When is iCloud going to be more reliable?

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.

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