iCloud Forgets to Keep it Simple

| Ted Landau's User Friendly View

One of Apple’s mainstay principles — perhaps its key principle — has been to maintain a focus on simplicity and “ease of use.” This means that products, especially consumer-oriented ones, should require very little effort to figure out how they work. As Steve Jobs put it in the recently published biography: “Apple’s design mantra…[was]… ‘Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.’ Jobs felt that design simplicity should be linked to making products easy to use….’The main thing in our design is that we have to make things intuitively obvious…’”

iCloud Forgets to Keep It Simple

After working with iCloud features for the past several weeks, including the just released iTunes Match, I find myself shaking my head. If iCloud was intended to live up to Apple’s “design mantra,” someone forgot to send the memo. iCloud is far from a shining example of “intuitively obvious.” Some features are mutually exclusive with non-cloud alternatives, others work side-by-side. There’s no way to predict which are which. Consistency is often MIA. Features designed to work “automatically” usually require a good deal of tinkering with settings before they work as expected — tinkering that Apple does not explain how to do. Most features remain either poorly documented by Apple or not documented at all. Typically, before I felt comfortable using a new feature, I either had to spend a healthy chunk of time doing trial-and-error testing or turn for help to non-Apple articles posted on the web.

If I was having these difficulties, I can only imagine what those with less technical skill were experiencing. My guess is that many users simply enable a new feature, such as Photo Stream or iTunes Match, and hope that it “just works.” With a bit of luck, this may be successful, especially if the user is content with only the most basic functions of a feature. When it doesn’t work, I suspect these users give up and choose not use the feature at all.

iCloud has a rough-around-the-edges version 1.0 feel. Which is understandable. It is a 1.0 version. I am optimistic that iCloud will improve over time. For now, to give you a sense of just how tricky iCloud can be, I offer the following Q & A. Judge for yourself whether or not iCloud lacks an overall simplicity and consistency.

Working with iCloud accounts

Q. If you have both an iCloud account and a not-yet-migrated MobileMe account, can you log in to both accounts at the same time via System Preferences on a Mac?

A. No. It has to be one or the other. You have to log out of one account to access the other account. Nowhere is this clearly stated. For example, when you go to the iCloud System Preferences pane, if you are currently logged into MobileMe, all you will see is an option to migrate your account. There is no mention of what you need to do to access your separate iCloud account. [Bugs & Fixes]

Q. As you migrate to iCloud, can you merge data from two or more Apple ID accounts?

A. Nope. Not at this time. You can, however, maintain separate Apple IDs for iCloud and the iTunes Store. To do so, you have to enter each ID in its designated location. For example, on a Mac, enter your iCloud ID in System Preferences; enter your iTunes Store ID in iTunes. [Apple]

A Macworld article walks you through more than a dozen variations in iCloud signups.

Q. Can you have more than one iCloud account?

A. Yes. One is called primary, the others are secondary. Secondary accounts are set up via the Mail, Contacts and Calendars System Preferences pane on a Mac, rather than the iCloud pane.

For those with more than one iCloud account, note that iCloud Bookmarks, Photo Stream, Documents in the Cloud, Backup (iOS), Back to My Mac (OS X), and Find My iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, or Mac can only be used with one iCloud account at a time (the “primary” account).” [Apple]

Syncing and backing up

Q. How many ways are there to sync data to/from an iPhone?

A. There used to be just one major way: a dock connection between the iPhone and iTunes on your Mac. Additionally, some information could sync wirelessly, typically via MobileMe. Now there are at least three ways: via the traditional wired connection, via Wi-Fi Sync to iTunes on your Mac, or via iCloud. Each one is set up differently and they don’t all sync the same data (for example, movies only sync via your Mac, not via iCloud). Knowing how to set up each one — and which one (or ones) you should prefer to use — is not at all obvious.

