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When iCloud isn’t enough: balancing other cloud storage options

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Rene Ritchie’s excellent article on iCloud and Dropbox has forced me to examine how I use iCloud(s AAPL) and other cloud storage. When iCloud launched in 2011, I had hopes it would be a single-source solution, but over the years it’s become apparent to me that for my uses, no single cloud-based storage fulfills all my needs. Instead, I rely on a few different solutions based on the strengths of each platform.

Here’s what I use for storing documents related to my freelance business, as well as the voluminous amount of research data for my hobbies.


iCloud’s biggest limitation is the app sandboxing model. By that, I mean, a document stored in Pages can only be accessed in the Pages app on iOS and OS X. While I can “Open in” another app on iOS, that creates a separate copy; changes made to that copy aren’t reflected back in the Pages’s version.
I’ve made my peace with this.

The bulk of my freelance and personal writing is done in Pages ($19.99) and Numbers ($19.99). I have found these two apps sync the best, with the fewest formatting issues. Oddly, I have an Excel(s MSFT) document with graphics that opens fine in Numbers for iOS, but QuickOffice and OfficeHD do not display it properly on my iPad. My day job files need to stay on my company-supplied laptop, so I’m not as worried about keeping those files in sync.

I’ve also made a decision to focus on Pages/iCloud for my writing because I don’t have to worry too much about a third-party developer either ceasing support, or worse, having the app pulled from the App Store. For writing apps, it’s unlikely they’ll get pulled, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. I figure if Apple were to drop iCloud/Pages, I’d likely have bigger problems. That said, I do routinely back up my Mobile Documents folder so I can access them if something bad happens to iCloud.

dropboxMost importantly, other than some initial growing pains when iCloud was launched, I haven’t had any memorable issues in the last year or so. I open the iWork app and it automatically downloads new or updated files. I have yet to see that completely seamless action with other third-party storage options.


My Dropbox usage can be be simply summed up with this: any document that the sandbox model flatly doesn’t work with, goes into Dropbox. I’m also a musician, so I have several gigs worth worth of sheet music, scanned music magazines (that I’ve scanned myself) and other reference files. These documents need to be read on either my iPhone, iPad, Mac, PC or Android device. Obviously for my cross-platform needs, Apple’s sandboxing won’t work.

I also have crucial folders from my Documents folder moved to my Dropbox folder. This way, I can access them remotely as well as have another backup if they are deleted (I use CrashPlan for my online backup). Dropbox’s ability to restore files has come in quite handy.

So, what would it take for me to forgo iCloud and just use Dropbox?

Better Office-type apps, for the most part. For my uses, Pages remains the best word processor on iOS. I’ve had just enough “hmm, that didn’t work the way I thought it would” moments with QuickOffice and OfficeHD. Sometimes it didn’t refresh the Dropbox folder fully, or the document open with the formatting a mess. While these overall percentage this occurs is small, I don’t want to risk it.

What the future could hold

The biggest change that could happen to my workflow is if Microsoft ever releases Office for iOS. This will likely result in yet another cloud service (Microsoft’s Skydrive), I’m OK with this. SkyDrive works similar to Dropbox where I can get file level access if I need to.

What I expect to remain unchanged is that a single-source of cloud storage will likely never be possible for my uses.

I can live with that.

11 Responses to “When iCloud isn’t enough: balancing other cloud storage options”

  1. Roger J Vela

    I’m a huge fan of Google Drive not only for storage but Google Docs. Cloud files is the future. MS Skydrive will also really take off as Office 365 takes off in the business workspace. I personally can’t wait for that. For this reason, I think there’s greater potential sticking to one of these guys for longterm use more than DropBox or Box.Net.

    It’s a tough situation and its one that Apple has failed to lead in because a successful strategy must go beyond the borders of Apple’s white picket fence. In other words, they do much to oversee the experience of their platforms, but an iCloud solution that works would have to succeed in the open internet with countless web applications that see no need to create native applications for the Mac. It’s a problem and that I believe is the main reason the whole iCloud experience lacks a solid implementation.

  2. H. Murchison

    Actually I think that Sandbox is being used incorrectly here Mark. Sandboxing does limit what an app can do through an agreed upon set of entitlements but it doesn’t necessarily prevent apps from accessing more iCloud data than their own. Illustrated here:

    We see that the sandbox and ubiquity containers are separate. Then further down the dev article you’ll see that you can have multiple apps accessing a single ubiquity container (such as a free version and paid version) (heading “Configuring a Common Ubiquity Container for Multiple Apps”)

    Apple may not allow apps from different developer ID to share common UC but it’s feasible that that support could be added in the future so long as the proper security is in place.

    I have high hope for iCloud but until it matures I think a multi-cloud solution is what most of us are going to need.

  3. Sam Farquar

    I have been using Dolly Drive for a while and am very happy. I highly suggest taking a look.

    They do both backup and file sync in the same app.

    I think you would be missing something if you don’t add them to your search.

    I am a Mac guy that loves Mac-only stuff. I don’t think they have a Windows version yet.

  4. Michael W. Perry

    I’m delighted by Dropbox, but I’ve found that, given its file-based model, iOS apps that don’t seem to save to a file until you exit the app can create syncing issues. For those, if there’s an iCloud option, I use it.

    When Scrivener for iOS comes out, you might want to look into using it for your writing. Pages is designed for layout, while Scrivener focuses on writing itself, particular for books or multiple articles in a series. And I suspect it’ll offer either Dropbox or iCloud synching, so you can take your choice. Also, there are already OS X and Windows versions of Scrivener, so you can move between platforms.