By some cloud magic, and a lot of user-side shuffling, you can just about get your desktop email, browser bookmarks and some documents accessible on any device of your choice. But shouldn't open access be a no-brainer, no-action-required, offering from Amazon, Google, Apple and others when offering us cloud-based services?
Who is Confused, Users or Providers?
Every now and again there comes a point in our collective adoption of technology when, just as it seems ready to launch down some new superhighway, the dumb user inside all of us needs to stop. We need to take a closer look at that road-map in detail before jumping on the hype wagon, in this case, the cloud.
Not to sound like a Luddite, but I thought when everything was headed to 'the cloud,' we would all be able to access what we liked, where we liked, on the device of our choosing, without fear of being outdated, duplicated, overwritten or likely vanish into thin air, or having to create further new accounts. Cloud providers seem to be selling us this dream, but the reality is not one big let-down, but lots of little ones.
About the best you can hope for is getting a couple of email or Twitter accounts running in the same app. Do you want your Firefox bookmarks to appear in your iPhone or Android browser directly? There's a few hoops to jump through for that.
Do you want an Android or iPhone app for your Office 365 users? There isn't one. Yes, there are workarounds to all these issues and the hundreds more relating to data, content (we won't even go into the music side of this) and links. But users shouldn't have to figure them out, the providers should give us the tools directly.
All the players, Google, Microsoft, Amazon and Apple are flinging cloud services at users in bits and pieces, with no real idea about the 'whole realm' of a user's life or trying to address our issues. Look at the latest uber-launch, icloud.com, Log in to Apple's 'amazing' service from the people for whom 'it just works.' Click on the desktop email link,and you get this message:
That ain't working, that's not the way you do it...
So, I've just logged into a service that is supposed to link my phone to my desktop, I have an existing email account (Gmail as it happens, linked to my phone) and when I click on the Email link in iCloud, it tries to get me to sign up for YET ANOTHER service. The Reminder service in the shiny new iOS 5 works fine across iPhone and iCloud, so why not the email?
No, Apple, I don't want yet another email account! I thought it was up to you to work with my existing accounts. There are thousands of different annoyances like this across any platform, combination of devices and services, and until they start to work together properly, the cloud won't ever satisfy the user base.
Who Will Save Us?
If the aim is a generic cloud, where users can bring their own accounts and devices, then there are probably too many vested interests for that to work. However, Mozilla is taking off at a tangent by developing an open apps system that reduces the need for silos of information, and instead translates them into hyperlinks, offering greater data portability.
'Users should not lose their data due to some terms of service or cloud accident' is the thrust of their argument. And, despite struggling to access the closed APIs within the many devices, Mozilla is looking to change the game by creating apps that will run anywhere, accessing any data source, therefore creating a real cloud.
Perhaps it won't be this initiative that succeeds, but with enough user complaints and third-party bullying and social media invective, perhaps the collective sellers of the cloud dream will realize that users don't like just one source of dog food. We like many flavors and it is up to them to accept our tastes, not foist their own upon us.
The Perfect Solution
To map this out, should any provider actually care about their users, here's how I see the ideal cloud service working:
Welcome to cloud service x. You have agreed to our few, simple, terms. Now we will work really hard to get all your stuff together:
- Please choose your email provider (from the big list provided)
- Please choose your browser provider
- Please choose your office service provider
- Please link your many social media accounts
There you go, all your social accounts, email, bookmarks, office files, music, movies and news feeds are linked to our service. Any device you use cloud service x on will provide the same live data.
Is that really too much to ask?