Q. You can back up your iOS device data to your Mac or to iCloud. Are the two types of backups identical?

A. You’d like to think they are the same, since Apple doesn’t allow for automatic backups to both sources. You have to choose one or the other. But they are not the same. The following items are not backed up to iCloud, although they are backed up to iTunes: Music and TV shows not purchased from the iTunes Store; Movies, podcasts, and audio books; Photos that were originally synced from your computer. [AppleThat’s why Apple states that, even if you use an iCloud backup, “you still may wish to back up your iTunes data manually as well.” [Apple]

Q. When you select to sync via Wi-Fi Sync, will your iOS device’s data be backed up?

A. Typically, backing up is included as part of a sync of an iOS device. However, if you leave iTunes open, backing up won’t happen after the first sync via Wi-Fi. To force another backup, you either have to quit and relaunch iTunes or manually backup (via the contextual menu for the device). Additionally, if you’ve selected to backup to iCloud, there are no automatic backups to iTunes ever. It took me quite awhile to disentangle all of this. [User Friendly View]

Photo Stream syncing

Q. Does syncing photos via iCloud replace the need to sync photos via iTunes?

A. No. iCloud only syncs photos via Photo Stream, which only affects photos taken on an iOS device (as stored in the Camera Roll) or ones that you newly import on your Mac. [Apple]

Q. Suppose you want to clear out all the photos in Photo Stream? Is there “Select All” and delete?

A. No. It’s not anywhere close to that simple. The only way to clear out photos from Photo Stream is to go to the iCloud website (www.icloud.com), click your name to access account settings, click the Advanced button and finally click Reset Photo Stream. [Apple]

Even after doing this, you still haven’t deleted the Photo Stream photos stored locally on each device. To clear these out, you have to go through a convoluted process of disabling and re-enabling Photo Stream on each synced device. [TMO] This appears to be an exception to the overall iCloud rule that the “truth is in the cloud” — namely that whatever changes you make to data in iCloud are propagated downward to all devices that sync with iCloud.

iWork syncing

Q. Do iWork documents sync between Macs and iCloud in the same way that they sync among iOS devices and iCloud?

A. No. iCloud syncs among iOS devices exactly how you would expect. However, when going between Macs and iCloud, you have to manually upload/download documents as needed via the iCloud website; Mac-based documents do not sync to iCloud. Nowhere does Apple make this distinction clear. [Bugs and Fixes]

There is a partial work-around for this limitation. However, it requires going outside Apple’s recommended procedures and entails risks. It involves using the Mobile Documents folder located in the Library folder of your Home directory. [Bugs & Fixes]

And all of this is separate from the File Sharing option that still appears at the bottom of the Apps section of each iOS device in iTunes.

Using iTunes Match

Q. After you enable iTunes Match on your iPhone, can you still sync your music to your iPhone by connecting the device to iTunes on your Mac?

A. No. iTunes Match and syncing via iTunes on your Mac are either-or. You can’t do both. However, as explained in a Macworld article, music that you synced to an iPhone prior to turning on iTunes Match remains on the device.

Q. When you delete a song from iTunes on your Mac, is it also deleted from iCloud?

A. Nope. Not unless you specifically request the dual deletion (as shown in this Apple support article). If you don’t delete the song from iCloud, it remains listed in iTunes and can be re-downloaded from iCloud. If you do delete it from iCloud, it will also be removed from any iOS devices that have iTunes Match enabled.

Speaking of downloading from iCloud, one of the promises of iTunes Match is the ability to replace inferior copies of your music with higher quality versions from iCloud (not just when you’re streaming from iCloud, but replaced locally on your Mac). But do you know how to do this — in one step — for all the qualifying music in your Library? I didn’t until I read a Macworld article by Jason Snell. I couldn’t find any place where Apple discusses replacing matched music. The procedure requires that you delete all your low bitrate songs before downloading the newer ones! Scary. But it worked.

Q. Turning on iTunes Match also re-enabled iTunes Genius (which had previously been turned off). Can you disable Genius at this point?

A. Apparently not. If you have iTunes Match enabled, Genius must remain on as well.

Bottom Line

These questions are by no means exhaustive. They are just a sample of what you may confront with iCloud. However, I believe the sample is more than sufficient to make the case.

