Hello. I’m Thomas and I like iCloud.
There, I said it.
The idea of having your data everywhere, always and in sync, without the hassle of folders, syncing, versioning made my digital life a lot easier.
But I’ve got three big issues with iCloud:
* If you delete a file because of storage limitations, it’s gone from every device.
* If you open a file in another app, you get multiple copies of that file.
* Delete an app and all its file are gone too.
Your files are always there, every file is active and there’s no real way to make a difference between files you're working on now, and files that you want to save but don’t need everyday, or reference material.
Let’s say I create a presentation in Keynote. It contains a multitude of highres photo’s, some movie clips and 50 something slides with animations. During the draft and final editing the file easily transfers between all my devices. I can show it to a colleague on my iPhone, make a quick edit, and finish the thing on my Mac.
A few days later I give the presentation with my iPad, and email it to a few clients as a pdf. But then what...
I don’t need the file on my iPad anymore, so I want to delete it to save up some space. But deleting it from the iPads means deleting it from the Keynote’s iCloud Documents folder, which means it’ll get deleted from every device.
I could theoretically open up Keynote on the Mac and move the file from iCloud’s container to my Documents folder on the Mac. The presentation is gone from the iPad, and lives safely on my iMac.
But what if I want to use the presentation later on my iPad? I can’t download it from iPad, so I need to move it from my Mac to iCloud again, download it on the iPad and so on. Too cumbersome, I need my Mac and it’s a manual process.
Compare this to Apple’s other Cloud services. With iTunes Match all my music is available on every device, and it’s just a download away.
When I open iBooks I get a list of all purchased books, either as a regular book, or as a greyed out version with a small iCloud symbol in the upper right corner. Click the Book and it downloads instantly. Delete a finished book and it in turn dim and gets greyed out. I don’t lose the file, but it’s gone from my iPads main storage.
Now let’s imagine a future version of iCloud with archiving build in. I finish the presentation on my iPad, press archive and instantly, the file gets deleted from my iPad’s storage. It’s still visible on the iPad, but with an iCloud icon in the upper right corner. The file is still stored on my Mac, is referenced on my iPhone and the main copy is stored on Apple’s server ready for download. Expanding on this idea one could imagine a possible future where Apple offers a massive amounts of online storage, where a 16GB iPhone has the potential online storage of a terabyte of files. An integrated Dropbox.
Since this behavior is already implemented in iBooks and iTunes, Apple shouldn’t have a hard time teaching users. There’s only one caveat and that’s offline usage. If you need a file and you’re not online, you don’t have access to that file. But that isn’t any different from changing a file on an iPad 3G and hoping to edit it further on a MacBook while on the plane... But Apple could solve this by always automatically downloading the 10 most recently edited files.
Aside from managing file storage, there’s also that other iCloud issue. I create a file in ByWord, and finish it in iA Writer. Doing this will either get me two copies of the file, or requires me to delete one of them.
Now, imagine this approach:
I create a file in ByWord. I go to the document view, select the file and choose open in and click on iA Writer. The iPad switches to iA Writer, and the file appears on iA Writer just like we’re used to. I can edit it, rename it, share it,...
But, when I open up ByWord again that same file is still there, only dimmed. Clicking on it opens up the file, and if the developer does a compatibility check, errors due to iA Writers editing may popup similar to what Keynote now does when opening a desktop version of a file.
We can edit the file in ByWord without any problem. When opening up iA Writer that file is still visible, but greyed out. Two apps linking to the same iCloud file, where the file is greyed out if the app is not the last editor.
To prevent filing up apps with greyed out files, Apple could add the Recent Files behavior from the Mac and only show the 10 last greyed out files.
This solves the multiple copies, but keeps context in an app based file system. But what it doesn’t solve is the scenario where we use ByWord on the iPad, and iA Writer on the iPhone. Because open in is a push-action, whereas we’d need a fetch action to open files in a different app on the iPhone when the other app isn’t available, with access to other apps’s files or documents folders.
iCloud enabled apps store their files in a Documents folder specifically for that app. Delete the app and it’s files are deleted from the device. Only by reinstalling the app, or using it on a different device can we have access to those files.
If we want to send a file from ByWord to iA Writer we need both those apps on our device, in order to send a file from one to the other. If ByWord isn’t installed, its files aren’t available for iA Writer and the greyed out files solutions wouldn’t fix anything.
Now, I’ve asked you to imagine two possible scenario’s for the previous two issues. So for this third act, let’s repeat that:
When opening the Finder on a Mac there’s a useless All My Files view. This option shows you all your files no matter where they are stored organized per type.
All files. No matter where. Organized by type.
Translate this view option to iOS. An app that shows you all your iCloud files, organized per type. Click on a file and you get the classic open in menu. Choose a compatible app, and the file opens up in that app. The app that was the previous owner of that file shows a greyed out icon of that file from now on, and the chosen app has access to that file without a new version.
Or, to solve the previous limitation: I can create a file in ByWord on my iPad. go to All Files on my iPhone, locate that text file and open it up in iA Writer. ByWord shows a greyed out version, and iA Writer on my iPhone happily edits it. And vice versa.
If I deleted iA Writer from my iPhone all its text files are still reachable within the All My Files App. I can then install ByWord and open those files into that app.
Three issues and solutions:
If you delete a file because of storage limitations, it’s gone from every device.
Add an archive option to remove a file from a device with a downloadable version in iCloud.
If you open a file in another app, you get multiple copies of that file.
Move the file to another app, but keep a greyed out version of the file in the original app.
Delete an app and all its file are gone too.
Create a generic file view called All My Files that collects the files stored within each app’s Document container.