The Elephant in Apple’s iCloud

| Editorial

Here we go again. Another one-day software palooza. Did Apple learn its lesson from the last time? I don’t think so.

This is an editorial. Had it been an actual technical essay, you’d be confronted with a long list of URLs, step-by-step directions, and a myriad of caveats. Instead, I want to take a more philosophical approach.

Apple blew it.

Elephant in the cloud

You can argue that most people are doing just fine — if they just stumble through everything. But that’s not what we want from Apple. We want the same ease of use and sheer joy that we’ve enjoyed with Macs and iPhones. Instead, the October 12 prospects were overwhelming, and the overall guidance was typical Apple happy-go-lucky: everything will be fine. Don’t worry, be happy.

1. Apple’s servers were overwhelmed. Many got error messages, with numeric codes no less, suggesting that something had gone wrong with the iOS 5 install when it was really a symptom of Apple’s overloaded servers. Because the install is a two-way process on the Internet, it can go wrong when there are communication delays. And why is Apple presenting us with numeric error codes anyway?

2. Apple’s servers were overloaded because Apple released too much stuff at once. Here’s a list for October 12.

  1. OS X 10.7.2
  2. iTunes 10.5 (the day before)
  3. iCloud
  4. iOS 5
  5. Apple TV 4.4
  6. Airport Utility for iOS
  7. Aperture 3.2
  8. Newsstand for iOS
  9. iPhoto 9.2

I would have liked to see a phased release. Of course, there are some contingencies. The iCloud depends on Lion 10.7.2 and iOS 5. But what I’m driving at is that Apple’s desire for customers to have all this cool stuff working together (and be amazed) should be tempered by the reality that customers can only absorb so much at once. Designing the technology for a phased rollout not only lessens the load on servers but also implicitly suggests a sequential course of action for the customers.

System Preferences -> Software Update is no place to present a course of action. It’s a place where one goes after one decides on a course of action.

3. Documentation. I know that Apple likes to create a sense of delight and simplicity by keeping the documentation short, sweet and visual. The starting point is Apple’s iCloud setup page. The problem, as I see it, is that if one needs more details or has questions, one is referred to the classic Knowledge Base articles.

These articles can be rather clinical and daunting. Some of them can give you an immediate headache. When there is so much at stake with user data and a myriad of permutations and considerations, I will argue that special documentation was warranted for such a huge event. I think Apple took a shortcut. That is, individual engineers wrote their KB articles and another team wrote the iCloud set up page and simply linked to them. Job done. Easy way out.

Not so fast.

If Apple is going to go to the trouble of a giant palooza event with all this software, doesn’t it make sense to generate a more comprehensive set up page that showcases the best Apple can do with customer guidance? And cover all the bases more gracefully? Again, there is a lot of guidance in the iCloud set up process itself, but by then, you are more or less psychologically committed. Many customers want to read, learn about the advantages, understand the impact of their decisions, and make intelligent choices before they’re strong-armed into moving the iCloud set up process along.

Where was the Simplicity?

Again, a technology that’s been designed for a phased introduction allows the customer to reflect and test at every stage and more easily recover from unintended consequences. It’s the classic difference between the older waterfall and the newer spiral and agile development models. For example, no one would write a million lines of code, compile it all at once, and expect it to work flawlessly. Yet Apple dumps huge code projects on the consumer in one day and expects it to all work. (Or do they?)

I.T. managers all across the country were probably thinking: I would never try this with my own company. These Apple guys are amateurs.

A major problen is that the iCloud is a place where Apple’s historical excellence with user interfaces for an OS comes into direct conflict with the complexities of massive amounts and different types of user data in the cloud. Apple has tried to tie together, across multiple devices and two OSes:

  • Mail
  • Contacts
  • Calendars
  • Bookmarks
  • iTunes in the Cloud
  • Photo stream
  • Document syncing
  • Backup and restore

Other services that customers may have come to depend on have had to be dropped.

  • Mac Dashboard widgets
  • Keychains
  • Dock items
  • System Preferences
  • Third party syncing

In addition, the proliferation of Mac & iOS devices in one household means that there are different devices with different (or same) AppleIDs. How to approach al this for an even modest sized family and retain a sense of sanity and simplicity is hard. Long ago, Apple might have considered just what it is trying to achieve and what’s best left to third parties. Could corporate arrogance be causing Apple to believe that only they know how to do all this best?