An “average” Mac user coming to iCloud will potentially have to master a maze of options: the nuances of the different backup options, the differences between what syncs to iTunes vs. iCloud, what photos appear (or do not appear) in Photo Stream vs. iTunes syncing, how to sync (or copy) iWork documents to iCloud vs. other file sharing options, and the difference between iTunes music syncing vs. iTunes Match. While working through all this, you’ll need to learn what iCloud options can work side-by-side with non-cloud alternatives and which ones are mutually exclusive. Finally, you’ll need to find out where all the settings to control these options are located — both on your Mac and on your iOS devices.

Even if you figure out how it all works, there are still many “why” questions to resolve, such as: “Why should I choose one method over the other? What are the pros and cons of going down one route vs. another?”

That’s an awful lot to know — especially when Apple doesn’t offer even a brief manual explaining the basics of how iCloud works.

What needs to be done to fix all of this? Easier said than done, but Apple should rethink the iCloud user interface, placing options into fewer locations and providing a simpler more consistent set of “rules” for how they interact. And some end-user documentation wouldn’t hurt — perhaps with decision trees that walk users through the major choices.

Despite all of this, iCloud is an impressive achievement. Apple has attempted to integrate a variety of complex and largely unrelated features under one cloud-based umbrella. For the most part, it all works. iCloud provides a powerful set of tools for freeing your devices from wired connections and local storage of data. This is the “wave of the future” for personal computing — and Apple has made a strong start in surfing that wave to shore. As you ride along, just be careful of the choppy water you may confront.

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28 Comments Leave Your Own

Melissa Holt

Excellent article?you’ve hit the nail on the head. I’ve had iCloud migrations and now iTunes Match stuff up to my ears lately in my consulting gig, and it’s pretty frustrating to feel as if I need to spend hours playing around with everything before I can advise clients.

I completely agree that simplicity and end-user experience has been thrown out the door on this one, and that sad fact overshadows what is otherwise an excellent service.

?Melissa

John Martellaro

There is definitely a mismatch now between Apple’s historical focus on simplicity and all these nuances. Perhaps, for the first time, Apple itself needs to write the book on iCloud and not leave it to the Missing Manual series.

Lee Dronick

My wife and I are still grandfathered on MobileMe, I think I will wait a while before migrating us to iCloud. They may make some changes to it.

Lee Dronick

With apologies to the original movie and as an excuse to play on words, I present to you The Nuages (clouds) of Fear

furbies

still grandfathered on MobileMe

Same here.

A quick straw poll:

How many of us are still hanging out for Apple to get iCloud to act more like Mobile Me ?

I use Mobile Me to sync my Mac Pro and Macbook Pro Address Book, iCal etc, and hate the idea of losing that functionality.

I also like being able to use Mobile Me as a backup for the Address Book, iCal etc, and I also like being able to choose when I sync (upload/download) the Address Book & iCal etc.

So “Come on Apple” It can’t be that difficult surely ?

skipaq

My head is still spinning and I have been using Apple services for over thirty years. Just the various account IDs is enough to make one’s head hurt. I have set up my ID in the cloud and I still have MobileMe grandfathered. It has taken a few days and some guesswork (that’s right) to get things smoothed out. It isn’t in the least intuitive. One is often left with the feeling of playing roulette with all one’s data.

Beginning to think it will just be easier to have one account jointly for my wife and myself except for email.

David Atkinson

Not to mention that iCloud works on PCs going back to Vista, but not on Macs running Snow Leopard.  Also, as a Snow Leopard user (my hardware doesn’t support Lion), I downloaded the latest version of iTunes 10.5.1.  iTunes Match shows up under the Store category (left pane), and when I click on it, the screen asks me if I want to subscribe for $24.99. However, according to Apple’s support document (http://support.apple.com/kb/HT4914), it shows the following iTunes Match requirements:

iTunes Match minimum system requirements:

OS X Lion 10.7 or later
Windows Vista or later
iTunes 10.5.1 or later
iOS 5 or later on iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, iPhone 4S iPod touch (3rd and 4th generation), iPad, or iPad 2.

So, can I or can’t I subscribe to iTunes Match with iTunes running on my Snow Leopard Mac?

