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Let's Be Totally Honest: Apple's iCloud Could Be So, So Much Better

eddie cue iCloud
eddie cue iCloud

Getty Images/Kevork Djansezian

There's no way around it, Apple's iCloud is not good enough.

What follows is a bit of a ranty complaint about using my iPhone.

However, it's more than just a complaint. The consumer cloud-storage industry is growing quickly as it fills the sizeable cracks in Apple's iOS platform.

Dropbox, for instance, reportedly did over $200 million in revenue last year, and was valued at $8 billion in its most recent funding. Box, an enterprise cloud storage company, did $124 million in revenue last year.

Apple's iCloud service is primarily use for backing up devices like the iPhone and iPad. It's really great at that. If you ever switch from one iPhone to another, you know how great it is to see all your apps downloaded automatically. It's also used for app data and document storage.

However, with one small tweak, it could be so much better for users.

In the past two weeks, I've had two problems with my iPhone that I thought iCloud would be able to handle.

The first was when I tried to update my phone to iOS 7.1.1., the latest version of iPhone's software.

The phone told me that I didn't have enough storage space to update the software. This happened last time I wanted to update my phone to iOS 7.1. I have a 16 GB iPhone. I thought that one solution to this problem would be to sign up for 10 GB of extra iCloud storage for $20 per year. Apple gives you 5 GB of iCloud storage, so I have 15 GB in total.

But even with the extra storage, I couldn't update my phone. I had to delete some old apps, and delete some photos.

Deleting photos isn't the end of the world. I have a lot of photos that are crap, and need to be deleted. But this shouldn't be something I have to figure out. This should be an automated process that Apple handles. It should immediately say something like, "Would you like us to store 1 GB of photos in iCloud?" And, I would say, "You betcha, you tiny little robot! I love you."

But, there's a problem with that plan. Apple's iCloud only saves photos for 30 days at a time.

Apple iCloud
Apple iCloud


This weekend I was at a wedding.

And, as one does at a wedding, I took a lot of photos, and some video with my iPhone 5S.

The camera on the iPhone 5S is spectacular. Even in low-light, photos came out well. And the slo-mo video is a lot of fun, especially with people on the dance floor. Burst-mode, which can take a dozen photos in sequence then chooses the best one, is also great.

But, by the end of the night, my iPhone told me I couldn't do anymore slo-mo video because I was out of storage on my phone.

If iCloud actually worked, then this would not be a problem. I would store all my photos in iCloud forever — not 30 days — and it wouldn't matter if I had to delete some photos. Or, more ideally, Apple would automatically delete old photos stored in iCloud as I added new photos.

Instead, I had to go through photos and figure out which ones I wanted to keep and delete others so that I had more room for photos. Talk about a buzz kill. I'm trying to dance to New Order, but instead I'm staring at my phone, editing photos on the fly.

Apple's iCloud service should be the best photo storage/organization system in the world. It's not. As a result, I have to lean on services from Apple's competitors.

Google+ may be flawed, but for photo storage, it's great. It can automatically back up photos taken on the iPhone. And unlike iCloud, Google+ stores photos for free. Similarly, Flickr does the same thing. It stores all of my photos automatically for free.

Yet, iCloud, a service I am willing to pay for, fails to store my photos.

What's extra weird about this is that Apple's iTunes Match works pretty well. I have stored all of my music on iTunes Match, and when I have an internet connection, I can stream or download any of my songs.

Apple should be doing the same with photos. It should keep a little thumbnail of the photo on my phone, and if I want it, and I have a connection, I should be able to download it. Only the last 30 days worth of photos should be stored locally. The rest should be in iCloud.

My complaints may sound small, or petty, but they're important for the long-term health of Apple.

Venture capitalist Fred Wilson predicted that Apple's undoing would be its weak cloud services.

Speaking at a conference, he said, "Apple is too rooted to hardware and I think hardware is increasingly becoming a commodity. Their stuff in the cloud is largely not good. I don't think they think about data and the cloud in the way you need to think about things."

While a lot of people look at Apple and focus on the big products like the iPhone and the iPad, Wilson is right that it's the nitty gritty stuff like iCloud that matters. iCloud, if done right, makes the experience of using an iPhone better. And that, ultimately, is what can separate Apple from its rivals.

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