In fact, Apple has a long way to go in becoming a master of the cloud. Apple might have approached this differently if it had a history of excellence in the enterprise. But Apple’s semi-dissing of the enterprise over the years, for the sake of relentlessly moving forward in its area of expertise, means they didn’t walk the walk of the cloud — where it was hard and mission critical for the enterprise. That difficult endeavor would have provided much needed expertise that Apple could have exploited to make it easy for the consumer.

And that’s the elephant in Apple’s iCloud.

___________

Kudos to TMO’s Bryan Chaffin for his artwork - with help from iStockPhoto.

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Comments

mlanger

I pretty much agree with what you’re saying here. I had a nightmarish experience updating my iPhone on Wednesday followed by too much uncertainly in switching to iCloud (from MobileMe) and enabling related features. I wound up with duplicate calendars in iCal (since resolved), missing calendars on some devices, Photo Stream not recognized on one Mac’s iPhoto app but working fine on another’s, and notification settings on both iOS devices that I’m still trying to sort out.

And this is happening to someone who has been using Macs since 1989 and has written extensively about Mac OS since Mac OS 8—in other words, an “expert.” If I can’t figure it out, I pity the novice user who is trying to make it all work without any experience or expertise.

Definitely not your average Apple update experience. I hope they learned from this so it doesn’t happen again.

I certainly won’t rush into future updates.

YodaMac

You forgot to mention:

iTunes Movie Trailers App

and Apple Cards App

smile

Lee Dronick

Great graphic Bryan

I would like to see Apple adding Keychains to the synch list. Perhaps they have security concerns about moving them around?

I have a number of months before I will be forced to make a decision about moving to iCloud. I will certainly do it, but first I want to upgrade my iMac and my wife’s MacBook Pro to Lion. I want to wait until her school semester ends.

TBishop

Absolutely on target!  35 years experience in technology design and implementation have taught me that the implementation strategy is critical to success. 

As you suggest, Apple (and I’d suggest most microprocessor-oriented companies whether supplier or consumer) has been largely dismissive of the systems integration and implementation planning needed to ensure success.  Brainstorming all consievable failure modes and determining either design changes to eliminate potential problems or backup plans to minimize impact are also key.  Client communications are also essential.

There is a widespread distain for people with “data processing” backgrounds.  Yet those are the folks who have the knowledge and experience necessary to pull off such massive undertakings. 

Given the arrogance of many of the people involved in implementing “new” technologies today,  I fear it unlikely that any real lessons will be learned.

geoduck

I agree completely. My iOS updates were not trouble free. The iPod Touch went smoothly but the iPad generated a numeric error and had to be rebooted. Since then Location on both devices alternates between putting me in Nanaimo and Anaheim. (I mentioned this on another article yesterday. I thought rebooting had fixed it but as it turned out, not so much.)

One BIG item they’re dropping in the transition from MobileMe to iCloud is web hosting. There;s a small but dedicated group of long term Mac/MobileMe users that have huge sites out there. This is a kick in the teeth.

One thing that does bother me is the forced upgrading. MobileMe is going away next summer. I’ll have to move to iCloud. Oh wait, I can’t move to iCloud until I upgrade from Snow Leopard to Lion. But I have software that might not run on Lion. Apple used to be the king of backwards compatibility. This is just a chicken**** way to treat long time customers.

You did an article asking what if Cook thinks differently. I’m more than a little afraid that he is and this is the result.

Dave Hamilton

You did an article asking what if Cook thinks differently. I?m more than a little afraid that he is and this is the result.

That article was great, but this is most certainly not the result of Tim Cook thinking differently. In fact, this is exactly the same as we’ve seen from Apple many times in the past. iTools (fail), .Mac (fail), MobileMe (fail). iCloud? Time will tell, but unless Tim Cook *is* thinking differently and has directly impacted this project, iCloud will fail.

The big failings I refer to are with regards to syncing and managing the servers for housing all of this data. Syncing (and the resulting need for conflict resolution) have been utter failures with all implementations from Apple. Sure it’s worked for some folks and with very small amounts of data, but throw anything significant at it and it inevitably chokes, forcing the user to start syncing from scratch again (and again). THis never happens with Google services for me.

