As much as I commend Apple for prioritizing the cloud by integrating iCloud into Mountain Lion, Apple has instead only spotlighted how it is still way behind the competition when it comes to cloud services. Competitors such as Dropbox, Box, and SugarSync all have a serious edge on iCloud when it comes to file management, platform availability, and sharing files. Google is also likely to enter this fray soon with its own Drive cloud storage product, and we expect it will be competitive too.
Before we delve into just how iCloud is lacking, a little more background on the service: iCloud essentially helps complete Steve Jobs’ vision of a truly connected Apple ecosystem. iCloud users have an automated system for backing up photos, documents, bookmarks, and other files — as long as they stay within Apple hardware and software. To start an iCloud account, you can enable the service in iOS 5 on an iPhone or iPad or inside of Lion OS X. There is also an undercooked Windows-based control panel that works for Vista and Windows 7 OSes. More than 100 million Apple users have signed up for iCloud thus far.
Now, iCloud is getting more hype than before because it will be integrated inside Apple’s next OS. iCloud gets name-checked in the third sentence of Apple’s press release announcing the new Mountain Lion OS, saying, “Mountain Lion is the first OS X release built with iCloud in mind for easy setup and integration with apps.” The company also notes: “Mountain Lion uses your Apple ID to automatically set up Contacts, Mail, Calendar, Messages, FaceTime, and Find My Mac. The new iCloud Documents pushes any changes to all your devices so documents are always up to date, and a new API helps developers make document-based apps work with iCloud.”
Sounds pretty decent so far, right? Yes, until you realize the limitations. First, to get any serious benefit, you must have all Apple devices and not a mix like the majority of users. Those documents that sync across your Apple devices, at this point, have to be from Apple’s iWork suite, which not everyone has or wants to use. And how long before the document creation or editing app you want to use will have iCloud support?
In terms of helping consumers with devices, iCloud is wildly incomplete. Let’s compare iCloud to Dropbox for a moment, just for clarity’s sake. Dropbox, which was once a service Steve Jobs wanted to buy, installs its software on nearly any device (Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Windows Phone, BlackBerry, etc.) and keeps files available no matter where you access them. I’ll admit Dropbox isn’t perfect — having a “cloud” service taking physical storage space on my computer is a bit frustrating — but it is one of the best solutions available on the market.