The Move To The Cloud

The “Cloud” is going to profoundly change how we use technology. People already expect their files to be easily accessible on all their devices but soon that won’t be enough. In the next couple years the cloud will mature in a number of ways:

  • You will store everything in the cloud. (It will still be on your storage drive as well.)
  • It will be very cheap, or free, for large amounts of storage from certain companies. Google, Microsoft, and Apple will use it to add value to their platforms.
  • Smaller companies will have to compete with features. You pay for cloud storage because of all the added functionality these services can offer.
  • The cloud will become your digital hub and you will think less of backing up specific devices and more of backing up your cloud profile.
  • The data in your cloud will easily transferable between apps. (The click of a button and a new app is populated with relevant data.)
  • Any app not connected to the cloud would be at a significant disadvantage.
  • The save button will disappear, everything will be continuously autosaved to the cloud. (With version history)

The future is the cloud and the world better get ready for it. (Including your greedy Telecom who is going to try and make you pay for every megabyte of data you use. You may hate them now but it will become much worse.) The service with the most potential to me is Apple’s iCloud Drive. They control the whole system, from devices to software, which allows them to do things no one else can. The current iCloud is pretty terrible for many things but iCloud Drive looks like the solution I have been waiting for. iOS 8 has made it clear that owning all Apple products is a clear advantage and something no other platform is offering to the same degree. Especially because they can leverage iCloud Drive to store my entire digital life.

iCloud Drive

I am holding my opinion until I actually try it but I can see it having advantages for Apple users that other companies simply can’t match. (As long as it’s not as hard for developers to implement as iCloud was.) iCloud Drive will be a major part of Apple’s innovation in the next few years and I wouldn’t be surprised if it was required to sell an app in the app store to have some sort of iCloud functionality built in. It could be as simple as saving some settings to saving scores/progress in a game. (Imagine pausing a game on your iPhone and continuing from the exact same place on your iPad.) I believe that iCloud Drive will soon hold your entire digital life. So what could make iCloud Drive really great?

I see a two pronged approach to really make the experience compelling.

  1. It could store everything: I mean everything you do digitally. It will store not only all of your files and the settings for all of your apps but things like your position in movies and games. Allowing you to pick up exactly where you left off on any supported device. Or store your work progress so you can easily resume exactly what you were using on any Mac.
  2. It could store your personality: By storing your likes, dislikes, and preferences to allow different apps access to them to populate themselves with the relevant data. This is a little “out there” but I see serious potential for this. For example:

    • Signing up for a new app and all the fields are automatically filled. Including automatically creating and saving a unique complex password. (You could change the fields if you wanted.)
    • Trying out a new music streaming service? Your saved collection is synced.
    • Download a new recipe app? It shows only recipes that obey your dietary restrictions and tastes. (With options to expand the scope if you’re feeling adventurous.) Apps would request access to this information and you would have to OK the request. This would have a much greater chance to catch on if Apple did this rather than someone like Dropbox. If Apple released API’s for ‘Personality Kit’ and allowed a simple way to program in the functionality it could see widespread use very quickly with many apps supporting it.

The future is bright I can see much more exciting things that iCloud Drive could enable:

  • ‘Personality Kit’ - to allow you to easily move between applications without having to repopulate data.
  • ‘Tag Based Importing’ - to populate apps with files with a specific tag.
  • ‘Tandem’ - to allow your Apple devices to work together at the same time.
  • ‘Cross Platform Extensions’ - to use features from the apps on your other devices and send the results to the device you are using.
  • ‘Resume Anywhere’ - Cloud based save states could add a little magic to the Apple ecosystem. Resume anywhere would save your spot in movies/games and allow you to resume right where you left off on other devices.

iCloud Drive will have so many advantages over the competition in the Apple ecosystem that it would be detrimental to use anything else. Our Apple designed prison gets nicer every year.

The Specifics

Settings

Isn’t it nice when you restore an iPhone and all of your settings are already tweaked to your custom preferences? It is a little joy that just makes using iOS a little better. I see this happening for not just iOS devices but for Macs as well. Furthermore I see a future where your settings for every app are saved to the cloud so if you get a new phone or re-install an app everything is set up just like you left it.

