reordered here.

Here’s hoping that WWDC 2013 helps matters for third-party devs.

Related article:
Tim Cook takes full control of Apple: John Browett and Scott Forstall out; Jony Ive, Bob Mansfield, Eddy Cue and Craig Federighi get expanded responsibilities – October 29, 2012


  1. I use and like iCloud. But I don’t love it and I can’t give it a glowing review to those around me (like I usually do with Apple stuff ad nauseum).
    This stuff is hard! However, I expect a lot from Apple, and they certainly are not short on cash! I think they can and should do better with iCloud.

    1. I agree, too. If this author is referring specifically to developers and not end users then he should say as much.

      One thing I do wish iCloud could do is delete a message off my iPad when I delete it off my iPhone. Other than that, it works as advertised.

  2. I don’t know about that MDN? I too would like to give them a break. But it’s not like they don’t have enough employees to get the job done properly. It’s not as though they are under funded. They hired the best talent available. It’s not like iCloud is a new feature. Truth of the matter is that Apple makes the best hardware and software in the world. But they continue to do poorly with services. So let’s not make excuses where excuses wouldn’t be made for other companies. They need to do better and have for a long time with their service sector. After all, don’t they have Steve Jobs University that molds employees into superhuman leaders? A little more honesty and objectivity on your part would be appreciated MDN. You don’t seem to be bothered by the fanboy rants when you’re honest. Try again on this one.

    1. “Apple makes the best hardware and software in the world. But they continue to do poorly with services.”

      an interesting point here, and perhaps a bit of a conundrum, as all their services are, or at least should be, based upon the successful blending and implementation of that at which they otherwise obviously excel – with particular emphasis upon SOFTWARE.

      so mr. apple – lets recall steve jobs rhetorical question placed to the designers and implementers about another not so great service a number of years ago when he asked

      “what is this supposed to do?” followed by “then why the fsck doesn’t it do that?”

      things seem to be getting a bit sloppy these days …. and it is seriously goofing up my retirement plans.

      lets get things squared away – you have the talent and the resources, quit dicking around.

      1. I believe your observations are spot on. However, regarding your retirement……………. next time you are way ahead take your investment off the table. Apple doesn’t have an app for that doctor.

          1. Good for you. I learned my lesson back in 2000 when the Internet bubble burst. Bif,boom bam! Now you see it. Now you don’t. It took getting my ass kicked to learn that no stock or stocks go up forever. That there is a time to reap your rewards and get back in at a better price point. That sitting on a stock assuming that someday it will be higher is just simply foolish. That when that “someday” comes, your investment may be way, way down. And you don’t know when you may need to pull your money out! Manage your money and take your profits when appropriate. It was a costly lesson for me but unlike many here I did learn my lesson.

  3. As a user, I don’t have a problem with iCloud per se. Everything ‘just works’ for me. There are one or two niggling issues but nothing major. For example iMessage still doesn’t display messages in time stamp order and sometimes gets messages out of order.

    I use iCloud extensively across iWork, Calendar, Notes, Contacts, Mail, Reminders, iMessage, Safari bookmarks, and I don’t find it a problem syncing 99% of the time.

    1. Well then, I consider myself fortunate as well. I depend on Mac/iPhone instant updates with reminders, mail, contacts, and iCal with maps (especially iCal with maps & reminders) everyday for business and it is working great for me. Thanks Apple!

      1. PDFs in iBooks need to first be transferred ( via the transfer purchases command in iTunes) since they are considered “media”, before they will sync over multiple devices… This creates an undesirable multiple step process, which is not clearly explained to many users.

        Consequentially, unless “transfer purchases” has been performed, a user could lose all their PDF files in iBooks if they needed to restore an iOS device and forgot to , do so.

        1. Next time when you sync your iBooks library to iTunes, select all books. That will sync all of your PDFs across to iTunes which is your main repository. Then when you sync your other devices to iTunes, the PDF copies will be synced across to your other devices.

          If you don’t select all books, then you have to apply a check mark to the PDF you want synced across to your other devices.

          1. That’s another pain in the ass that needs a solution (having to check specific files) especially ifvyou have hundreds of PDFs in iBooks…

            But even when you sync all books, unless you first ‘tranfer purchases, not all PDFs will transfer…

            1. I don’t understand your complaint. If you don’t wish to have a check mark against the PDF you want transferred, then select the ‘all books’ radio button. That will simply sync your entire iBooks library from iTunes to your iOS device.

              Any new PDF additions to your iOS device will by default be synced to iTunes, whether the ‘all books’ radio button is selected or not, on first sync. Thereafter, iTunes will assume you want to sync the same PDFs across to the device from where it came.

