iCloud Doesn’t Just Work

I really don’t have anything against Apple. I choose to use Linux full-time, which is a choice not to use Apple, but it’s nothing personal. I don’t like Apple’s business model but it’s the same kind of innocuous dislike I have for raw onions and Justin Bieber.

I do appreciate the things Apple does well, though. They build very sturdy MP3 players, as I’m learning from treating my suddenly falling apart Sansa Fuze with the same kind of indifference I’ve treated iPods.

In general, though, Apple tries to do too much for its users. It eliminates as much choice as possible, so everyone has the same experience, regardless of their personal preferences.

iCloud is Apple’s latest attempt to control even more of their users’ experiences.

I understand the problem iCloud is trying to solve: people have files everywhere and they often don’t have the right files in the right place at the right time.

But this isn’t a problem all people have. Most tech savvy people I know have figured out all kinds of solutions to this problem. A lot of the solutions revolve around DropBox, or DropBox-like services. But there are also home-grown solutions involving locally-controlled servers.

The beauty of most of these solutions is that users have full control over all of their files at all times. They know where they are and who has them and most have a way to move all of their files should the need arise.

iCloud is trying to be the solution people don’t have to think about. Steve Jobs has been banging home the refrain “it just works” to describe iCloud.

It’s a good selling point. Services should work. But Jobs doesn’t mean iCloud works. When he says “it just works,” he means iCloud is making important decisions for users. And the choices iCloud makes next fall could be dramatically different next spring, leaving users to roll with the punches. Because they’ve tied their files and data up in a service they can’t control.

2001 fans might remember that HAL just worked, too.

HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey

Linux enthusiasts tend to be more sensitive to control issues. We tend to want to make our own choices and we like to be able to modify our choices. Right now, I’m typing this in gedit, but if I decided to switch to another text editor, I could easily do so without losing the ability to view or edit any of the other posts I have saved locally on my computer.

But I understand not everyone has the expertise to manage their own files and data. Not everyone can keep track of their files.

I would argue the answer isn’t to handle this task for users, but rather to help users understand the process.

Conventional wisdom says most users don’t care about this. They don’t care how the sausage is made. They want something that “just works.”

But that’s not entirely true. Users do care. They care when files disappear. They care when they can’t access what they need. They care when they’re forced to pay ransoms to get at their data. And then, a backlash comes against whoever is responsible for managing the user’s data.

There’s a solution, though. Open standards for data portability would gives users the freedom to easily move their data whenever they want to wherever they want to move it.

Transparency would let users see where their data is and what the conditions are for them to access it.

And the best part is, those two ideas could exist in a service that “just works.”

In fact, with open data portability standards, the cloud services would improve at an impressive rate, since there would be true competition in the space.

iCloud doesn’t “just work.” It creates a layer of abstraction between users and their data and ultimately creates more work for Apple, who is now in the position of needing to manage increasingly complex tasks from a user base that is increasingly disconnected from its data.

The answer isn’t to make choices for users but to create systems that make it easy for users to make choices.