iCloud Solutions

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.

Archive

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.

Open in

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.

Containers

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.

TLDR

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.

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AppleID Security

After hearing the latest Mac Power Users episode I heard David and Katie discuss 1Password and using strong passwords for iOS devices.

On one side you want a very strong password, so that your account, apps and data is secure, but on the other hand, who wants to type in a 24 character long random password to purchase an app on the iPhone?

Device Specific Passwords

A possible solution would be device specific passwords. They would work as so:
1. Setup your AppleID with a strong password
2. When you setup a new device you login with your AppleID and use the strong password
3. Apple gives you the option to choose an easier password for that device. The password still has to contain letters, caps, symbols etc, but you don't use your long strong master password
4. Each time you purchase an item on that specific iOS device you use that unique easy typeable password.

The password would allow you to:
* update apps
* purchase apps
* subscribe to magazines, or use in-app purchases

The password wouldn't allow you to setup iMessage, FaceTime, Mail, and wouldn't work on any other device than that device specifically. This means that if someone got hold of the password, it's useless as long as they don't have the device also.
You also wouldn't be able to see the credit card data, change any account settings or do anything else with the password.For that, the device would ask you for your master password.

For families this would come in quite handy. Parents could give their kids an easy password to use without any danger of exposing their account.

Through the iCloud Settings or website you can reset the password, or revoke access to your AppleID all together for a stolen device.

For new users perhaps this would be a bit complex, but as all our devices are more and more integrated with the cloud, Apple has to improve security at some point, and I think this could be one way where we can use a very strong password for our AppleID without giving up on usability. Purchasing apps would still be exposed, but Mat Honan-like scenario's would be less likely.

Instacast

When Apple first released iCloud with iOS5 last year they promised a no-fuzz, it always works syncing solution. And in most cases they delivered on that promise.
My contacts, appointments, notes and reminders all synced flawlessly across my (iOS)devices, and apps like Byword or TweetBot synced kinda alright.

But then there where apps like Instacast with developers who tried hard, but never got it to work.
I don't know how many times a went to all my devices and manually deleted the Instacast iCloud-data from either ~/Library/Mobile Documents/J463EP3A58~com~vemedio~Instacast on my Mac or Settings - iCloud - Storage - Instacast on iOS in order to reset the entire syncing database.
I finally gave up somewhere last summer and just backed up the data to Dropbox every month.

Now with iOS6 I'll give it another go and try to get the syncing up and running again. I removed all the Instacast data remaining on all my devices, and I'm currently waiting an hour before enabling it on my iPhone again in order to give every sync daemon on my devices the chance to check and verify that I actually deleted that data.

Vemedio recently announced a membership option, which is basically a donation round across it's users in order to get necessary money together to build their own WebDAV based solution.
I've got high hopes set on this one, not only because there will finally be a working podcast app with decent syncing, but also because the more developers leave iCloud, the more Apple will hopefully see the necessity to not only enable a good syncing solution across their own apps, but to also finish the Developer build of iCloud so that third party developers can have an easily accessible API which, if applied in a good way, works.

Fingers crossed.

Moving iClouds

"Do not move your iCloud folder. Do not touch your iCloud folder. Consider it the digital equivalent of a hand-grenade which has had the pin pulled and which is resting safely on its handle." -- Me

Not trusting iCloud as the only place to store your online documents, TUAW mirrored the iCloud local storage to their DropBox, with problematic consequences.

The article gives a detailed perspective on the how and why iCloud syncing works the way it does, together with some cautionary advice.

I myself have an AppleScript running via iCal that mirrors the content of the Mobile Documents folder to Dropbox/iCloud every 6 hours. Not as useable data, but as a backup for safekeeping.

Source: http://www.tuaw.com/2012/08/22/a-cautionar...