iCloud is not technically a part of the new operating system. Rather, it is a system of services running on Apple’s servers which Mountain Lion accesses. At its most basic, iCloud is a way to sync information (Reminders, Notes, etc.), files (iWork documents, Preview images, etc.) and settings (Cloud tabs, etc.).
It could not be easier to set up. Just sign into your iCloud account and go about your business. When you open an application, say Pages for instance, you are now greeted with a dialog window which asks you from where do you wish to open a document? At the top of the window are two selections: “iCloud” and “On My Mac”.
As a writer, this was something that had me drooling when Apple first announced iCloud. Then came the disappointment of its implementation. Yes, files were synced, but only between iOS devices. Thankfully that has all changed now. No matter which of my devices I am working on, MacBook Air, iPad or iPhone, my documents are available to me. Well, that is, so long as I have saved them to iCloud.
That last sentence is the first hitch. I have been writing for years, and have thousands of documents. All of those are saved “On My Mac” and are not automatically available via iCloud. Moving the files over to iCloud is as easy as dragging and dropping them into the dialog window you get when you go to open a new document. The file is moved from your Mac to iCloud as if you were moving it to another folder. And better still, you can grab documents from this window, drag and drop them onto your Mac.
This ease of moving files around really helps with a second possible hitch. If you decide to go all in with Apple’s walled garden (more on this later), what happens if Apple’s servers do something horrible to your documents? Or, what if one of your applications goes postal and destroys your file? Because everything is pushed to all devices, and Apple’s servers, if something gets trashed in one place, the trash is pushed throughout the system. The very thing that makes this such a no-brainer could possibly make things a living nightmare.
Do not get me wrong. So far I have not experienced any problems. It has been smooth as silk. Everything I write since I upgraded is started on one device, continued on another, switched back to the first and finally edited on the second. Back and forth as much as possible. I have even read tech columnists who have tried to deliberately trip up the system. The only error he was able to produce was an IUF (or inept user failure), which we all fall prey to from time to time. In his case, he forgot he had opened a “copy” of a document and was working on two separate files.
The thing is this, like with everything, you have to create a way to backup your files so that catastrophic failure will not shut you down, for long. Documents in the cloud is not prepared for such an event, as yet. Recognizing this, I only have documents I am currently working on saved on iCloud. Once I have finished with them I pull them off, saving them on my Mac, which is then backed up using Dropbox, Time Machine and Carbonite. This method of saving things takes me out of Apple’s walled garden, and therefore makes things not quite as easy, but it is far better, and easier, than before. And, since I use Dropbox, if I do need any files that are not currently on iCloud, I can access them on any device and open them with no problem.
Here is the biggest hitch I have found. What if you do not use Apple’s iWork? Or, what if you use a device which cannot run iWork, e.g. an Android device, a PC, etc.? Well, for the moment, you are “up a creek.” You can look at this in a couple ways. First, Apple is trying to lock you into their system. It is a possibility, though a bit more pessimistic than I think is the case. Yes, Apple is a company. Yes, Apple is out to make money, and by locking people in they are assuring more money for themselves. Call me naive, but I believe Apple is trying to make the best possible solution for its users, and controlling all of the parts is a way of insuring that each person will get the best results. This is not new, this has been Apple’s method from the very beginning.
Second, this is the very beginning, and because Apple has written API’s for iCloud, with time more and more companies will develop applications which work with iCloud. While I am not delusional enough to think they are going to open everything up, I think this shows that Apple is aware that a completely walled garden can strangle them. Anyone remember AOL? Because of the API’s eventually consumers will have Microsoft Office, or Google Docs/Drive (that can edit not just read files), or some other applications which will allow them to create files which can be read by the other devices, yet still be available on iCloud. Likewise, I can see Apple opening up iCloud for other devices and platforms, like they did with iTunes. The experience might not be as nice as when using an Apple device, but the functionality will be there.
While I love what Apple has done, and am happy with my choice to drink their Kool-aid, I recognize the fact that each of us as users now has to stop and really think about what we want our devices for, how we want them to interact with one another and then take the answers we get with us when we–gasp–research what is available. All this hand wringing might be moot. For me, and the work I do, I have a need for all these devices. Because I have an iMac, a MacBook Air, an iPad and a iPhone, I need to have them all work together, and in a way that does not have me fighting with them every step of the way.
So, it’s time for you to have your say. What do you think? Will having all of your devices synced make your life easier? Or does iCloud even matter? Do you even have multiple machines with which to share documents, etc.? Let us know what you think in the comment section.