UPDATE: Some people are still confused about iCloud. Read our post from several months back and we’ll drop a few more helpful reminders at the end.
Seamless. Smooth. Two words you’ll never hear associated with the still emerging, yet overly marketed cloud service offerings from, well, just about every major tech company. Now there’s nothing wrong with marketing cloud services. In reality, cloud storage is the future (and present); your pictures, music, files, etc. stored in the cloud for you to access from any device. The problem is the price: you’ll need to go back to school and get a computer science degree to make it all work.
Okay, thats definitely a bit of hyperbole. Truth be told, we are all getting to a point of familiarity and comfort with mobile computing. We are all capable of using applications to manage files, upload pictures and music, etc. But who wants to? You don’t have time to upload your music, figure out which apps you can use to view your PDFs, how to access that movie you bought on your computer, pick up a game on your tablet that you started on your phone, or find those pictures you took with your phone last week.
Think of it like this: its perfectly normal to expect your debit card to work anytime you swipe it (provided you have money). When you travel to another city or state, you don’t have to do anything in order to use your money. Nothing changes from store to store. It just works. You don’t have to think about it and can rest assured that it won’t fail you.
The “Cloud”, in it’s current state, doesn’t work like this. Sure, you can get your files into the cloud but, in most cases, you’ll have to go find them. It operates much like the hard drive In your computer: you know you saved that file somewhere but finding it is another story.
Apple’s current solution isn’t perfect, but the guiding principles look nothing like the competition. It’s predicated on the notion of having compatible app counterparts on all your devices. iMovie for iPhone, iPad, and the Mac, for example, essentially become extensions of one another. Content created or managed by that particular app is available on any of your other devices instantly. The files are visible on each of your devices so there is no hunting for it in some nebulous ether. Yes, there are certain limitations (Mac functionality doesn’t arrive till the fall), but the pros out weigh the cons; especially for anyone who already has an Apple device.
There’s no better example of this than the way Apple handles music and photos over multiple devices. Apple’s iTunes Match is a dead simple way to access every music file in your library from any Apple device. Just click the Match link in iTunes and Apple scans your library, matches what files exists on Apple’s servers and then uploads the rest. Even personal recordings are visible on all your devices without having to manually sync them. And you only have to do it once. Buy new music or rip a cd to your iTunes library and Apple automatically matches or uploads it. You don’t have to do or think about anything.
Photos work similarly. Just toggle PhotoStream on all your devices to on and you don’t have to do anything else. Every picture you snap with your phone or iPad save automatically to your desktop or laptop. iPhoto on the iPad and iPhone also seamlessly ties into PhotoStream. Open iPhoto and you can immediately see any picture taken on any device. Edit that picture and it is reflected on all your devices.
When Mountain Lion for Mac is released later this year, the same functionality will come to Pages, Keynote, and Numbers. You’ll be able to start a document on your laptop and immediately have it available to those same apps on your iPhone or iPad. This already works between an iPhone and iPad. On the go? All of your documents will be mirrored to any device for you to access at anytime.
Apple has also made the feature available for any developer who wants to bake it into their app, as well. In the future you’ll be able to manage all of your apps this way including starting a game on one device and resuming on another.
Google, Amazon, and Microsoft’s offerings are fundamentally different. And for some it works: micro managing their files; constantly tweaking how you access them on different devices. Any file you want stored in the cloud must be uploaded individually. Even those that offer true cloud-based file creation can’t offer the same robust tools as native, local apps on a phone, tablet, or computer.
In all honesty it’s a more flexible system but requires an immensely larger amount of time and technological acuity. Seamless it is not.
Currently, Apple offers the smoothest, most well-integrated experience. Sure, it works best if you have multiple Apple devices but there’s a good chance you’re well on your way to that. A majority of US homes already own at least one Apple device and with the popularity of the iPad and growing interest in the Mac, it’s only a matter of time before most households will be looking for a solution to integrate them. Apple has a unique, robust, and, most importantly, seamless solution. It is a different way of thinking about file management and cloud storage and it may just be the future of computing.
When you first set up your iOS device after iOS 5 was released, you were prompted to sign in with an iCloud account or create one from the setup screen. By entering an email address, you agreed to have certain information from your phone backed up into the cloud. This serves many purposes, many of which we covered above. Essentially, however, it is designed to preserve data in the case your phone bricks or gets lost, and it allows you to share that information across multiple devices, as we discussed earlier.
iCloud backup, alone, is worth keeping iCloud active. For many people it’s the ONLY time their phone gets a backup. After all, many people don’t ever plug their phone in to, or sync with, iTunes. Unfortunately, you can’t live an entire digital life on an iPhone without running into a few snags. Namely, the limited amount of cloud storage.
When you sign up for iCloud you are given 5GB of cloud storage from Apple. This is more than enough for anyone who, even minimally, syncs their phone with iTunes. The problems arise when you don’t ever sync with iTunes mainly due to the build up of photos on your device. iCloud backs up your camera roll every night. The more pictures you have, the larger the backup file. The larger the backup file, the sooner you run out of space in iCloud; prompting you to purchase more storage for a yearly fee. This isn’t necessary. Especially if you are willing to do a little bit of work to keep your phone (iPad or iPod, as well) in sync.
The easiest solution is to setup Wifi Syncing in iTunes. Our iPhone tricks and tips post details the process. With this selected, all of your notes, photos, music, etc. will be synced with your iTunes when both your computer and iOS device are on the same wifi network. With this synced, you are free to delete a few of those pictures on your phone and save a little room in your iCloud backup.
But often times you want access to many photos. Maybe you take lots of pictures of your food or like showing off pictures of your children or grandkids. Apple makes this easy as well. By enabling PhotoStream on both your iOS device and your Mac or PC, any picture you take with your mobile device will be downloaded to your computer automatically. In addition to immediate backup, your most recent 1000 pictures will be available to view on any of your devices free of charge. courtesy of Apple. The folks over at http://www.gottabemobile.com have a great step-by-step how to for setting up PhotoStream on your PC or Mac.
Apple is attempting to create a system that requires no work from you but gives you access to your entire digital life from any if your devices. They are still baby steps, however. In the meantime, enjoy a great service provided by Apple (with a little help from you).
Stay tuned for more greatness from iCloud. With OS X Mountain Lion coming out of the wilderness in the coming days, iCloud will be enhanced even more for Mac users. We’ll share all the details with you soon.