Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A week with iCloud and iOS 5



I waited more than a week to give my impression of iCloud, Apple's new service that promises to make your online life oh so much better, and here it is. While I'm at it, I'll also run down some of the more important changes in iOS 5, the operating system that makes iCloud possible. So has it changed my life and made everything better yet? Not really. Sorry Apple, it's not all blue skies...


Installation
My experience installing iOS 5 was troubled. I had to do a full restore, so I lost all my data. Not really a big deal for me, as it's easy enough to put everything back, but it's not very pleasant either. Once iOS 5 was working though, it felt like I had a brand new iPad.


Notifications
What's new: Notifications no longer interrupt you in the middle of, well, anything. They now appear discreetly at the top of the screen. 
What the nerd thinks: This works way better than before. And because of it, I now turn on all notifications whenever I can. Not an OMG feature. More like an "It's about time" feature.

Browser
What's new: Safari, now with tabbed browsing! Hooray!
What the nerd thinks: About time too.

Photo Stream
What's new: 1,000 of your most recent photos streamed automatically from iPhoto or Aperture. Download your photos from your camera and the cloud scoops them all up and copies them over to your iDevice.
What the nerd thinks: It works! With absolutely no control. Let's say you automatically download a "naughty" photo to iPhoto. It will automatically show up in all your iDevices.  Hmmm...

Mail, Calendar, Notes, Reminders
What's new: Make a change in your mail, calendar, notes or reminders and the changes will be synced across all your devices.
What the nerd thinks: Calendar syncing is ace. As is notes syncing, and reminders syncing. The only thing is, I've been able to do this for a long time now with the Evernote app and Google.

Wi-Fi Sync
What's new: Never plug in your iPad for syncing ever again.
What the nerd thinks: Wired syncing is a bajillion times faster. Check out Lifehacker's speed comparison between wired and Wi-Fi syncing here. So Wi-Fi sync is best avoided. Still, considering MacBook are so stingy on the USB plugs, I'll take it.

Automatic App Syncing
What's new: Download something on your laptop and your iPad automatically downloads it too. No syncing required. 
What the nerd thinks: Perfect for the lazy. Ahem.

Newsstand
What's new: A lot of magazine apps in one place, but so far, not ALL of them.
What the nerd thinks: This helps to put order in my messy bunch of magazine and news apps. I often have an update and don't know about it. No more! At least that's the idea.



And here are some things that are still missing:

Document syncing not ready
Argh. How hard can this be? I was hoping for some kind of virtual disk in the cloud, you know, like Dropbox. What we get with Document syncing (when we get Document syncing) isn't that, at least according to beta sneak peeks on YouTube. Thank God there's still Dropbox. Because that still works better than iCloud.

Still waiting for iTunes
Who are we kidding? iTunes syncing with iCloud is the real killer app here. It can't come soon enough.


So far all the new functions of iCloud are nice to have, but, well, nothing to write home about. iOS 5 brings a ton of fixes and new features, turning the iPad into the device that it was perhaps always meant to be. That said, there's nothing revolutionary about iCloud yet. In the future, no doubt, we won't be able to live without it, when iTunes syncing and more arrive, but for now, you won't miss it. I'm not being ungrateful or unenthusiastic; that's just the truth.

To drive this point home, let me tell you a story: I was having a conversation with my mother -- a new iPad owner -- and I asked her if she had updated to iOS 5 yet. Unsurprisingly, the answer was no. Surprisingly, I couldn't give her a good reason to update. New notifications and Photo Stream are all very cool, but really now, who cares?

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