I’m having a crisis of faith. It seems like The Verge has been yet again tainted with some word count that I have deemed unworthy of its otherwise-excellent presence. This one is on the “broken promise” of iCloud. The author is Ellis Hamburger who, according to his Verge bio page has penned a grand total of 2 articles for them (including this one). And he comes to The Verge from SAI at Business Insider, so you know he couldn’t possibly be a troll.
iCloud, perhaps more than any Apple software product, is meant to “just work.” When Apple introduced iCloud, it made clear its hopes to eradicate settings menus and file systems in favor of automation. Steve Jobs pledged to do a better job than he did on MobileMe, Apple’s notoriously horrible stab at web services a few years ago. With iCloud, changes you make to documents on your computer show up instantly on your iPhone and vice versa. “It just works,” Jobs exclaimed when he first demoed the service in 2011. “Everything happens automatically,” Jobs continued, “and it’s really easy to tie your apps into iCloud’s storage system.”
That does sound like a broken promise, doesn’t it? The link to Jobs’s famous introduction of iCloud, the one where he describes MobileMe as “not our finest hour”, he does talk about iCloud integration for apps. Except the apps Jobs is talking about are Apple’s own Contacts, Calendar and Mail.
Listen: I can almost understand the temptation to dig up and defile Steve Jobs’s corpse for hits, but if you’re going to juice your bait with SJ’s memory, try invoking something that relates to your core premise. But the Hamburgler isn’t just content to make a false tie-in to something Steve Jobs never said; he also has ample evidence from several (mostly unnamed) developers who (mostly don’t want to) go on record calling out Apple’s sync solution for their apps as a steaming pile. I guess it worked for The New York Times, right?
First up: Dan Pasco, CEO of Black Pixel, creator of the allegedly (based on critical reviews such as here) excellent Kaleidoscope, where he claimed, on the company’s blog, that they couldn’t resolve issues with iCloud and Core Data and therefore wouldn’t be including it as an option for their app. Chiming in is Pocket lead dev Steve Streza with a tweet “ Remember that @blackpixel has many of the brightest people in Cocoa development. If they couldn’t get iCloud working, who can?” Pretty heavy hitters make for a pretty damning indictment of the thing Steve Jobs never mentioned when he introduced iCloud. But a quote from one respected developer and a tweet from another can’t be the basis for an article, can it? The Verge obliges, but from here, the quality of the commentary takes a nose dive.
“I’ve rewritten my iCloud code several times now in the hopes of finding a working solution,” complains Michael Göbel, developer of several Mac apps, in a blog post, and “Apple clearly hasn’t.” If you do a little digging, you’ll find that one of Göbel’s apps is Free, a “distraction free” writing app which one reviewer describes as “a blatant rip-off of iA Writer“. What separates the 2? iA Writer managed to find a way to use iCloud to sync. Later in the piece, Göbel continues to lament ”If you don’t incorporate iCloud into your apps, Apple will never feature them.” Let’s test that theory by looking at the top apps from Apple’s own featured “New to the Mac App Store” section:
Off the top of my head, I know that 1Password, Evernote, Paprika and (obviously) Pocket don’t lean on iCloud. There goes that theory. Clear, Pixelmator and Wikibot did manage to find a way to feature iCloud, however. Let me offer an alternative explanation as to why Göbel is having a tough time getting noticed: naming your app after a suffix that’s tagged on the majority of free apps in the App Store (256 from a cursory search) isn’t going to help people find your product. It also helps if you app isn’t one of the most hackneyed productivity app types – distraction free writing apps – in the Store.
Following Göbel’s lament, we get a flood of unsourced quotes, from “a very prominent developer, one top developer, and a developer quoted in the Apple developer support forums (no bile thrown out there, ever).
Then we get Brian Arnold, who has been “receiving customer complaints and one-star ratings” as a result of Steve Jobs’s broken promise that he didn’t make. The link provided takes you (again) to Apple’s Developer Forums, the account for which a certain blogger let lapse so I can’t verify the context of the complaint. I do know Arnold is author of “I Ching, the Book of Changes”…oh wait. Brian actually reprinted the classic Fu Xi tome, except that Fu Xi didn’t have access to the App Store and was therefore unable to juice his $7 app with $40 of in-app purchase options. Arnold’s By Flat Earth Studio LLC also has “What the Walrus Knows: A Guide to Beastie Energies!” to his credit, which as far as I can tell gives you advice from a walrus.
The next named source, Justin Driscoll, again from the Developer Forums, writes “Can anyone from Apple comment on this [Core Data] situation? I’m scheduled to run a promotion for the app (which I’ve already paid for) tomorrow and now it looks like I have to remove the app from sale instead.” Without access to the actual app he’s referring to (which probably would have made for not-SAI-level reporting and therefore omitted), I’m assuming Driscoll is referencing the one app on his site, the journaling app OnePAD. You’ll be happy to hear that apparently he has found a way to incorporate iCloud sync, as it’s listed prominently as a feature as of version 1.3.3 and is currently enjoying a 4.5 star average rating.
One quoted developer may or may not have a beef with a more successful app that managed to use iCloud, another is an Android app-level reprinter; the last seemingly doesn’t have the problem Hamburger ascribes to his app. I’m not saying Apple’s Core Services is the bee’s knees or that its accessibility to developers couldn’t be improved, but there’s a way to construct a critique that isn’t this. Between the STEVE JOBS LIED linkbait headline – that refers to something Jobs never said – and a little context provided by the not “top developers” who chose to be quoted, I’d say Hamburger learned a lot from his days at SAI. It’s a shame he has to inflict it on The Verge’s readership.
Update 3/28: my other usually-reliable tech news reporting staple, Ars Technica, has a much better piece outlining the issues developers are having with iCloud/Core Data sync. Jacqui Cheng writes an expository, well-sourced piece – unlike what The Verge coughed up.