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Apple Services, Bandwidth and Reliability

With the newest versions of its operating systems, Apple has continue to push forward the goal of further integrating its hardware and software. On the basis of the press releases alone, no other company comes close in making sure everything works together as much as Apple. So on the basis of pie-in-the-sky hopes and dreams, Apple is on a roll.

As most of you know, some of the most interesting new features of macOS Sierra depend on a reliable iCloud setup — not to mention having enough space left for all that stuff. You know from yesterday’s column what I think about the latter. Apple should boost the amount of free storage, and make larger allocations cheaper.

The most serious concern is iCloud’s reliability, which is no great shakes. There have been numerous troubles over the years syncing content, and we all know about cases involving Apple Music and alleged disappearing music libraries. From time to time, iCloud services, such as email, are down for the count for a while.

True Apple is busy building out its server farms, so capacity shouldn’t be a problem. Reliability is another story entirely, and Universal Clipboards, the ability to sync the Desktop and Documents folder across devices, and Optimized Storage, all depend on a system that’s absolutely dependable.

It doesn’t appear as if Apple needs to reinvent the wheel for any of this. There are already successful online backup services that offer various degrees of granularity in making reliable captures of your files. A great part of what Apple is doing involves backing up your stuff and sharing it. So I do think Apple can get that right.

But there is a serious limitation that isn’t being considered, and that’s bandwidth. With my Desktop and Documents folders totaling over 250GB, sending that stuff to the cloud will take its toll on my ISP’s bandwidth allotment. The previous service I used, CenturyLink, limited me to 250GB, so this would have been a non-starter. Cox gives me more.

I do realize that the amount of storage I will need may be somewhat on the high side. It would be basically a one-time process, and updates would be far smaller. But it’s still a potential deal breaker for many Mac users who don’t have generous bandwidth allotments. They might be put in the position of having their online connection throttled, suspended, or being forced to pay huge overage fees. Has Apple considered this? Is your data going to be compressed as much as possible on your iCloud Drive? What are we dealing with here?

As for Optimized Storage, I’ll assume that the amount of space it would routinely use will be far less, mainly because it will only deal with infrequently used apps to free up some extra storage space. Perhaps a few dozen gigabytes would be more than sufficient for most of you, if you even need the help. I don’t.

Now I’m not trying to dispute the possibility that macOS Sierra will be Apple’s best OS ever. I’m actually encouraged by the possibilities, assuming reliability and bandwidth requirements are dealt with. Mac users certainly don’t want to deal with the danger of not having a reliable cloud backup, and any sync glitches across devices would be a fatal blow.

The bandwidth issue has been festering for a while, particularly after Netflix has, at peak times, consumed over a third of the Internet capacity in use. Consider what will happen when large numbers of people are watching streamed 4K videos. ISPs are going to have to cope, and bandwidth ought to be unlimited except for the very few percent who abuse the privilege. Those customers should simply be asked to pay a somewhat higher fee to accommodate their usage patterns.

Meantime, I hope that Apple has prepared for the consequences of the expanding need for iCloud Drive storage, and Internet bandwidth. Developing all these features required a lot of hard work, and Apple has surely considered how much capacity it needs at its own server farms.

But when I read the tiny type on the page that introduces macOS Sierra, I see nothing about the need for extra iCloud storage, nor the possibility that you won’t have enough online bandwidth to accommodate copying this data. That doesn’t mean it won’t show up over the next few months, as Sierra comes closer to release. At first, I hope that public beta testers, who have not considered the consequences of using these new features, will be properly informed.

I’m not saying none of this will happen. There’s plenty of time for Apple to consider what information would-be testers need to know before getting involved. Don’t forget the common sense stuff, such as not using a production Mac, or at least doing it on an external drive or extra drive partition, and having a backup in case you want to give it all up and revert to the setup you previously used.