And don’t get me started about the pains about iCloud on a PC.  It took a tier two Apple support rep remotely taking control of my wife’s PC (with me as his assistant; I used to be in tech support myself), and even then we had to uninstall/reboot/reinstall the iCloud control panel in order to get it to work (note: I had to uninstall/reboot/reinstall the same iCloud control panel last night in order to get Photo Stream functional again).

Melissa Holt

How many of us are still hanging out for Apple to get iCloud to act more like Mobile Me ?

Hey furbies!

For what it’s worth, now that iCloud is fully configured and running for me, the syncing is MUCH improved from MobileMe. I no longer seem to be having any syncing issues at all, as a matter of fact, and my clients report similar results.

?Melissa

geoduck

I’m in the MM side as well. The thing is,the part of MM I use the most doesn’t seem destined to go to iCloud and the stuff in iCloud is not stuff I see myself using much.
<sigh>
I guess it’s time to look at moving on. I’ll keep the Mac of course but will be hunting around for someone else to host my sites and provide email.

AnotherScott

.mac

mobileMe

iCloud

maybe Apple just needs to give up on trying to get this turkey to fly.

I think the underlying problem is the increasing Microsoftization of Apple. It used to be that Macs would do what you asked them to do. Now, following Microsoft’s lead, Macs often try to do what they think you want, instead of specifically what you ask… and that’s asking for trouble.

I’d rather have to tell a computer what to do 100 times and always get what I want, rather than have it guess and only be right 99 times. The more a system tries to do “automatically,” the less I trust it.

Lee Dronick

I have a MobileMe Family Pack. I am wondering if I can use one of the sub-accounts to migrate to iCloud while keeping my primary account for iDisk. The sub-account would synch between my iPhone, iMac, and MacBook Pro. The primary account is also my Apple ID for iTunes and App Store purchases and I would keep it for that as well as iDisk until it expires.

Just pondering.

skipaq

Lee, I am in the same boat with a Family Pack of MobileMe. My main ID for email, itunes, mobileme and now icloud is the same one. Even though I have moved the items accepted by iCloud from MobileMe; I still have access to my iDisk, webpage and so on.

I have also still been using iWeb to continue to update the sites. And I am using iWeb on Lion. I have had no problems with iCloud and syncing. It was just a chore to set up.

rjackb

My beef with iCloud is that it requires an Apple ID whose actual ID is an email address. Well, my ancient Apple ID (circa 2000 or earlier) is not an email address although my email address is associated with my Apple ID and has been verified. If Apple is not capable of extracting my email address from my Apple ID information (which they do for marketing reasons frequently) for iCloud purposes then God help us all.

Paul Goodwin

Good article. I’ve been using Macs since 1988. This is the first time I’ve felt fear along with the frustration. I simply don’t trust it yet. I’m still using 10.6.8, and some iCloud stuff works, and some doesn’t. and like you mentioned, there isn’t any Apple documentation that really explains things well. MobileMe, while kind of clunky was so much easier to figure out.

I had to play around with the ON-OFF buttons in iCloud for hours experimenting to understand what it would do and not do. I came to the conclusion that since none of the Wi-Fi syncing would sync Safari Bookmarks on the computer but you could get an iPhone and iPad to sync to each other. I didn’t play around with the Notes’ syncing enough to know exactly what it was doing. I simply guessed and hoped that it would behave like the Bookmark syncing.

Paul Goodwin

The comments about what backups do and don’t do is particularly frightening. Especially if it doesn’t tell you some stuff isn’t being backed up.

All the comments about iTunes Match sound horrible. Think I’ll stay away from that.

Cable syncing isn’t much of an inconvenience when you consider the stress of all the things that might or might not be going on in the cloud. Hopefully the whole process will get simplified for the user as you stated.

MobileMe was unpredictable at times - and pretty confusing when you had a family account with more than one user. But this is a whole new level of dizzying possibilities both good and bad.

Lancashire-Witch

I’ve persisted with MobileMe; I’ve exchanged multiple emails with Apple’s MM support. I still have some unresolved problems.  I don’t want to go through a similar process again with iCloud,  albeit with a totally different set of problems.  Not another “not our finest hour”.

As for moving off MM, geoduck - moving videos from the Gallery to Vimeo is as far as I’ve got. Vimeo works but it doesn’t have the simplicity and cleanliness of the Gallery.

