iCloud, a paradigm shift

16 05 2014

Data has never really been where you thought it was. It was sprinkled across the blocks of a spinning disk and managed by a file allocation table which could retrieve it instantly as if it was all in one place. But it never was, like data traveling across the internet doesn’t always use the same path or is stored in a unique part of a cloud account.

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Note
Without a file system, information placed in a storage area would be one large body of data with no way to tell where one piece of information stops and the next begins. By separating the data into individual pieces, and giving each piece a name, the information is easily separated and identified.
Taking its name from the way paper-based information systems are named, each piece of data is called a file. The structure and logic rules used to manage the groups of information and their names is called a file system.

Using Apple’s Finder or Microsoft’s Windows Explorer gives us an outlined overview of what’s stored on our hard disk. A first step to access files more comfortable was the assignment of apps to file types, e.g. double-clicking a PDF opens the Adobe Reader but the app doesn’t help us to find out where other PDF’s are stored on a hard disk.

After 35 years of using computers I got tired to take care of folders and subfolders, file versions, backups, and scanning the storage for viruses.

Manual file handling is an anachronism.
We have apps to do it for us.

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That seems to be the philosophy of Apple when introducing iCloud services on June 6, 2011.

Press Info: Apple Introduces iCloud

In October 2013 Apple added iWork for iCloud to support web-based collaboration on documents regardless of the user’s Apple ID, the device, and the place from where he wants to work on them.

The idea …

To explain what the concept of Apple is let’s take a look on the internet.

The Internet is a global system of interconnected computer networks that use the standard Internet protocol suite (TCP/IP) to serve several billion users worldwide. It is a network of networks that consists of millions of private, public, academic, business, and government networks, of local to global scope, that are linked by a broad array of electronic, wireless, and optical networking technologies. The Internet carries an extensive range of information resources and services, such as the inter-linked hypertext documents of the World Wide Web (WWW), the infrastructure to support email, and peer-to-peer networks.

The funding of a new U.S. backbone by the National Science Foundation in the 1980s, as well as private funding for other commercial backbones, led to worldwide participation in the development of new networking technologies, and the merger of many networks. Though the Internet has been widely used by academia since the 1980s, the commercialization of what was by the 1990s an international network resulted in its popularization and incorporation into virtually every aspect of modern human life.

The Internet has no centralized governance in either technological implementation or policies for access and usage; each constituent network sets its own policies. Only the overreaching definitions of the two principal name spaces in the Internet, the Internet Protocol address space and the Domain Name System, are directed by a maintainer organization, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). The technical underpinning and standardization of the core protocols (IPv4 and IPv6) is an activity of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), a non-profit organization of loosely affiliated international participants that anyone may associate with by contributing technical expertise.
(Wikipedia)

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So the idea of Apple when launching the iCloud services is not new.
It was the rapid development of the internet which provoked the idea to a private counterpart, the iCloud services with some added and powerful features.

  • Optimized automated backup of the content of iOS devices
    • Apps are not stored in the cloud because they can be restored from the purchase list of your Apple account.
    • if your device is locked and connected to a WiFi network backups are automatically initiated.
  • Syncing across your devices
    • Contacts
    • Reminders
    • iWork Documents
    • Purchased apps
    • etc
  • Collaboration on iWork documents across different Apple IDs

Here is the full feature list of iCloud capabilities:

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Feel free to download this map from my Box account.

The alternative file formats have been created with iThoughts HD for iPad (.ITMZ file format). Compatibility to other tools is limited.

Application File format
Adobe Reader PDF
Apple iWork/Microsoft Office DOCX
iThoughts ITMZ
MindManager MMAP
XMind XMIND

Apple’s way …

Apple is well-known for reducing features to it’s needs and for seamless usage of it’s devices.

When you turn on a new iOS device or after you’ve completed the update to the latest version of iOS, follow the instructions in the setup assistant to activate your device and set up iCloud.

Using all the benefits of iCloud is as easy as switching on the light.

If you skipped the setup process, tap the Settings icon on the Home screen, select iCloud, then enter your Apple ID.

From now on iCloud does the work for you including advanced security with features like Activation Lock and Find My iPhone if you lose your device or it’s stolen.

It’s that simple. No further action is ever needed to sync all your devices or to backup content. Your Apple ID is the key to move into a perfectly designed ecosystem.

Special features …

Beside the well-known syncing features for contacts, reminders, iWork documents etc. Apple offers some more powerful features.

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  • iCloud Keychain
    keeps your Safari website usernames and passwords, credit card information, and Wi-Fi network information up to date across all of your approved devices that are using iOS 7.0.3 or later or OS X Mavericks v10.9 or later.

    iCloud Keychain can also keep the accounts you use in Mail, Contacts, Calendar, and Messages up to date across all of your Macs. If you’re signed in to Facebook, Twitter, Linked In, or any other accounts in Internet Accounts on OS X Mavericks, iCloud can push those accounts to your Macs as well.