              If you want to sync PDFs across to your other iOS devices, select the ‘all books’ radio button or put a check mark to the PDF you want synced. Couldn’t by simpler.

            2. You’re wrong (this is verified by Apple)…

              Practically, if you select by checkmark the PDF files you want synced they will sync, however they need to first be transferred to your purchases library by ‘transferring purchases’ from the file menu in iTunes. Unless you do this, un-transferred files will not backup or sync.

              The problem with checking all files is that they have to be checked one at a time in iTunes.

  4. The basic problem between MobileMe and iCloud was the lack of understanding about how each service was supposed to work.

    MobileMe presumed that each device was its own master backup: this led to unnecessary duplications, and sometimes the web account had to be deleted to fix things.

    With iCloud, the web account is the master backup account, and all devices are synced to it. This will lead to items being deleted from all devices or some devices, depending what is added or being subtracted. To add to this confusion, some people assume that it works like Dropbox: you can access your backup from the web to extract or copy individual items. It doesn’t work that way.

    Apple’s technotes don’t clearly explain these distinctions either, so implementing their recommendations for Best Practices is not clearly understood.

    Some dialog from Apple clearly outlining how it is set up to work would go a long way until the bugs are worked out.

    P.S. Syncing data is not just Apple’s bugaboo, it is everyone else’s. Microsoft’s ActiveSync suffers from similar issues, for example.

    1. Well, that’s a fundamental flaw. Why should Apple presume what file the user wants to be the master? Perhaps if Apple designed a service that allowed the user to control this, it wouldn’t have so many problems. As it is, iCloud fails completely for any collaborative work with multiple concurrent editing to a single document, and it is totally unusable for any organization that shares files cross-platform.

      If all one does is listen to pre-recorded music or send text messages, then iCloud might be enough for you. It certainly is not secure or usable enough for any company to rely on. The master for most businesses — if they are wise — must always reside on its own secured servers.

  5. Many of us use iCloud for its behind-the-scenes synchronizing of iOS and Mac OS X devices. For the most part, that works well for me. There are occasional hiccups with reminders not syncing across devices. When it comes to managing files (e.g. Keynote Presentations) across multiple devices it’s a different story.

    If I create a keynote on my desktop or laptop, it will allow me to save it to the cloud quite easily. But if the file already exists, it’s cumbersome getting it into iCloud. Using the web browser for uploading a file to iCloud is ridiculous. One has to remember to put it in the right area. Try just dropping a Pages or Word file in iCloud without making sure to choose the Pages tab first, you get error messages.

    So, I like iCloud for syncing calendars etc. But for file sharing, I stick to dropbox.

    1. Your problem, I think, is entirely due to you not upgrading to Mountain Lion on your desktop. If you were running a copy of Mountain Lion, iWork (Pages, Numbers, Keynote) will ask if you want to save to the cloud or to your local drive. This is all done within the save dialog box itself without needing to drop files off into the web interface. That’s assuming you’re running Mountain Lion and have updated iWork for OS X to the latest version.

      In the desktop iWork save dialog box if you have previously created folders and wish to save to a particular folder, the save function will allow you to specify the folder you wish to save to. Again, this is all done within the save dialog box itself without needing to resort to the web interface.

      And if you retrieve or open the file in your iPad, iPhone or iPod touch, the file that you saved to that particular folder will there ready for you to use.

      1. Perhaps I didn’t explain myself well. All my desktops/laptops have been upgraded to Mountain Lion. What I am referring to is that if I have an existing file, either an iWork file or a MS Office file, the only way to get the iWork file into iCloud is to either open the file and save it to iCloud or drag and drop it into iCloud using the web interface. With MS Office, only the latter works. That’s understandable, given that it’s MS’ responsibility to make it compliant. However, it would be lot more convenient to get the file into iCloud without having to open it first or going through a web portal.

        So, let’s say I have 25 Keynote presentations on my local machine. (I actually have a lot more than that). One way to get these into iCloud for storage is to open EACH ONE individually and save them to iCloud. That is not practical. The other way is to access iCloud through the web browser and drop them in. Of course, I have to remember to click the Keynote tab or they won’t go up. Then I have to do the same thing if I want to upload Pages or Numbers files. This is just not very fluid.

        1. I would suggest using a software package called PlainCloud. It has allowed me to get files in and out of iCloud at will. I also use it directly with Box and DropBox to make copies for sharing as well as Backing up as I had an issue with iCloud early on which assisted me in loosing an extensive amount of my data.
          Plain Cloud on the desktop and AirFile on the iPad/iPhone will allow for total freedom of file movement, even a folder at a time if needed.