Server infrastructure, too, has suffered from more outages than I’ve ever seen from anyone else.

The one place where this is not true is the (newish) calDAV-based MobileMe calendars. Those have worked flawlessly for me since day 1. Perhaps there’s hope.

furbies

Did anyone else get confused by the iCloud setup in iOS 5 asking for an Apple ID. At least on the screen there was a help link that said to enter the MobileMe ID, and then to enter an iTunes ID later in the Settings->Store.

Mind you I still haven’t gotten my head around just what iCloud will do to my existing data on my Mac & iPad & Touch.

I hate the idea of iCloud just helping it’s self, and sharing iCal/Address Book etc changes on one device to the other devices.

I have my MobileMe Syncing set to Manual, so I can choose when to share updates across my devices. There’s nothing worse than making a bunch of changes late at night (under the influence of something combustable) and the next day discovering the error of one’s ways.

I’m sorry Apple if this doesn’t meet with your expectations about how users will behave, but your founders always encouraged us to “Think Different!”

And what’s this about not being able to sync KeyChains I read in other posts ? WTF Apple. The data should/can be encrypted so what’s the problem ?

mkoehler

I too can agree with most of your arguments. I too had troubles updating my iPhone 4 and iPad 2. Both failed with the ominous 3004 error. On the other hand, the update for AppleTV and Mac OS X 10.7.2 went smoothly without hiccups. I waited with migrating mobileme to iCloud until I had updated both my i-devices. It was certainly clear that an update marathon like that wouldn’t go through without problems. So I was patient and waited until the next morning. Then everything went fine.

So I really am quite impressed with the process. All my data was instantly accessible on all my devices. I also think it would have been better for Apple to phase the process: First OS X, next day iOS 5 and the new apps, the day after that iCloud. But I don’t think that the update to iOS 5 would have been any smoother. Too many folks will update at once.

So I’d say: Be patient and most will be fine!

webjprgm

I note that you can use a different AppleID on a device for App Store / Game Center / iCloud.  In my case I have my original Apple ID used for the first two, and a MobileMe address used for iCloud.  So if you want, you can use one master App Store id and have different iCloud ids per person’s device.

But that’s still a per-device thing, not a per-user one.  There are some games on my iPhone who’s state I don’t want messed up by other users playing them. E.g. mess with high scores, confuse me as to which levels I’ve played, or even die in a way that ruins my game progress.  So I don’t want all my app state copied to, a shared iPad unless Apple implements some kind of multi-user system.


On a related note, I had put in my iCloud ID at work just for kicks and giggles, then when I updated my home machine I forgot about the work machine and so it merged by work and home bookmarks.  Not cool.  The fix was simple, though. Just uncheck bookmark synching on the work machine and delete the ones I didn’t want.

d'monder

I hate the idea of iCloud just helping it?s self

Fully agreed.

Things like iCloud should be OPTIONAL.  If somebody wants or needs it, great!  But this business of “your data WILL be going onto our servers” seems a bit… authoritarian.

John Martellaro

d’monder.  iCloud is indeed optional.  You can elect to NEVER sign up and lead a full life.

But when MobileMe goes away, local syncing is gonna be tough.

geoduck

But when MobileMe goes away, local syncing is gonna be tough.

Last Summer I got me a NAS. Time Machine goes there.  iTunes is out there. I’ll need to do the same with iPhoto. Then get a different web host and I’ll be set for when MobileMe goes away. Won’t do everything and it won’t be as convenient but it’ll do what I need.

What iCloud Offers

Mail OK I need that,
Contacts Back up to NAS
Calendars Not a big deal
Bookmarks Back up to the NAS
iTunes in the Cloud Absolutely NOT Interested.
Photo stream Might be useful occasionally but mostly no as THAT’S WHAT MY WEB SITE IS FOR
Document syncing Not a big deal
Backup and restore Back up to the NAS
So right now I’ll likely pass on iCloud. I guess I’ll need to upgrade to Lion and activate it by next June so I keep my Mail addresses. Until then it’s not a big deal.

Bryan Chaffin

Great graphic Bryan

Awww, shucks. smile

Thanks, Sir Harry.