Currently apps can only use iCloud if they are sold in the Mac App Store. iCloud Drive changes that so even non-Mac App Store apps can access it. This could mean non-Mac App Store apps could even store the serial number in iCloud Drive. By connecting the app to your iCloud Account it could automatically enter in the serial number and authenticate the app.

iOS Devices Working In Tandem With Macs (Or Other iOS Devices)

Note: This would work over the local network. Nothing is actually sent to the cloud.

iOS devices working in tandem with Macs could be an amazing productivity tool. For example:

  • You’re writing something in Markdown on your Mac and using your iPad to keep a wider picture with a view of your headings allowing you to drag and re-arrange them.
  • You’re editing video on your iPad and it farms out some of the processing to your iPhone.
  • You want to send text from your Mac to your iPhone to use in an iOS app. A cloud clipboard synced across all your devices would make this very easy.

We may see this functionality pop up more and more from 3rd party apps. Rdio already allows me to control the music on one device with another. I really hope we see more tandem computing. (Like using the iPad for Photoshop settings so you can use the full real estate of the Mac to see what you’re working on.)

Cross Platform Extensions

Note: This would work over the local network. Nothing is actually sent to the cloud.

Cross-platform extensions could be even more powerful. For example; the graphics I use for post titles are made using an app on iOS called ’Notegraphy’ (iOS, Android Free) Switching devices while writing can be a poor experience so if I could write a title on my Mac, click the extension, and have a window pop up with the different templates. This type of computing would allow developers to focus on one platform while making it easier to access their app on multiple device.

Tagging

One thing that annoys me about using Dropbox on iOS is the lack of tag support. If I spend the time tagging on my Mac I want those tags across all of my devices. Besides just using tags to find files easier I see the potential to use tags to populate apps with data. For example:

  • I like the app ‘Ember' (iOS, $4.99) for iOS but adding photos to it is a manual task. I have two options: add everything from my camera role or add photo’s individually. (There is a Mac version ($49.99) which would allow me to add photos a lot easier but the truth is I just can’t justify the cost for my needs.) I use Ember for one thing, to save my design related pictures. It would be a much better system if Ember could automatically import all of my photo’s tagged “Design”.

The potential for allowing apps to use tags to populate themselves with files could be a very powerful idea. I have written before about how I love using a Dropbox folder to save my writing because I can open my my documents in any program that supports Dropbox Sync on mobile. Allowing apps to import specific tagged files could be even better. It could look through all of your files and put everything together in a specific place. For example:

  • I take a bunch of pictures on a vacation. Some are good, some need editing, and some are private that I don’t want to show Mom and Dad. They would all be tagged ‘Vacation B.C. 2013’ but I could tag the ones that need touch ups ‘Needs Editing’ and those would go to ‘Intensify.’ (Mac, $19.99) I could tag the good ones ‘Post-able’ and have those posted to whatever social network I want. I could tag the ones I want kept private as ‘Private’ and those would be copied over to a special folder.

Cloud Workspaces

There are two amazing looking features coming with iOS 8 and Yosemite - Continuity and Handoff. I think this is just the start of what I call ‘cloud workspaces’. These ‘cloud workspaces’ will evolve from simply continuing to work on another device to saving the apps you have running, the progress across multiple apps, the music you’re playing, the web browser tabs you had open, etc. When your done work for the day you indicate it to your computer and it hides all of your work apps and opens the entertainment ones. This would be especially useful if you used multiple Macs. Your work Mac was left at the office but you need to finish something. You fire up your cloud workspace and all of your files and documents show up exactly as you left them on your work Mac. Even more impressive would be if your internet connections could handle it you could access apps installed on your work Mac that your personal Mac didn’t have and use them as if they were natively installed. (I already outlined how this could make trying out a new Mac a way better experience.)

Resume Anywhere

Hand-off will work well for switching devices and continuing something on another but what about if you want to resume later? Movie progress, game position, document cursor and just about anything that would benefit from being picked up in exactly the same place could benefit from a cloud based save state.

Final Notes

The cloud is coming, are you ready? The technology has been building to this point for years and we will finally start seeing real world applications for things people have been dreaming of for years. It is such a promising avenue of computing that the next few years will be very exciting. One thing will limit the capabilities of the cloud and that is your internet providers, both home and mobile. A 2GB data cap or a 1MBPS connection just isn’t going to cut it, so start complaining now.

Apps Mentioned

Notegraphy (iOS, Android Free)

Ember iOS( $4.99) Mac ($49.99)

Intensify. Mac ($19.99)


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