      1. Agreed. I implemented iCloud in one of my apps for the way Apple intended it be used: Transparent to the user, just available on any device any time without having to thing about file transfers. I pulled iCloud support because as I began to stress test it, meaning in this case multiple iOS devices all updating the same document at the same time, my data model (note: *my* data model) didn’t easily support the synchronization of data that it needed to in order for the feature to be truly transparent to the user. I will reengineer that aspect and release it when it’s ready. Along the way I looked really closely at how Apple’s suite (Numbers, Pages and Keynote) interact with iCloud and it’s absolutely one of those examples you whistle at and say “The expert really does make the impossible look easy.”

  6. I assumed iCloud just worked – and would wax enthusiastically about it to friends – until I noticed that one address book item I added just refused to sync. A search on Apple Discussions reveals quite a few people having the same problem. That made me realise this iCloud isn’t as bullet-proof as it’s made out to be. So you people who think iCloud just works – you don’t really know because if it is not synching some items, you might not notice it. I just happened to check, whereas I normally do not check. So I discovered the lack of syncing just by chance. I must add that for months it would sync, and so it caught me totally by surprise when one item did not sync.

  7. the cloud is working for me what i really miss was the old web storage plan you cant really use the cloud for file transfer . when ever you had a problem with a file size too big for the recipients e-mail server you sent them to your i disk and did a no brainer ftp transfer it saved my cookies on several occasions , i want it back

  8. I use Dropbox and Bitcasa for storage. iCloud is not a good option for cloud storage.

    It’s better to look at iCloud as a suite of services.
    – Email
    – Contacts
    – Calendars and Reminders
    – Notes
    – Safari BookMarks
    – PhotoStream
    – Documents & Data
    – Back to my Mac
    – Find My Mac

    Some of these work well. I *seldom* have issues with email, but sometimes I do. This can be said of almost every email service out there including Gmail.

    Every once in a while there’s a glitch with contacts, but its usually very easy to resolve. I add, change, or delete a contact and the change is replicated across my devices in seconds, usually with no problem.

    Calendars do seem to just work, at least for me.

    Notes just works.

    Safari BookMarks just works.

    PhotoStream confuses the crap out of me. I mostly don’t feel like investing the hour it would take to clear it up in my head.

    Documents & Data works, if developers support it, but it’s just not robust enough for me, so I use Dropbox and Bitcasa and typically advise others to do so.

    Back To My Mac I never use. I either use Apple RDM, or VNC.

    Find My Mac, I’ve been fortunate enough to never have to try.

  9. Apple is like a savant that can tell you what day April 6th, 2099 falls on but couldn’t hold a conversation if their life depended on it.

    Apple will do some–no–most things with savant-like clarity and focus and vision, and other things like cloud, just aren’t in it’s DNA.

  10. This article is pretty shoddy reporting from The Verge. First off, the presentation made by Jobs, which is featured in the opening of the piece, mentioned nothing about Core Data or 3rd party apps. It was only about Apple’s Calendar, Contacts and Mail sync.

    The quotes from developers, when they could be bothered to speak on the record at all, are from small-time purveyors of crap apps. One of the guys quoted (the developer of OnePAD) ended up incorporating iCloud sync into his app, so his quote isn’t even valid.

    I’m not saying that Core Data and access to 3rd party developers couldn’t be improved or that some developers are having a hard time making it work for their app, but to characterize iCloud as a “broken promise” smacks of a hit piece I didn’t expect from The Verge. Maybe because its author is green and came from SAI at Business Insider, which speaks volumes.

  11. The biggest problem may be how Apple initially intended or designed iCloud to be used. I think Apple originally envisioned iCloud as a way to keep all of your Apple stuff instantly available on your Apple products – which iCloud does very well.

    However, Apple was a bit shortsighted here. Once developers saw how well iCloud worked, they started wanting access to iCloud’s instant syncing abilities, which as many have noted, syncing across multiple devices with multiple users is a tricky bit to master.

    And thus lies the problem – iCloud wasn’t really build (from the ground up) as an “open” platform for developers to plug into. So Apple is trying to add that ability without disrupting iCloud’s core functions (iTunes, calendar, contacts, etc.).

    What iCloud really needs is a full-on, developer friendly SDI kit. I hope this comes with iOS7 and solves the problems for developers, because they shouldn’t have to work so hard to use what could be a monstrously huge selling point and convenience tool for Apple to sell more iOS devices – the ability to sync whatever you want over iCloud easy, peasy, lemon squeezy!

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