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Summary:

The scope of the task before Apple’s internet services division is especially obvious this week. In the midst of news that SVP Eddy Cue would be assuming responsibility for Siri and Maps, the iCloud service he oversees experienced its third outage in a week.

iCloud and Siri

Eddy Cue might have the least desirable job at Apple. Not only has he been in charge of whipping Apple’s problematic internet services division into shape, he’s just been given two more headaches to deal with: taking over Siri and Maps from departing exec Scott Forstall. Cue has long been Apple’s executive Mr. Fix It, but the task still ahead looks daunting: especially as he’s already faced with trying to keep Apple’s cloud services online.

The scope of the task is especially obvious this week. In the midst of the news that Cue would be assuming responsibility for Apple’s voice assistant technology and its nascent and much-derided Maps application, the iCloud service he oversees experienced yet another hiccup: many iCloud services were down for some users on Wednesday afternoon, according to Apple’s own system status page, with the exception of Messages and Mail (The Documents in the Cloud feature is still down as of this writing). This outage follows Tuesday’s brief episode when iMessages were coming back undelivered, iTunes Match and GameCenter were down and the App Store was unreachable.

Unfortunately, these outages are not new nor unexpected. Wednesday’s outage was actually the third iCloud-related hiccup in the last week. Yet another worldwide iMessage outage affected some users just five days ago, while September saw a two-day event where iCloud.com mail was unreachable.

iCloud came online in October 2011 when it began replacing the nightmare that was MobileMe. A year later, it’s not unreasonable to ask: why isn’t the service more reliable?

After all, iCloud is the centerpiece of Apple’s vision for the future: “It’s not just a product, it’s a strategy for the next decade,” CEO Tim Cook declared in January. The future of Apple is one in which all of its devices are supposed to work together seamlessly and iCloud is a huge part of that pitch; it’s the glue that will keep users connected to their devices, services and content from anywhere. It also powers FaceTime, GameCenter, iMessage and Siri — some of the iPhone, iPad and Mac’s premier features. If iCloud’s service is known for regular interruptions, how will customers continue to trust it with their important documents, email, photos, and as a reliable means of communication?

Apple’s $1 billion North Carolina data center built to power iCloud services.

Hardware is undoubtedly where Apple excels. But Apple’s never been known for its facility with web-based servicesMobileMe’s debut was so bad Steve Jobs demoted its project manager in front of his team. The Ping social music network was killed after two years. Maps forced Cook to make a public apology for its awfulness when he should have been simply basking in first-weekend sales of 5 million iPhone 5s. And unusually for Apple, Siri was released as a “beta” product — and it was obvious why.

To be fair, iCloud has been a massive improvement over MobileMe. And people are signing up — even if they don’t necessarily know what it does or why — and Apple can now count 190 million registered users, as Cook announced last week. iCloud is free for basic use, unless you want to upgrade to more than 5GB of storage. Meanwhile, the company has spent $1 billion to get its massive North Carolina data center online to power the service.

But what’s not clear is how many people are active users of iCloud, and how many are paying. Apple doesn’t reveal those statistics. So it’s hard to tell how many Apple product users are actually impacted by these outages. Most of the evidence of who exactly is affected by outages is anecdotal, coming to us via Twitter, Apple support forum comments and blogs.

Still, every time iCloud goes down, it reinforces the idea that Apple’s vision of a totally connected future where your iDevices and software are working in perfect and reliable harmony is still somewhere in the future, and not here just yet.

  1. “Hardware is undoubtedly where Apple excels.” Apple excels at software too, as long as it’s the software on a phone, tablet, or laptop/desktop computer. But a cloud is a very different deal from those products.

    Apple’s not alone in its cloud problems – Amazon’s AWS has experienced glitches recently too, and it’s been around much longer than iCloud. The industry needs to get a better grip on the technology.

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    1. Apple’s software has been nothing to brag about for the last couple of years. Lion was Apple’s worst ever OS “upgrade?” and had to be fixed by Mountain Lionn. I, personally lost a years photos whe I “upgraded” to iPhoto ’11. It seems to me that the beat possible news for OS and IOS users is the postponement of the iTunes release. Hopefully , it indicates that the powers that be have realised this problem and future software will perform as intended the first time

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      1. Reload the photos from your backup.

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  2. I’m giving Apple a pass on this week’s issues with iCloud. With the impact from Hurricane Sandy still being felt on the East Coast, all cloud-based service providers have experience some sort of outage.

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    1. Absolutely. These idiot west coast tech blogs have no idea what NC was like this week.

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      1. Why should Apple get a pass? Amazon doesn’t get a pass when storms take out it’s services. One of the implied promises of Cloud is that it’s more redundant than what you can do on your own.

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  3. The real question is when they’ll have more cloud and less pseudo-cloud . Calling online storage and syncing cloud is a stretch, at this rate anything online is cloud.
    Anyway, Apple provided some very telling numbers on oct 23 at the ipad mini launch.
    – 125 million documents have been stored in iCloud.
    – 300 billion iMessages have been sent to date and about 28,000 iMessages are sent every second.
    – 70 million photos have been shared via iPhoto Photo Streams.
    Given the number of iOS devices in use and numbers from other similar services it looks like iCloud is rather unpopular, even 300B messages is not all that much and the numbers for pictures and docs are pathetic.

