I love the Apple ecosystem. It’s not perfect by any means, but I’d say that the vast majority of the time it lives up to Steve’s famous ‘it just works’ promise. It’s the main reason that I have two Macs, an iPad and an iPhone.
So when a big Apple fan deliberately moves outside of that ecosystem, that’s a sign that something is very wrong. And I do so not just in one area, but two. The common theme? iCloud …
iCloud is both Apple’s greatest strength and biggest weakness. When it works, it delivers a variety of different services, but it doesn’t always just work. It falls over far more often than is acceptable in something so fundamental to that ecosystem, made worse by the fact that Apple is usually very late to update its status page to reflect those outages for users concerned that something has gone wrong.
Things that should be instant sometimes take hours, like creating a new Note on a Mac and waiting for it to appear on an iPad – resulting in ridiculous things like force-quitting the app and going offline and on again in the hope that might spur the app into checking its iCloud repository. And don’t get me started on the Pages document I created on my iPad and then couldn’t access on a plane an hour or two later because the device had apparently offloaded it to iCloud and not retained a local copy.
Which brings us to iCloud Drive. As someone with an all-Apple setup, using iCloud Drive to store my documents ought to be a no-brainer. But I don’t: I use Dropbox instead. I actually store the entire Documents folder of my Mac on Dropbox so that I can access anything from any device.
In particular, I regularly access the same documents on my MacBook Pro and MacBook Air. With Dropbox, I can consistently count on the latest version being available on either machine within a matter of seconds of hitting the Save button. With iCloud Drive, it may not be there even an hour later.
So I’m in the crazy position of having four Apple devices, a paid iCloud account to give me enough space to backup the iOS devices and have a little working space for a few Pages documents – and then going to a third-party company to get truly seamless document transfer between them.
The second case is photos. Apple offers the iCloud Photo Library, so that any photo taken on my iPhone or iPad (yeah, I admit it) is available on my Mac. Eventually. But the free tier with Photo Stream effectively only syncs the last 1,000 photos taken. After that, they just vanish into the ether.
Which is why I use Google Photos. Apple – a company from whom I buy expensive new devices at least every year or two – gives me only 5GB of free storage plus 1,000 photos. Google – a company which has never seen a dime of my money – gives me unlimited storage of both photos and HD videos (with more reasonable constraints).
Now, sure, I’m not stupid: I know Google doesn’t do this out of the generosity of its heart. The old saw about ‘if you don’t pay for something, then you are the product’ is true. I do indirectly give money to Google every time I view one of its ads. And personally, I don’t have a problem with that.
I also don’t have an issue with personalized ads. I visit Amazon to look at a product, they drop a cookie on my device and later Google uses that cookie to serve me an ad. As it happens, that process is largely wasted on me as I’m a decisive shopper: I research something, see it, buy it. So Google mostly shows me ads for products I bought last week – but that’s all taking place on my own device so doesn’t cause me any privacy concerns.
And the business model isn’t really the issue here. Just today, Amazon announced free unlimited photo storage for Prime members and their family. I’m already a Prime member, and consider it well worth the price for the unlimited free next-day delivery, so that would again be free for me.
So I’m not really concerned about how it’s funded (though I do agree with Stephen Hackett at 512 Pixels that ‘5GB is the new 16GB’). Apple could build it into iPhone pricing, make it a free extra on the paid iCloud tiers or make it a chargeable iCloud add-on.
My concern is that I simply cannot get from Apple something that other tech companies now seem to be viewing as table stakes. It’s getting increasingly difficult to understand Apple’s position in this space.
When even an online shopping company will store all my photos for me, it’s getting kind of embarrassing that Apple won’t.