Why Hasn’t iCloud Taken Off?

It would make USB syncing a thing of the past. It would remove practically all of the wires from our lives, hold all of our personal information in a secure data center, and make it readily available to all of our devices. It wasn’t MobileMe. The “it” is iCloud, and Apple made a lot of promises about what our lives would be like once it was released.

So, where’s all of my stuff? Where’s the fast, “magical” syncing? Better yet, why aren’t more applications taking advantage of what Apple’s built?

Problem One: The Mac

Unfortunately, the problem doesn’t lie with the iPhone, or iOS in general. Instead it appears to be an issue with iCloud working with the Mac. In my experience, the service is slow, unreliable and underwhelming on my MacBook Air.

Wait, photos on my Mac? I wonder what that's like.

Wait, photos on my Mac? I wonder what that's like.

In the commercials, Apple shows someone snapping a photo with an iPhone and having it appear on the iMac next to them almost instantaneously. I get it, creative license, blah blah blah. I’m not expecting the photos to appear that quickly, but within the hour? That would be nice.

It doesn’t matter what type of connection I have. I could be on the slowest Wi-Fi available (which I’m convinced is my home connection) or the fastest and it still feels like it takes forever for a photo to appear on my Mac. The odd part of this is that the same photo will show up on my iPad, so it isn’t an issue with the servers, it’s something unique to OS X. Until this is fixed there’s no point in using iCloud for cross-platform apps, as Dropbox is much more reliable.

Problem Two: Speaking of Dropbox …

I have a Dropbox account. Do you? I’d put my money on yes, as just about everyone I know that would be interested in stopping by this site has an account. It’s become an integral part of many people’s lives, insuring that files are synchronized across devices with as little hassle as possible.

Dropbox also has something that iCloud doesn’t: a file system. Dropbox, to most users, is a magical service on the web and their phones, but just another folder on their computer. You play with files, those files are synchronized across devices. Easy, familiar, and, to many, better than iCloud’s data-in-the-app approach.

Dropbox is like a magical, digital Bag of Holding that goes across devices.

Dropbox is like a magical, digital Bag of Holding that goes across devices.

Personally I like not having to worry about files; I end up having to play with folders, and subfolders, and methods of organization instead of continuing to focus on my work. Folders are littered across my desktop (which, incidentally, drives me crazy) and, in general, it’s just a mess.

Still, though, many users like being able to see their files and folders. Dropbox allows this, iCloud doesn’t. Score for Dropbox.

Problem Three: It’s New

Developers are still working to figure out exactly how iCloud works. While it’s been open to developers for a while (and customers for a significantly smaller amount of time) it’s still a new service that’s going to take time to learn. Dropbox has the benefit of being, in Internet years, what one might call a really-freakin’-old service.

It’s an issue of the chicken and the egg. Users expect things to work well without having to think about them and without hiccup, so they’re going to go with whatever option provides the least amount of hassle with the most reliability. Developers, on the other hand, may want to try something new and take advantage of the latest technologies. Unfortunately, this is a bumpy road that needs to be driven for a while before it’s going to get better.

So, do you take advantage of the latest technologies completely and possibly provide a rocky service, or do you use another service — either as a crutch or altogether — to make your customers happy? This comes down to how much time a developer has to devote to new technologies, whether the service is viable for their application, and how much support email they feel like getting.

So, How Does This Get Solved?

Simple: time. iCloud is a new service that is taking an entirely different approach to synchronization. It’s a free service with a ton of powerful functionalities, but the kinks are still being worked out. In time it could prove to be everything that we’ve hoped for, or it could be a bust; either way, I don’t think we’re done hearing about iCloud.

How do you feel about iCloud? Has it worked as well as you may have hoped, or does it feel a bit sub-par? Do you prefer Dropbox, or another method for sync? Let me know in the comments.