iCloud Drive Stumbles

Over the past few weeks I’ve had a post it in development concerning iCloud Drive and document syncing. Through the beta process for both Yosemite and iOS, I had varying degrees of success with synchronizing documents through the iCloud drive, by which I mean it rarely worked. 

Apple made a lot of changes under the hood with these most recent releases and I understood that this was going to be difficult for awhile and I was going to face the host of evils that come with running beta software. However, I also expected that when these products shipped, everything would be sorted out.

I am under no illusions that Apple can magically become the masters of cloud sync overnight, especially when they’ve been behind competitors like Google for so long. I was prepared for a few rough patches as the software released but I was not prepared for the problems I faced when Yosemite finally hit the streets and iCloud Drive was a real thing and no longer a beta thing.

Originally, my ability to sync through iCloud Drive was crippled. My iPhone, iPad, and Mac all had different versions of documents on them despite numerous attempts to reset the system, including logging out of iCloud entirely, switching my .Mac identity to an “iCloud” identity, and even nuking my iPad entirely and starting again from scratch were all fruitless. The most frustrating part is that these failures were not only with third parties using iCloud drive, they were happening with Pages, Numbers, and Keynote as well. How are people at Apple not seeing these problems with their own apps?

For a few weeks, it just didn’t work for me. Sometimes I could get one device to sync with the other temporarily but then a few hours later it would stop. I spent way too much time trying to troubleshoot it and ultimately concluded the problem was probably something server-based or software-based and entirely out of my control. I was like a tribesmen trying to forestall a solar eclipse by looking at chicken bones. I knew at some level that all of my attempts to sort things out was pointless yet I couldn’t stop myself because I needed these documents to synchronize for my work. That whole thing I’ve always felt about my Apple products just working for me and letting me get on with my work went out the window and it drove me nuts.

The version of this post that I wrote a week ago, was a lot less generous than the one I am now posting. The reason for that is about a week ago things started to sort out for the iWork apps. At first, things would start syncing but just take a long time to do so. I’ve got a 20 MB numbers file. It took about 10 minutes to synchronize between my iPad and my Mac. They didn’t allow for simultaneous work but at least I knew I had the data available to me when I needed it. Since then the speed has increased even more. We’ve had a few updates to the iWork apps that have significantly improved iCloud synchronizing speeds as well. It still takes longer than it should to synchronize documents and I expect this is largely server-based. Also, it still is not perfect. I updated a Numbers spreadsheet last night on my Mac and then started working on it this morning on my iPad but realized, about 5 minutes in, that I didn’t have the changes synced from the Mac so I now had two inconsistent versions of the same document. Ugh.

On third party apps, things are still a mess. There was apparently a problem with 8.1 that makes iCloud Drive document sync cause apps using the service to hang up and, generally, break. Several of my favorite third party apps that use iCloud Drive are practically unusable at this point. I’m told the impending 8.1.1 update fixes this but I have to wonder how it got this far. 

I don’t know what to think about Apple and the cloud at this point. I think this is really important to Apple’s success (and my ability to get the most out of their products). Nevertheless, they keep stumbling. I know what they are doing at this massive scale is hard. However, Apple’s secretive nature combined with these obvious problems makes it appear they just don’t care, which I don’t think is true but nonetheless frustrating when it interrupts my flow. I suspect the truth is that the iCloud team is pedaling like mad and don’t want to publicly acknowledge these problems but instead just fix them. I sure hope they do. I’ll be reporting back on iCloud Drive and hope things get better. For now, you can hold on to your Dropbox account.