State of Sync: Revisited

Several months ago, I wrote this piece regarding the then-current state of syncing among Mac apps and their mobile counterparts. What I didn’t know at the time was that Apple was toiling away in the forges of 1 Infinite Loop on what we now eagerly look forward to as iCloud. In case you’ve been living under a rock, iCloud is Apple’s latest attempt at a cloud-based sync service. Though we all saw the tragic end to .Mac and MobileMe, iCloud shows quite a bit more promise.

Today, I’d like to explore what iCloud means for third party developers. Specifically, I want to outline the potential I see in iCloud, and where I would like to see it go with regard to third party software.

As Usual, Apple Sets The Standard

If we’re to believe what we’ve been told about iCloud (and I see no reason why we shouldn’t), all of the standard, native Mac apps that you use every day will be kept in-sync across all of your devices. This means that your calendar appointments and contacts will stay up to date on your Mac, iPhone, and iPad. It means that the songs and movies and TV shows and apps that you download on one device will automatically download to the other devices you own. And perhaps most excitingly (for me, anyway), it means that the documents you create in Pages, Numbers, and Keynote will stay in sync, letting you pick up on one device where you left off on another.

All of your data, media, and documents wherever and whenever you need them, without you having to do a thing. Sounds pretty great, right?

What About The Third Party Love?

If the Apple that we know and love were truly a completely closed ecosystem, iCloud as I’ve just described it seems right on the nose. But what about third party developers? Most of us use third party apps on a regularly basis, and probably rely heavily on their data staying up to date.

If you’ll voyage back with me for a moment, to those halcyon days of yore (about 3 years ago) when MobileMe ruled the cloud, we can see that Apple likely had the same intentions as they do this time around with iCloud. Perhaps they hadn’t worked out the kinks, or perhaps the technology simply wasn’t available in 2008, but MobileMe turned out to be the antithesis of the smashing success I expect from iCloud.

There are a few factors that I believe Apple got just right in designing iCloud that will put it miles beyond MobileMe.

  • Free price point
  • Effortless syncing
  • Third party incentive

MobileMe was a relatively closed service. Like .Mac, it was still shrouded behind a hefty price tag that a majority of Mac users probably didn’t want to cough up. Likewise, Apple didn’t seem to have the interest in providing a third party syncing platform as much as it was attempting to move your basic data (calendar, contacts, photos) to the cloud. As a result, MobileMe didn’t have the appeal necessary to drive third party developers to want to use it.

On the other hand, iCloud seems to be precisely the platform that developers will want to use. The first two factors I listed above create the third: an incentive for developers to utilize the platform.

How Things Have Changed

As I look back to March (several months before iCloud’s initial announcement) and reread the article where I first discussed the sync options available to developers, I notice that my conclusion began with this:

“My perfect scenario would be a free MobileMe that synced all of my applications to the cloud.  Obviously this is a little on the dreamy side, but the desire for simplicity and reliability still remains.”

Today, I will willfully and joyfully eat my hat, because iCloud seems to be exactly that for which I was longing.

In that article, I also pitted wi-fi and cloud sync against each other in a grudge match–a showdown that, in hindsight, now seems petty and immaterial. With iCloud having an inherently large user base at launch, as well as the “free” and “easy to use” factors, I think that there will be a lot of pressure for third party developers to use the platform, and abandon their paid sync service.

Since the publishing of that post in March, Potion Factory finally released an iPhone version of The Hit List (my preferred to-do list app) along with a $2/month cloud sync service. I can’t say I’ve been thrilled to subscribe to this paid model when a simple wi-fi sync isn’t even an option, but I will admit that it is a solid and reliable service. I also can’t say for certain that such services will buckle under pressure and utilize the iCloud platform (or that I’ll stop paying if they don’t), but I would certainly like to see this happen across the board.

Conclusion

The performance and reliability of iCloud remain to be seen, but will likely be brutally evaluated upon launch, much like MobileMe was. My guess is that if it survives that initial scrutiny, iCloud will be far and away more useful than any of Apple’s previous attempts at such a service.

What do you think? Is this the cloud platform that will break the mold? Will Apple have to give it another go in a few years?