Carolyn in Baltimore

For me the iCloud problem is this: In order to use iCloud services I need to upgrade Snow Lion to Lion, and iLife apps to current version on 2 computers. That is $150. Plus the yearly iTunes fee to take advantage of my music libraries.
So iCloud not usable for me yet.

Ross Edwards

Mail OK I need that,
Contacts Back up to NAS
Calendars Not a big deal
Bookmarks Back up to the NAS
iTunes in the Cloud Absolutely NOT Interested.
Photo stream Might be useful occasionally but mostly no as THAT?S WHAT MY WEB SITE IS FOR
Document syncing Not a big deal
Backup and restore Back up to the NAS

See, I guess this is why it’s so hard for them to satisfy users on a broad-scope project like this.  My needs don’t line up with yours in some respects, and I couldn’t say with any authority whether either of us is a typical user or not, so who do they seek to serve?  Perhaps both of us, perhaps neither.

Mail - yep
Contacts - yep, but also I have found so far that iCloud keeping my contacts synced between two iPhones, an iPad, and two Macs has been a HUGE hassle-reliever.  If you’re using fewer devices you might not care as much.
Bookmarks - I thought no, but then I realized the same thing as for Contacts… it REALLY helps!
iTunes in the Cloud - Here is where we diverge the most.  This has been huge for me and my wife ever since it debuted in iOS 4.3.  We’ve loved being able to grab our music as needed without filling up the storage on any given device.  When iTunes Match comes out, this is going to be nirvana for us (the feeling, not the band).
Photo Stream - in this case I agree with you totally
Document Syncing - the jury is still out.  I can see why I would want it but haven’t yet found the workflow for it.
Backup and restore - Like you, I cover that locally.  I also double up with Crashplan to be sure.

Ross Edwards

For me the iCloud problem is this: In order to use iCloud services I need to upgrade Snow Lion to Lion, and iLife apps to current version on 2 computers. That is $150. Plus the yearly iTunes fee to take advantage of my music libraries.

Lion license for $30 covers all the Macs you own.  There was no new iLife release with Lion, so no cost there.

iTunes in the cloud is free.  You don’t have to buy iTunes Match to use it.  You just won’t have access to your non-purchased tracks unless you allocate some of your 5GB to storing them.

Is $30 total still a dealbreaker?  Hopefully not, and you’ll be able to enjoy the new functionality.  HTH! smile

Mikey D

WWSD?  Fire someone…

wab95

I have to admit, I had no trouble in doing the iOS5 updates on either my ageing but venerable 3GS or my iPad2.

I credit that in part to:

1) Not being to upgrade until evening/early AM 13/14 OCT (in SE Asia), as I was out in the field with no internet access on release day.

2) Excellent coverage by TMO on Lion 10.7.2 and other updates. This was an excellent service to the Apple community provided by TMO and one that I credit for reducing the frustrations noted above in John’s piece.

That said, John, you make some very strong points regarding integration, process and workflow. Apple really should have had a phased approach (although from the looks of those phaser burns you point out, it appears the release was ‘phased’) leading up to their pi?ce de resistance, the iOS5 rollout. They could even have held iCloud activation in abeyance for another day or two, with an explanation that they were trying to maximise access to iOS5 and minimise server overload, and most would probably have forgiven them.

I also wonder if they underestimated initial 24h demand. That is no excuse, but an operational embarrassment.

In fact, this is exactly the same as we?ve seen from Apple many times in the past. iTools (fail), .Mac (fail), MobileMe (fail). iCloud? Time will tell, but unless Tim Cook *is* thinking differently and has directly impacted this project, iCloud will fail.

This is a worrisome legacy, and suggests that Apple aren’t learning from their past server - related failures. One wonders if this is due to a lack of professional, experienced leadership for their cloud-based services, or as you and John suggest, hubris (maybe commingled with lack of institutional memory).

THis never happens with Google services for me.

Apple may be able to learn something from Google on this front.

jecrawford

I updated an iPhone 3GS and an iPad to iOS5 without any problems. It just took a long time.

I then had distinct moments of irritation when the iCloud switch from MobileMe would not accept my password. Tried all sorts of things, and then finally saw that the Apple Support Forums were full of the same password problem.

So, I cooled down rationalising it as severe server overload, which it obviously was.

