Blog Post

iCloud snafus point to dark side of consumer cloud

Apple’s (s AAPL) highly anticipated iCloud consumer cloud service went live last week in a debut marred by snafus that show that cloud providers still have some kinks to work out.

In short: Consumers are ready for the cloud–Apple claims 20 million iCloud adopters in just five days–but the clouds may not all be completely ready for consumers when it comes to easing the transition of on-device data to the cloud.

Expectations are high–especially when massive ad campaigns like Microsoft’s (s MSFT) “to the cloud” commercials and Amazon’s (s AMZN) new Kindle Fire device/Silk browser tandem make all this cloud stuff seem so easy.

But with iCloud roll-out glitches and worries that consumer clouds in general pose huge potential privacy issues, the cloud providers need to get their acts together.

Issue one: Moving stuff from device to cloud

The promise of iCloud is it will let consumers easily store their data—iTunes music, photos, etc.—on Apple’s cloud infrastructure. That data would then be available to them on all of their devices.

The problem is, last week (and even today for some customers)  iCloud often didn’t recognize existing Apple users with more than one Apple ID or who had shared IDs. Most impacted were customers that had used Apple’s older MobileMe service, which saw its own share of woes when it debuted three years ago.

Rule of thumb: Moving data from local devices to the cloud has to be drop-dead easy or you’ll see things like the  “Is iCloud completely worthless?” discussion cropping up on Apple’s support forums and #iCloud #Fail threads on Twitter. Not the sort of glowing reviews Apple tends to get.

Complaints about iCloud’s inability to recognize or handle existing Apple IDs surfaced soon into the October 12 launch and persist today.

Clearly, in the iCloud case, sheer volume is an issue. Twenty million people is a lot to handle in five days, but execution counts big-time in the consumer space. So any vendor launching consumer-oriented services needs to assess initial demand carefully and make sure the infrastructure can carry the load.

Issue Two: Keeping your stuff intact

Another complaint from early iCloud adopters is that the installation process took their apps right off their local devices. That can be unsettling to say the least. As my GigaOM colleague Darrell Etherington explained in his Q&A with The Washington Post:

The fact that the installation removes the apps from your device is one of the most common complaints I’ve seen about the update. As to why Apple did things this way, I’m not sure, but it may be that the underlying code is changed in such a way that app folders and organization couldn’t be preserved. My only advice would be to re-organize apps in the way you want using iTunes, since it’s faster than trying to recreate your folders and home screens on your device.

Consumers who have been inundated with hype about how the cloud will make it easier/cheaper/better for them to store and view their stuff have high expectations. And that goes far beyond Apple iCloud issues.

Users need to be informed that their stuff — their digital photos, for example — will look the same now that it’s sourced from the cloud. Or if it will look different — if photos get resized — why that is. Transparency is key for users who do not have IT staffs to guide them.

PC users need to know up front if iCloud will support their devices and, on the flip side, if Microsoft’s Windows Live services support Apple devices. It’s all about meeting expectations and not ticking off customers who can be very vocal on Twitter, Facebook and other social sites about their discontent.

Issue Three: Data privacy/protection in the cloud

Questions about how user data will be stored and protected in these vast consumer clouds have percolated for months and surged on news that Amazon’s new Silk browser will use customer data to predict where a given user will go next on-line. The stated goal is to speed the browsing/shopping experience, but just what data is being aggregated, how it will be used and if and how it will be shared raised all sorts of red flags.

That omniscient nature of Amazon Silk (which ships with Amazon’s new Kindle Fire reader), raised a lot of eyebrows, including some in Washington D.C. Congressman Edward Markey  (D-Mass) fired off a letter late last week to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. Markey wants Amazon to specify what customer information it collects; how that data will be used; how customer privacy will be protected; and if and how customers can opt out of the whole process.

So, while consumer clouds are supposed to be as easy as falling off a log for the actual users, making them that easy is very, very hard for the cloud providers. They’ll probably get there, but there have clearly been some misteps at the start.

Image courtesy of Flickr user akakumo.

8 Responses to “iCloud snafus point to dark side of consumer cloud”

  1. Westport

    I am so tired of these Professer Peabodys. The iCloud/IOS 5 release is a complete mess that’s what this article is about. Stop protecting the empire. Appled created the situation where people needed to share ids and now they have a no solution to help those people migrate. Read the apple forums. Anyone with more than one family member is either having issues or is settling for some sort of trade off like only one person in the family can stream photos. I personally have been on the phone with the clueless folks at applecare several times. Even they are confused with the whole process and we don’t even share ids in my house. My issues is that I can’t receive emails at the .me address. I’ll be staying with Google for now. Too bad,… I was ready to jump into iCloud with both feet. People like Peebody who have a Macbook Pro, an Iphone and a cat are fine. It’s the people who actually have familys and lives that are impacted by this mess.

  2. Mannedmodule

    Your report is unnecessarily sensational, biased, ill-informed and designed to whip up sentiments against Apple. You have not attached enough weight to the sheer size of the iOS5 and iCloud roll-out, the huge diversity in user community, the fact that some users have simply not followed procedures or read instructions and the fact that most of the problems are transitional and will resolve quickly after the transition. I am a MobileMe user. I found that everything worked well AFTER I read AND followed the instructions. Also why try to merge Apple ID’s? ID’s by definition identify an account, so who is to say it is the same user? You can have multiple accounts but don’t askApple to expose one’s privacy for another. iCloud requires an Apple ID which can be the same or different from your iTunes store Apple ID. Best practice is to keep them separate, as allowed by Apple; that’s what I did and it “just works” (R.I.P. Steve). That way you do can keep sharing your songs with family members’ devices AND maintain your iCloud privacy. My suggestion, when reviewing new technology do not be too hasty to pass judgement; be aware that even you the reviewer still have a few things to learn about the technology. It is no secret that the Apple ecosystem is not designed to co-operate with the Droid world or the Windows herd. But that’s why it just works – it is necessary to guarantee the user experience, that is if you are patient enough to wait in line to get hold of yours or download your software. Remember the best things in life come with some effort and price.

  3. I see no reason why the average consumer has any need for the cloud.External hard drives are big enough to hold any reasonable volume of data and many of them will fit in your pocket. The cloud mania for the average private user of a Mac is carefully fanned by Apple to increase iTunes store sales and promote the $25 a year non iTunes music storage.

  4. rambo amadeus

    i am sure that if Steve J were still kick’n he would be in the server room work’n the helpdesk calls… or maybe the 10,000,000 chinese workers who make this crap can handle support as well

  5. Suresh Kumar

    What has Issue Three: Data Privacy got to do with the iCloud snafus?

    I agree with the previous poster — this is journalistic dishonesty — i expect better from GigaOm.

    • I believe the last part of the title says, “point to dark side of consumer cloud.” To most people (and definitely any non-fan boys) that would suggest that they are talking about all cloud services. Why does everybody get so defensive? Just because someone dared ask a few questions about an Apple product?

  6. Professor Peabody

    This article seems misleading to me. In the first place Apple told everyone that multiple Apple ID’s could not be used, not could they be merged. The article on the other hand makes it seem like this was some kind of unexpected glitch instead.

    Also, there are several places where it confabulates the experiences of the beta testers (mostly failures) with those who are moving to it now it’s available. This is journalistically dishonest and just confuses things.