I’m also uneasy about needing to understand that version 1 of any new service, or system or application must somehow be substandard or have rough edges.  Either it’s fit for purpose or it isn’t.  That doesn’t mean version 2 cannot be a vast improvement on version 1; but fixing design errors, glitches and confusion does not a new version make.  And I fear some of the stuff on Ted’s Q&A may not be fixable. Superb job, Ted.

JohnnyO

Well targeted article!

I switched my calendar and contacts sync from Google to iCloud.  It seems to work well, but there was the uncomfortable feeling the first couple of days that it was the unknown.  Not usually the feeling I associate with Apple products.

I don’t use iCloud mail.  I never used MobileMe services.

I tried backing up my iPhone and iPad to iCloud, but after realizing I would shoot past the free 5 GB (aviation charts for Foreflight, ground charts for Navigon mostly), I switched back to backing up to my Mac.  I am pleased with the iOS device syncing via WiFi though.

I turned on iTunes Match yesterday.  If it wasn’t for the Macworld articles, I would be scratching my head for days.  There are still odd examples of not all songs on an album matching.  I’m also surprised by some of the music they don’t have.  Now that I see what doesn’t match, I think it is time to dig out my CDs and re-rip the unmatched at a higher bit-rate.

Lee Dronick

I think Apple needs a more comprehensive FAQ on iCloud and migrating to iCloud than what they currently have. It is like sailing into what is essentially uncharted waters and there is no return to home port.

furbies

It is like sailing into what is essentially uncharted waters

And on the chart it says “Here Be Dragons

Ross Edwards

All the comments about iTunes Match sound horrible. Think I?ll stay away from that.

Actually I’ve been very impressed with it so far.  I think a lot of people are overthinking it.  With Apple these days, the solution seems to be to just barge ahead and everything will work out.  More and more I find myself having to unlearn years of Windows user tendencies (I switched in 2006 when Apple switched to Intel).

I am still tuning and tweaking to see what I can do about unmatched songs, but out of a library of, realistically, 8900 matchable songs (I am excluding a few thousand tracks from bootlegs, personal band recordings, and purchased tracks) it matched 8300 and had about 600 genuine fails.  That’s a great figure considering the (internal/technological) complexity of the task to deliver what was promised.

And, true to Apple’s focus on mainstream users, “big” bands (Beatles, Alice in Chains, Metallica, Rush, Queen, etc) have match rates near or at 100% on non-bootleg songs.  Better than that, I took old Beatles rips and fixed (in advance) the metadata to match Apple’s Beatles box set, and that’s what it matched.  I downloaded the files and they were the nice remasters, not the original mixes from the old CDs I ripped.  (Let’s set aside the Beatles fan arguments about whether it’s better to have original mono versions and so on—I totally respect your preferences, but I personally don’t care and just want the clearest, crispest possible versions and stereo is fine.)

More to the point, even if I didn’t want to do any maintenance before or after the fact, if I were a casual user, it looks like I would have gotten a perfectly great output from the service just taken as-is and far superior to competing services for the purposes of having cloud sync of my whole library and matching of common songs.  And isn’t that what Apple promised?

Broom

I have an early intel iMac which cannot be upgraded to Lion.
My Apple ID and mobile.me address are the same.  Since I don’t have Lion, I cannot move my mobile.me account to iCloud.  My question is:  can I create a temporary iCloud account using a different email address and then close it in March when I intend to buy a new iMac and move my mobile.me account to iCloud?

archimedes

.mac
mobileMe
iCloud
maybe Apple just needs to give up on trying to get this turkey to fly.

Don’t forget .mac’s predecessor - “free” iTools.
Uh, and eWorld. And AppleLink.

furbies

AppleLink wasn’t a complete dud.

It was expensive, and slow (we had a slow modem) but it did work.
And no one (apart from developers) was on it.

I still have the disks here somewhere…...

