The iCloud Report: Did I Say Cloudy?

October 21st, 2011

With over one week’s experience with iCloud under my belt, so to speak, I am somewhat underwhelmed with the way it works. I mean, it’s good to see Apple trying over and over again to find the road to success in building some sort of online service portfolio, but previous efforts have been hit and miss, and miss was often the operative term.

As I wrote awhile back, Apple got into the online game back in the 1980s with a service for dealers and repairers known as AppleLink. A consumer-based version was abandoned, but Apple’s partner in that venture used it as the basis for America Online. In the 1990s, Apple tried eWorld, using AOL’s technology, and gave it up after failing to provide a suitable alternative to AOL. For the 21st century, we went from iTools, to .Mac, MobileMe, and now to iCloud.

Are we there yet?

Certainly if the October 12th rollout is an example, the answer would be a big fat no, but you cannot take the initial rollout, which coincided with the release of iOS 5, Mac OS 10.7.2, and other goodies, as an example of a depressing trend. On that day and the next, my (or email worked in fits and starts.

But the real problem for me occurred in the days that followed, where regular email notices from our Web server would be unceremoniously deposited in the Junk mailbox. I turned off Junk filtering in Lion Mail with the same result, at Apple’s urging. No change. Even though I continued to flag the messages as Not Junk in the email reader, the messages were still regarded as spam. Worse, the problem was never consistent, and the email messages from our backup server seemed to get through without incident.

As I write this column, Apple is suggesting that, if the problem doesn’t go away, I give them permission to examine my account and see if they can find a cause. To do that, of course, I have to prove to Apple that I am the actual account holder, and provide them several tidbits of information to confirm my identity, but I’m still deciding whether to take that route.

Aside from the growing pains, Apple’s biggest problem is probably related to those notorious Apple IDs. iCloud expects you to have one, but many Apple customers have several, distributed among family members, and perhaps to separate the home and business accounts. In my case, I have the same Apple ID I set up years ago when iTunes debuted, plus one for the .Mac and MobileMe subscription plan that has lasted all these years.

What this means, of course, is that services on other accounts, such as my iTunes music library, aren’t going to integrate with my iCloud email, document storage, and so forth and so on. This has to be thoroughly confusing, and since Apple has tens upon tens of millions of accounts, they have a bear of a problem to confront. Already two reports, quoting Apple CEO Tim Cook, make it clear they are working on a solution. To me, the solution would be to allow you to integrate all of your Apple IDs into just one, if that’s what you want, after somehow proving to Apple that you are the one and only holder of all those accounts. Indeed, I suppose that’s a significant problem that has to be resolved in a consumer friendly fashion.

My other concern is how Apple will address the curious situation where Mac users who haven’t upgraded to Lion are getting shafted by not being able to use iCloud, while Windows users running Vista or Windows 7, courtesy of an iCloud control panel, can use the service. Is that fair? Now it’s true that Apple made serious revisions to Address Book and iCal, two linchpins of iCloud, which may require extra work to resolve. Perhaps Apple could update those two apps in a special update for Leopard and Snow Leopard users. Regardless of the solution, Mac users deserve to be able to set up, or migrate to, iCloud even if they won’t or can’t update to Lion.

I hear rumors that a solution is being worked on. I hope it arrives soon, assuming those of you who are on older versions of the Mac OS care. But if you’re a MobileMe user, you should, since that service goes away as of the summer of 2012.

The other concern is that Apple dropped several integration or sync features in transitioning from MobileMe to iCloud, such as the ability to match up your keychains, Mail preferences, Dashboard widgets and other settings. True, each and every one of these features were flaky, at least from my experience. Perhaps they will be added if and when Apple devises better solutions.

For me, aside from the email glitches, iCloud has worked all right. But I won’t be able to use it fully until there is a solution to the case of the multiple Apple IDs. I hope that solution arrives soon, just as I hope iCloud won’t become something else in a year or two. I’d like to see Apple get this one right, or it will begin to sound like the sort of stunt Microsoft pulls with underperforming products and services.

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11 Responses to “The iCloud Report: Did I Say Cloudy?”