  • http://paradoxdgn.com Paradox

    I don’t see how Apple sets the standards. Other existing sync services have done these things for ages, across multiple platforms.

    You can even set up Google to do these things right now, use the google app on an iPhone, enter your google account on a mac, and presto, sync. If you have android, you don’t even need the app.

    • http://twitter.com/@scottld3 Scott Danielson

      That’s a good point, Paradox. I was simply referring to the standard Apple sets as far as iCloud itself is concerned. The depth of integration between iCloud and your apps that handle data, photos, music, and documents, I think, sets a precedent for how other developers might utilize the platform in the future.

      Thanks!

  • Alex

    I agree that Apple sets the standard, in a very clear way as well.

    Considering your alternative there are a variety of extra steps and the outcome consists of manual syncing, less variety (of data able to be synced) and integration (3rd party apps). Apple’s iCloud is seamless and effortless in the sense that all you need to do is sign in once on your devices and any alteration to your calendar, documents made, photos taken and synced automatically across all your devices.

    They’ve set the standard for what users should expect when regarding cloud-syncing and utliziation.

    Thoroughly enjoyed the article, by the way. I think that Apple is coming close to finalizing it’s cloud services (Considering how much it covers now; Music, Photos, Documents). I also think that this will definitely break the mold as almost every present cloud service is identical with very slight differences between a certain few.

  • Bill Raike

    Polish and integration and price will make iCloud extremely appealing — but not to everyone and certainly not in many common situations.

    Please spare a thought for those of us who are not connected 24/7, and another thought for those of us who have tight bandwidth caps (particularly for mobile devices). Unless carefully implemented across the board, indiscriminate attempts to sync can be annoying and potentially very expensive.

    Please also spare another thought for those of us whose mobile devices have fairly limited, or else nearly full, storage space. At the very least, I need to be selective in what data gets synced, with different policies for different devices. Trying to sync a terabyte or more from my desktop into my mobile phone is a non-starter. Ditto for a gigabyte, under my current monthly data cap. Unless I can use iCloud with at least the flexibility of, say, Dropbox, then it won’t be of much use to me. And if I want to do it on a document-by-document basis then a manual sync using, for example, Google’s Large Document web app will do just fine.

  • Viktor Benei

    I still prefer Dropbox. If you want to sync with non-Apple devices as well Dropbox is the best service.

    SugarSync is also nice, but requires more management (you have to define which virtual folder will be synched with X, Y, … devices).

    iCloud seems to be a copy of Dropbox for me, and it lacks in some features I love in Dropbox (like the selective sync with my iPhone).

  • Allan

    When I set up iCloud synchronization it canceled sync of my contacts in Address Book with Google %) I have found the solution for synchronization with two services. Free version of syncmate can sync my Address Book with google account. But what the cause of this limitation? Or this is a political solution?

  • http://stefansuarez.com Stefan Suarez

    Web 3.0 is the Social Cloud. Anyone who creates cloud services that are exclusive to paid customers or Mac customers will lose. iCloud better open its doors or it will lose.

    I use Dropbox for files
    I use Evernote for notes
    I use Wunderlist for tasks
    I use Xmarks for bookmarks
    I use Cloudapp for quick sharing

    All of this is platform-friendly, has a web-based option, has a free option, and does their job really well.

    All you need to do to win is integrate all of that in one giant service, make it work for mac and non-mac users, make it socially integrated and then create a premium package and BOOM. You’re a millionaire.

    Feel free to steal my idea.

    • johnwd3

      Stefan – I agree with many of your points – I have paid for a Me account from day 1 and finally found I ONLY use it to keep my contacts in sync. DropBox has been a life saver for our small business and in spite of the dumb name found that Toodledo has been the least-worst ToDo that works across my platforms.
      But the worst part is none of the discussed enable us to share selected addresses and calendars as well as the old version 5 Now Contact and Now Up to Date. NC was so flexible I used it as a database as well as the address book and shared selected portions with staff, family and friends as needed – but the killer was the impossibility of syncing with the iPhone.
      Anyone got a working solution for selective address sharing? If iCloud will ever enable THAT it would be a true home run!

theatre-aglow
theatre-aglow
theatre-aglow
theatre-aglow