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  4. Frustrated iPad User Wednesday, October 31, 2012

    I spent a weeklend figuring out what iCloud backup would sit and eventually time out on my 1.5Mbps upstream connection resulting in a generic error message. Seems iCloud could not backup 2 GB of data that I have in GoodReader app. Only by going app by app and laboriously unchecking each app did I find out which one was causing the problem.

    Needless to say iCloud is a fail cloud and I am using iTunes backups. At least I can see the data backups.

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  5. Perhaps when Azure, that hosts iCloud, is more reliable. (Azure = Microsoft)

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    1. Seriously – you need to blame Microsoft for Apple’s iCloud problems.

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  6. A long time Apple fan and once semi-insider I agree that the cloud pooch has beed thoroughly s***** by Apple.

    I think they don’t really understand what it is to the end user. An unusual failing because Apple seems to understand the existential relationship between people and technology better than most.

    My guess is that it is generational – the leadership at Apple understands devices. They really understand the relationship between a person and the things in their hands. They understand how what a thing can do can alter a person’s experiences of their own life.

    What they don’t understand is the real nature of the relationships people have with services, information and those other intangibles encapsulated in the neologism “social” and “interest” graphs.

    I really don’t think Tim et al are natural (native) on-line people. Steve certainly wasn’t. They think of it as something extra. As a value add for their device-centric world view.

    Back in the Mobile Me days I was having a chat with Tony King, Apple’s CEO APAC. I asked him why on earth Apple was charging so much for services I was getting for free so easily elsewhere. He smiled – smugly to my eyes, but I can’t be sure – and said, “It’s making money”.

    Apples deep ethnographic design wisdom stops at things and our interaction with things.

    There is a cultural gap – they don’t understand value in the consumer cloud – it’s too open, too fuzzy.

    That’s OK – they have some time to get their heads properly around it. Not a lot of other companies – or technorati for that matter – really understand what’s going on.

    Incredibly – when it comes to the internet, we are still in that phase where we are thinking of motor cars as “horseless carriages”. In this case we are still thinking of the internet as media and communications. It isn’t – it’s the internet.

    Apple oddly are still thinking of the internet as an extension of their devices – again, it isn’t – it’s the internet.

    (Though I have to close by suggesting that the ultimate luddites – the real losers – are ironically those singularity profits who think of the internet as a cybernetic ‘organism’ – and who sit around sharing 20th century philosophical bon mots while waiting for the birth of their new world.)

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  7. Another day another Apple bashing write…..

    Kind of sad like what obrine said writing an Apple bashing write will add something to your sad life.

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  8. Reblogged this on Virtualized Geek and commented:
    Apple just doesn’t get online services and should outsource it to a company that does or buy a company that does it well. A great example is there Game Center API. According to Leo Laporte who is one of the world biggest Apple Fan Boys (I do really like Leo), Game Center folded under the load of the latest scrabble like game that was designed to leverage the Game Center infrastructure.

    Why doesn’t Apple just buy Zynga and Dropbox, kill the products and utilize the technologies?

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  9. Paolo Alexis Falcone Thursday, November 1, 2012

    Apple once tried to buy Dropbox, but failed.

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    1. I believe it was the other way around – DropBox tried to sell themselves to Apple, but failed.

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  10. Am I the only person on Earth who has used Apple cloud services from the time of .MAC through MobileMe to iCloud who has experienced absolutely no problems with any of them?

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  11. Many of us use Apple hardware and software because we want to avoid having to be geeks, which is what Microsoft has expected of us. But more recently I am beginning to wonder. After much time and effort I cannot get time time machine to back up on either of my time capsules and as for icloud – wtf – several efforts and I have still no idea what that little cloud is all about.

    I am committed to Apple having bought the hardware and software, but I never recommend it to anyone. The myth of ease of use is just that – a myth.

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  12. I think that we’re all experiencing the effects of an industry that has yet to really mature. The software industry has always been rife with buggy products. It does not matter if you’re Apple or any other company in the industry. Until such time that we can count on products to be reliably stable, secure, and capable of meeting our performance expectations, which includes adapting to our changing needs, the industry will remain immature. Just pick any other industry and grade on similar criteria as above. We wouldn’t hesitate to call out its failings. That’s what Apple is struggling with. BTW, I expect a new approach that addresses these challenges to emerge in 2013, which is why call 2013 “The Year of the Super Apps”

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    1. Most will agree that Apple has done a superb job with hardware. Once software matures to the point that we stop talking about how difficult, time-consuming, buggy, platform dependent and therefore expensive it is to create and modify it we will experience a golden age of computing. I’m quite optimistic that events are already underway to make it a reality. It’ll be very interesting to see what topics of discussion emerge when software just works (for the most part).

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  13. I don’t understand why this is so hard. Remember iDisk? Why doesn’t the cloud work like that? all I want to do is store stuff somewhere that I can access from all devices.

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