    Setup

    Go to Settings – iCloud and turn Keychain on.
    Follow the onscreen instructions to complete setup.

    Security Code

    When you set up iCloud Keychain, you’re asked to create an iCloud Security Code. It can be a 4-digit code similar to the passcode lock for your device, or you can have a more complex code automatically generated for you. The iCloud Security Code is used to authorize additional devices to use your iCloud Keychain. It’s also used to verify your identify so that you can perform other iCloud Keychain actions, such as recovering your iCloud Keychain if you lose all your devices.

    Additional devices

    Follow the iCloud Keychain setup steps above for each device that you want to add. When you enable iCloud Keychain on an additional device, your other devices that use iCloud Keychain receive a notification requesting approval for the additional device. After you approve the additional device, your iCloud Keychain automatically begins updating on that device.

    Incorrect Security Code

    If you enter your iCloud Security Code incorrectly too many times, you won’t be able to use that iCloud Keychain. You can contact Apple Support, who can help verify your identity so that you can try again to enter your iCloud Security Code. After a number of incorrect attempts, your iCloud Keychain is removed from Apple’s servers and you will need to set up iCloud Keychain again.

    Local Keychain

    When setting up iCloud Keychain, you can skip the step for creating an iCloud Security Code. Your keychain data is then stored only locally on the device, and updates only across your approved devices.

  • Optimized Backup
    iCloud backup is a differential backup (only changed items are backed up after the first backup was initiated). Apps and other purchases are not backed up because they can be restored using the purchase history of your Apple ID. This saves time and space.
  • iWork in the cloud
    Pages, Numbers, and Keynote are the best way to be productive on a Mac or iOS device. Apple brought that productivity to the web in October 2013 for Mac and PC. The apps make it easy to work together with people everywhere. And since it’s all powered by iCloud, your documents are always up to date on each of your devices.

    iWork for iCloud works with Safari 6.0.3 or later, Chrome 27.0.1 or later, and Internet Explorer 9.0.8 or later.

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The future …

iCloud will connect all your services with each other. Dropbox, Box, Google Drive, SkyDrive and other clouds just operate as remote storage servers. Files are transferred to the cloud and taken off if needed. Some apps like ByWord (a simple text editor for iOS devices) automatically save content on DropBox servers which then can be accessed in a wide variety of ways.
All these approaches are isolated applications.

Apple is in a unique position. The company develops soft- and hardware which is the basis for building an interconnecting service and not only a file sharing application. This makes it a bit more confusing to think about because there is no precedent or metaphor to compare it with.

More and more developers implement iCloud storage and synchronization (e.g. the password keeper 1Password, the database application Tap Forms, etc.). They seamlessly connect to iCloud and users must not care about saving or syncing. Create an iWork document on one device, edit it on another device, and collaborate with people not using an Apple device but one of the supported browsers.

What I’m driving at is how there seems to be a difference between managing files on a remote located cloud through some dedicated App or having files available to specific Apps and not worrying about whether they are remotely located in a cloud.

Managing files manually seems to be a bit more work than necessary. If I am with a client and we change a document together, I could return to my office to see those changes without having to ask the client to upload the newest version. So I feel it is probably a choice we make about how we want to handle our data. Do we want Files? Or do we want access to our data? If the file needs an app to open it, then why not just have the app retrieve it from iCloud?

Everything we see from Apple regarding cloud services seems to be pointing toward empowering the apps themselves to handle their data in the cloud and to have hooks into iCloud which deal with this seamlessly. We all used to deal with filing our data on hard drives and organizing it into categories, labeling it, and adding tags. Lately it has gotten easier to manage documents without having to think about where they are located. We may have to evolve a new way of using computers where the desktop metaphor gets replaced with a data access model shared by all apps.

It may get to the point where we no longer need to be aware of exactly what location the data is in.

We should not be constrained by the metaphors which once allowed us to simplify our understanding. If the new paradigm is to have our data available no matter where we are on the net then we will have to let go of our older notions of it being “stored” in the cloud somewhere far off.

Summary …

iCoud is a giant step forward to seamless managing and syncing of information across all your devices. But it’s also the way into an extreme dependency. Access to data is dependent on the availability of an Internet connection and bug-free software applications on web servers as well as on connected devices.

Credits …

Thanks to Dave Trautmann, President at EncycloMedia Ltd., for publishing his forward-looking statements on Google+ and giving me the idea to write about this topic.

Related links …

iCloud Setup

iCloud Keychain

The cloudy iCloud

The Apple ID

Thanks for flying with iNotes4You.


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