  1. dfs says:

    First, I think iCloud is not the sort of thing where it’s a good idea to be an early adopter. At the moment it’s not much more than a beta, it may take months to get the kinks out, and in the meantime anybody who makes the transition too soon is just begging for the proverbial world of pain. It is likely that Apple fully expects teething problems, and this is why they are not closing down MobileMe until June. Second, once iCloud is running successfully (and they have put way too much corporate prestige on the line , and no doubt a huge capital investment in an adequate server farm, to let it fail). Third, the idea that they should provide some alternate to Lion as a means of accessing it is a darned good one and I think it’s likely to happen. As things now stand, because of the Rosetta issue, there are many people who can’t upgrade to Lion (particularly Quicken-dependent users). At the moment they are shut out of iCloud, and yet it’s in Apple’s corporate interest to rope as many people into iCloud as possible. So I expect we’ll see either a final update of Snow Leopard or something like the Windows control panel (maybe they are holding off on this for a while because they want to sell as many copies of Lion as possible, and in the last analysis iCloud access is Lion’s biggest selling point, but when sales begin to taper off this won’t be so important a consideration). Something similar for first- and second- generation iOS devices would be nice too.

  2. Trx3 says:

    You’re right, Microsoft would have been lambasted for this type of service. Apple, however, seems to be getting a free pass. People losing all their contacts and mail. And all of their photos due to the ios5 update. Just search twitter. Everyone is just saying oh well, looks like i just got screwed by Apple, love my new iPhone though.

    • @Trx3, Usually contacts and email somehow get restored when things go awry. But I would suggest contacting Apple. They have chat-based and email support for iCloud, and they really do try to deal with such issues.


  3. Randy Moore says:

    Inability to sync keychains, mail preferences, etc. and the imediate loss of those features if I upgrade are keeping me away from iCloud. I’ll hold onto mobile me for as long as possible!!

  4. Reed says:

    The inability to merge multiple Apple IDs is a must. I set up my iTunes (and, therefore, the App Store) with a different ID than my .Mac account. I haven’t tried changing them all to a new Apple ID and password because I’m afraid I’ll lose access to all my purchased apps (as well as my iTunes money). Does anyone know the answer to that?

    A bigger problem for me is that I can no longer connect to Apple TV 2 since the update to Lion and iOS5. I don’t know if this is related to the separate IDs or not.

  5. DaveD says:

    Yes, Apple stumbles again.

    The “clean break” approach to making new software or service can cause users a lot of grief. For example, Final Cut Pro X should have been named Final Cut X due to lack of many needed processes for the pros. Yes, one can wait for Apple to hopefully filled in the “blanks”, but in the meantime…

    I would have thought that Apple considered the case of multiple IDs prior to iCloud development and implementation. It’s rather late to consider it now.

    It would have been helpful for those who are using PowerPC applications that a drop date for Rosetta would have been announced one or two years back. So, that in the meantime we could plan ahead.

    • @DaveD, With Final Cut Pro, Apple’s marketing people blew it big time. All they had to do was keep selling the previous version, and make it clear to early adopters that the new version lacked key features that, for the most part, would be added over time. To some degree they have made changes to satisfy many of the skeptics, and have also put the older version back in the inventory for those who aren’t ready to upgrade. That’s a proper way to handle this. But it’s also damage control; it’s the decision they should have made before FC X came out.

      With iCloud, Apple is giving you nine months to transition from MobileMe. You don’t have to migrate now. At the same time, I do hope they will address the key issues, such as integrating Apple IDs, and adding back a few of the lost features from MobileMe to the mix.

      When it comes to Lion: Apple miscalculated. I cannot see why they couldn’t have kept Rosetta. Even if there was a licensing issue, Apple has the cash to do whatever they want.


  6. Scott Aronian says:

    Yes, I agree on all points, and your experience mirrors mine. I was surprised that the iCloud/iOS 5/iPhone 4s launch week wasn’t any worse, considering the past.

    It’s most frustrating to have a few Mac mini core-duo’s stuck on Snow Leopard.

  7. dfs says:

    Reading all these comments, as well as everything I’ve read elsewhere, it’s hard not to conclude that Apple should be labeling the current iCloud a public beta, with a “use at your own risk” warning. And, if technically feasible, it should be giving subscribers a means of bailing on it and resuming their MobileMe accounts.

  8. Rob says:

    I am so glad I consolidated my iTunes account and iTools/.mac/MobileMe account ages ago. Not that Apple let me do that. Thankfully I only had a few purchases on my old iTunes account. I just started using the other one, stopped using the iTunes account and used the new one. I did lose the few purchases I had, but so worth it over the years. I’m sure my old iTunes account info is sitting on Apple’s server, but I don’t even remember the log in info anymore.

    Since then my whole family has just used my single iTunes account for purchases. It makes things much easier to manage.

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