Review: Apple's iCloud Shows Glitches, Flaws, Disappointments

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The good news about Apple’s iCloud is that, eventually, you can get much of it to work. The bad news is that it takes a long time and not all of it is working as advertised.

The much-ballyhooed online storage and synchronization service that Apple has aligned to replace the much-maligned MobileMe has gotten out of the gate in disappointing fashion. On Wednesday’s launch day, it took about a full day of nonsense for many customers to try to move MobileMe accounts to iCloud, and to activate iCloud across Windows, Mac and iOS 5 platform-based devices.

Some of that is understandable, given the crush of millions of people to immediately start hitting up the Apple transaction and iCloud servers all at the same time. We’ve seen over time that after a few days, the crush subsides and accessing Apple servers is no different than accessing any other big company’s.

But too many issues are inexcusable and disappointing. Creating and synchronizing documents across iOS 5 devices isn’t as seamless as advertised. iCloud backups don’t automatically work all the time, out of the gate. And there are bugs. For example:

• We changed our settings in Pages on our iPhone to turn iCloud on, and when we created a document in Pages it was supposed to synchronize, in real time, with the iCloud service. It didn’t. Pages document creation and saving to iCloud did work on Pages in iPad, but with the iPhone app it refused;

• Also, despite following instructions to the letter and synchronizing the iPad account with iCloud, iCloud refused to perform a backup of that device. And there was no explanation beside “iCloud Backup Failed. There was a problem enabling iCloud Backup.” Really? Thanks. Now what, Apple?

• In the “Find My Mac” option in iCloud on our Mac OS X Lion-based MacBook Air, we were advised to update our software so we could enable the feature. We clicked “Update,” and then were told our software was all up to date. But we still had the same message by the grayed-out and unusuable “Find My Mac” option. (Apple was reportedly telling some that it was working on a fix.)

And those glitches do not include other big issues, including numerous problems reported by those trying to move their MobileMe accounts to an iCloud account. If your MobileMe Account is separate from your Apple ID for iTunes, for example, you can’t combine accounts. Apple should do right by its customers and fix that, even if it costs customers more money to deal with digital rights issues.

And while many will have contacts and calendaring spread out between Gmail and Google Calendar and Microsoft Outlook, iCloud will only synchronize one or the other with iCloud, not both. You can’t combine those accounts directly in one sync.

If you have MobileMe’s iDisk and use a Mac OS X system, you can save documents directly from your Mac to iDisk just like you were saving it to an on-board hard drive. But with iCloud you can’t. Isn’t the point of iCloud that it’s supposed to be an upgrade to MobileMe?

Also, if you run a PC with Windows XP, by the way, you’re out of luck with iCloud entirely.

What works in iCloud?

The PhotoStream function is outstanding. After you take photos or videos with your iPhone, they are almost immediately available on an your iPad through PhotoStream. This could be a blockbuster feature once iPhone 4S launches on Friday with its 8 megapixel camera with 1080p video.

Also, the Reminders feature of iOS 5 works well between Mac OS X Lion calendar, iPhone and iPad; in fact, this is a very valuable feature.

For several weeks, too, you’ve been able to to download iTunes music and app purchases made on one device across all your devices on one account – and that feature has been strong and valuable.

But iCloud is now a quick answer to all of those who suggest nobody needs a PC any more because everything can just be saved “to the cloud.” Yeah? What cloud? Not iCloud. Not yet.


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