I left everything as it was overnight on my MBA, my new 27” iMac and a Mac mini, and smoothly finished the conversions/installations on Friday.

Apart from Apple causing dramatic indigestion at its server farms for 24 hours or so, I think everything (?) is working OK now for me. Maybe I should take some of the blame as an experienced Mac fan since 1985 ? I just went straight into the whole implementation process without reading anything first! Not very clever.

I would be interested to hear what an implementation expert (not a pontificator with 20/20 vision after the event) would recommend as a staged process. Clearly there were several interlocking or necessarily sequential stages, but consider what I did? And many other users will have done the same, just barged in because we expect Apple to make it work.

I find it hard to believe that Apple did not learn from the MobileMe misstep(s). They must have planned for what was an even more complex set of processes. So it was just extremely difficult, and maybe they got things wrong.

I haven’t yet looked at the Support Forums to see what is happening with iOS5, Lion, the iCloud et al. For the moment I am amazed that Apple did so well.

Maybe I’ll change my mind in the coming weeks.

John

skipaq

My iPhone 4 updated to iOS 5 yesterday without a hitch. My wife got her new 4s yesterday at Radio Shack and it was activated on AT&T without a hitch. They gave her $100 for her 3gs smile

I am planning to upgrade my iMac to Lion later next week and then my wife’s MacBook a couple days after that. I will then open the iCloud pathway. When the flood of software releases was let loose, waiting t’ill after the big rush seemed like the way to go.

My only remaining problem will be finding a replacement for iWeb. How’s about that software review of Web design products?

tammythemongoose

I am lucky enough not to need an iphone ipod touch or ipad in my life so I only have Mac OS X to worry about, and I’m sure even more glad about that when I read all these posts!

However, I really can relate to what Dave Hamilton and furbies said in their posts :

Dave The one place where this is not true is the (newish) calDAV-based MobileMe calendars. Those have worked flawlessly for me since day 1. Perhaps there?s hope.

furbies: Mind you I still haven?t gotten my head around just what iCloud will do to my existing data on my Mac ...

I hate the idea of iCloud just helping it?s self ...

I have my MobileMe Syncing set to Manual, so I can choose when to share updates across my devices. There?s nothing worse than making a bunch of changes late at night (under the influence of something combustable) and the next day discovering the error of one?s ways.

  I?m sorry Apple if this doesn?t meet with your expectations about how users will behave, but your founders always encouraged us to ?Think Different!?  And what?s this about not being able to sync KeyChains I read in other posts ? WTF Apple. The data should/can be encrypted so what?s the problem ?

I for one plan to wait until absolutely the last minute and I think that means late May 2012 to decide what to do about icloud and certainly it will be after that painful IRS Tax Filing season in 2012 that I take the plunge to lion because nothing in lion improves my computing life right now. (you can see that my distinct lack of any ios device is why for that one).

By then, maybe Apple will have realized that many of us WANT to be able to sync contacts and bookmarks and key chains. (mobile me never did sync dashboard widgets, system preferences or dock items correctly among my 3 macs so I have had that turned off since day 1).

GREAT ARTICLE!!!

John Martellaro

skipaq:  Reviewing ISP/Web hosting migration and iWeb replacement products are high on my ToDo list.

Lee Dronick

My only remaining problem will be finding a replacement for iWeb. How?s about that software review of Web design products?

If the current version is working under Lion then you can use it at least for a year or so. OSXI may break it, don’t know.

As to hosting there are a lot of places you can put your webpages that are cheaper than the old MobileMe. I am happy with my host, but I am looking forward to John’s review.

jameskatt

This article is silly.

Why are you complaining about getting too many gifts for Christmas????

Realize that Apple has given a ton of gifts to millions of people in the world.  Realize that you have to get in line since everyone will be crowding to open up their own gifts at the same time.

Realize that if you just wait a week or two, the crowd will dissipate and you should have no problems updating your software and playing with your toys.

You are just being so impatient.

Dave Hamilton

Realize that if you just wait a week or two, the crowd will dissipate and you should have no problems updating your software and playing with your toys.