Bryan

Here is my beef.  I am using Music Match with my iMac, iPad and iPhone…  I’ve noticed that when I am in the shuffle mode in my car…  The iPhone will not play a song from the “Cloud”.  Another words, you must download the songs to your device first before it will be played in a SHUFFLE mode…  Music match is not what I expected.  I am a “follower” or better yet a “Preacher” of Apple products…  But in this case Amazon’s iCloud allow’s you to free up hard drive space, stream and shuffle everything in your library….  I am disappointed.

Lee Dronick

“Here is my beef.? I am using Music Match with my iMac, iPad and iPhone?? I?ve noticed that when I am in the shuffle mode in my car?? The iPhone will not play a song from the ?Cloud?.

Send them feedback, maybe the next version will have feature you need.

wab95

Congratulations on a well researched and thought out article, Ted. This will be useful as a quick reference manual to many.

I have also found Joe Kissel’s ‘Take Control of iCloud’ useful in walking through some of these nuances, many of which I would not be aware of but for articles such as yours.

It does make me wonder how many Apple clients notice some of these complications, apart from the obvious MIAs like iDisk, iWeb hosting, etc. Perhaps I’ve jut been lucky, but so far Photo Stream, iTunes Matching and the migration from MobileMe in general has gone smoothly. My Genius mixes have updated and are better than before. I failed to appreciate, however, that it’s an either/or proposition for iTunes syncing vs Match. You’ve also made me aware that I need to go back and look at those tracks that may be eligible for an upgrade.

My gestalt is that iCloud is such a beast, with substantial capacity for further development, that Apple are themselves on a learning curve, at least from an engineering perspective, on how best to do this.

My reductionist approach to deciding whether or not to migrate from MobileMe or join iCloud de novo, or use one of its particular features rests with looking at the list you’ve laid out, and asking if you fit one of these potentially complicated scenarios. If not, the migration/enrolling will likely be relatively painless. Then too, a great many Mac users are an adaptive species accustomed to learning as they go, and cloud computing is clearly the future.

I also suspect that they’ve been under such pressure to roll this out and launch iTunes Match that they’ve given precious little thought to the most difficult engineering feat of all, simplifying the interface. Hopefully that is where they will turn next.

wab95

Congratulations on a well researched and thought out article, Ted. This will be useful as a quick reference manual to many.

I have also found Joe Kissel’s ‘Take Control of iCloud’ useful in walking through some of these nuances, many of which I would not be aware of but for articles such as yours.

It does make me wonder how many Apple clients notice some of these complications, apart from the obvious MIAs like iDisk, iWeb hosting, etc. Perhaps I’ve jut been lucky, but so far Photo Stream, iTunes Matching and the migration from MobileMe in general has gone smoothly. My Genius mixes have updated and are better than before. I failed to appreciate, however, that it’s an either/or proposition for iTunes syncing vs Match. You’ve also made me aware that I need to go back and look at those tracks that may be eligible for an upgrade.

My gestalt is that iCloud is such a beast, with substantial capacity for further development, that Apple are themselves on a learning curve, at least from an engineering perspective, on how best to do this.

My reductionist approach to deciding whether or not to migrate from MobileMe or join iCloud de novo, or use one of its particular features rests with looking at the list you’ve laid out, and asking if you fit one of these potentially complicated scenarios. If not, the migration/enrolling will likely be relatively painless. Then too, a great many Mac users are an adaptive species accustomed to learning as they go, and cloud computing is clearly the future.

I also suspect that they’ve been under such pressure to roll this out and launch iTunes Match that they’ve given precious little thought to the most difficult engineering feat of all, simplifying the interface. Hopefully that is where they will turn next.

Pashtun Wally

So far, iCloud has been largely a disaster for me, much of it has simply been the failure of intuitive design, as Ted points out so well.

It has also highlighted (for me, at least) the same failings that plague the AppleID.  The AppleID/iTunes account/Apple Store account unification might’ve been a great idea, but the execution has led to users being locked out AppleIDs for being fumble-fingered & discovering the hard way that they’ve lost that account & everything associated, they can’t cancel or reset the account, and they have to come up with another email address that hasn’t already been disqualified from use BY Apple.

The faults and failings of Apple’s multi-pass implementation would be an article all its own;  those exact faults and failings damaged MobileMe, and they’re given fresh teeth in iCloud.

A definitive example of pooch-screwing.

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