Can Apple Deliver on the Promised New iCloud Services?

Now that WWDC is over and we’ve all had a chance to digest Apple’s announcements, I’ve been thinking about Apple and the cloud. Right up until WWDC, there were several questions in my mind.

1. Does Apple realize how important cloud data is to the future of iOS and the Mac?

This question seems silly in hindsight but right up until a few weeks ago, I wasn’t even sure this was on their radar. It seemed as if every few years Apple announced some new semi-cloudy initiative but things never really changed. It felt as if this were an issue that received lip service but no actual attention. That changed this year with Apple not only announcing some very aggressive cloud tools but also committing to use these very cloud tools for their own software tools (including picture management).

2. Is Apple working on catching up with cloud services?

I use the term “catching up” intentionally. While there are many areas for which Apple remains an industry leader, providing fast, reliable cloud services is not one of them. Moreover, because they are so secretive, we had no idea whether they were taking steps to improve the situation or sitting around convincing each other this isn’t a big deal. (See point one above.) 2014 WWDC’s announcements including iCloud Drive, CloudKit, and the initiative to store all of our photo libraries on their servers answers this question. They have been working on it and they’ve got some pretty big aspirations, which leads to the last question.

3. Can Apple deliver worry-free cloud services?

All of the promise of WWDC will be forgotten if these new services are slow, unreliable, or otherwise not up to snuff. This is the part we are waiting on. While the narrative that Apple can’t do the cloud is fun enough, it’s not really true. They serve a lot of data every day through their app stores. Pieces of iCloud, like contact and calendar sync, have always reliably worked and they include millions of users. Apple’s cloud problem, in my mind at least, has always involved pushing big blocks of data. Does anybody remember how bad iDrive was at moving anything bigger than a Pages file?  

In fairness, this question will not get a definitive answer on day one when all of this goes live. You can’t reliably load test these types of services for hundreds of millions of users. You do your best, stock up on duct tape, and then you push the green button and stand by. I’m certain there will be some hiccups. However, at some point in the not too distant future, we all will make a decision whether services like iCloud Drive are just as reliable as Dropbox or not. Only in that final judgment will we be able to answer this last question.