To be fair, that was *not* the case with any cloud offering from Apple before. Syncing was never at a state that I would call reliable, and I’m not expecting reliability from iCloud, either. It’s a shame.

cantabro

Another big drawback with iCloud is that even if you have an apple id and you have mac devices with Lion 10.7.2 you cannot sync iWork documents between your mac devices.  In a nutshell, if you do not have any iO5 devices you cannot sync documents between your mac devices.  Apple’s development of iCloud is completely iO5 centric. We have just crossed the threshold where mac only users will be treated as second class customers from now on.

To prove that I have found the following “help” by signing in to iCloud from Safari. To the right of the sign out (on the upper right corner) there is an ? for help. If you click that you access iCloud’s manual. If you click documents overview,read on and it will be self explanatory

Lee Dronick

To be fair, that was *not* the case with any cloud offering from Apple before. Syncing was never at a state that I would call reliable, and I?m not expecting reliability from iCloud, either. It?s a shame.

I found that since a year or so that synching was quite reliable. I create a new Note or add a new entry in Address Book and a few minutes later it is on my iPhone. I will probably be on iCloud in about a week, we will see how it works for me then.

Lancashire-Witch

.... updating your software and playing with your toys.

Of course if you use this stuff in the Enterprise then it’s probably asking for trouble to regard it as a toy.  Calling the ATv a hobby was a rare mistake. If it’s not important then it no longer has to “just work”.

I gave up playing email ping-pong with MobileMe support.  Bugs years old never got properly fixed - they just morphed into new variants. Waiting a week or two fixed nothing.

Lancashire-Witch

The one place where this is not true is the (newish) calDAV-based MobileMe calendars. Those have worked flawlessly for me since day 1. Perhaps there?s hope.

Not for me.  Some contacts’ birthdays appear on the wrong day in the Birthday calendar on my Mac. Not a big deal; but it’s not flawless.

jecrawford

Dave Hamilton

I have had no problem with sync’ing over the past 2 or 3 years. In fact this has been one of the more reliable features,

John

Terrin

I’d like to point out that iTools was very popular. It only failed because it was too successful and Apple wasn’t ready to support it. I still miss iCards, and my .Mac email address. Apple was ahead of the curve there providing these services free to users of its products.

Things went wrong when Apple decided to charge for something it told people would be free. With maybe the web hosting services and sync features being the exceptions, the cost didn’t justify what Google was giving away for free. Had Mobile Me been free, people wouldn’t have been as hostile.

Had Apple kept iTools around as a free service, Apple would have had a huge advantage over Google. Millions of Mac users wouldn’t have had a reason to look at Google’s services.

That article was great, but this is most certainly not the result of Tim Cook thinking differently. In fact, this is exactly the same as we?ve seen from Apple many times in the past. iTools (fail), .Mac (fail), MobileMe (fail). iCloud? Time will tell, but unless Tim Cook *is* thinking differently and has directly impacted this project, iCloud will fail.

Lee Dronick

I still miss iCards, and my .Mac email address

Are .me addresses going away or just the .mac ones?

Dave Hamilton

I have had no problem with sync?ing over the past 2 or 3 years. In fact this has been one of the more reliable features,

Do you sync any 3rd party app data? For me it was the (pre-CalDAV) MobileMe Calendars and 3rd party app data that has been a total nightmare to sync with MobileMe. Recently (post-CalDAV) if you only synced “default” data (and nothing from 3rd party apps), MobileMe syncing actually *was* very reliable.

But it’s exactly this that has me very concerned about iCloud: The whole reason for it is to sync data from 3rd party apps. This has been a complete and utter failure on MobileMe, and I really fear for it with iCloud, too.

Dave Hamilton

Are .me addresses going away or just the .mac ones?

I still have (and use) my @mac.com address, and hadn’t heard anything about it going away (did I miss something?).

skipaq

I still have my .mac address as well as the .me address. Haven’t heard that these addresses are changing.

Lee Dronick

I still have (and use) my @mac.com address, and hadn?t heard anything about it going away (did I miss something?).

I was unsure what Terrin was saying and I was concerned that our .me addresses were going to be deleted. I haven’t yet moved over to iCloud and have not yet dug that deep into the process. However, I am fixing to get ready to do it; This week I am installing Lion onto my iMac and my wife’s MacBook Pro, I already have it on mine. Our iPhone 4s are on order and when they come in I will move us to iCloud.

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