Last week I reviewed iCloud and compared it to Google Apps and Microsoft Office 365, two fully fledged cloud productivity suites. Unsurprisingly it came out third best and the review attracted some criticism for running iCloud in an unfair fight.
There are two ways to look at iCloud. As a file-sync service it is a rock-solid, foolproof method to access the same Apple iWork and Microsoft Office documents from iPads, iPhones and Macs.
But the reason iCloud needs to be compared to other cloud productivity suites is because the much-panned MobileMe that iCloud replaced was already being used by Apple-only small businesses as a cloud productivity suite of sorts. Those users would be expecting iCloud to have been an improvement. Unfortunately for them, it is clear that Apple has sharpened its consumer-only focus at the expense of small businesses.
Take one long-term stalwart of Apple, the freelance graphics designer. The sole professional working from a home office used MobileMe to share large files with customers. It was a very easy way (if slow) to securely distribute artwork and images; just add the file to iDisk, sync it and email a link to the file. Files could be downloaded and viewed on iPhones and iPads as well.
But iCloud can’t be used this way. Graphic designers need to share image files, sometimes very large ones, in a range of formats, from EPS to JPEG. You can’t use PhotoStream for that. They need to share inDesign or QuarkXPress files too. You can’t design magazines or brochures with Pages or Keynote.
When Apple dumbed down the interface by taking away the file management system it also slashed the scope of iCloud.
Then there is the issue of co-editing. Why should Apple have included this feature? Because that’s how people are using applications these days. When Microsoft and Google make it easier to edit documents hosted in their clouds on the iPad, iWork will be much less attractive to businesses.
It needs to be said that Apple had all the pieces – the best mobile devices in the iPad and iPhone; the second-best productivity applications in Notes, Keynote, Numbers; and a basic cloud file management platform in MobileMe. Had Apple made web-based versions of iWork that supported co-editing it could have been a worthy alternative to Google and Microsoft.
Perhaps Apple thought it was more important to defend its stranglehold on the consumer market than expand its cloud services into supporting business. Who knows. But the reality is that if you used MobileMe to run your business, iCloud is unsuitable as a replacement.