iCloud synchronization to push data caps to the limit

iCloud synchronization to push data caps to the limit

Summary: Keeping so much data synchronized in the background as described by the iCloud announcement is a useful service, but it moves so much data that it may be pushing capped mobile data plans into the red zone.


One of the most useful features announced by Apple today at the WWDC keynote is the iCloud service that is aimed at keeping user data in sync across multiple devices. This data synchronization is not limited to documents; as described by Apple, it covers apps, music, photos and just about everything. Keeping so much data synchronized in the background is a useful service, but it moves so much data around that it may be pushing user's capped mobile data plans into the red zone.

The synchronization as described by Apple is very prolific, and will make Mac users who own iPhones and iPads (and that's a lot of you) able to access all of this content no matter which device you may be using. Such access is a nice thing, but it requires the constant movement of data around the user's personal cloud. This has the potential to eat up the mobile data caps in place on iPhones and 3G iPads.

Every time a document is created on one of these devices, it is shot to all the other devices owned in the background. One document is pushed to two devices for those who use a Mac, iPhone and an iPad. It isn't just moved around once, with the new Revisions in OS X Apple is keeping full versions of each documents, and it sounds like those will be pushed around to the other devices too.

That is just document creation; when you buy a song (or album) on iTunes on one of these devices, it's getting pushed to the other two. Add in backups and document synchronization and the possibility is very real to have data flying around a lot of the time. This will all be subject to these data caps imposed by the carriers, so iCloud users may start finding themselves in overage territory.

Apple may be covering our backs and make such synchronization configurable to only happen over Wi-Fi, but that has a toll too in my experience. I have used either Dropbox or SugarSync to keep multiple devices in sync like this, and when I did it only on Wi-Fi it hampered the overall benefits. Since syncing wasn't happening all the time, I couldn't assume the file I accessed on one device was in fact the latest version on another. The mindset gets adjusted to having files always in sync, and when circumstances (like being away from Wi-Fi) prevent that from happening it creates problems. Add in the extra time that is required when iCloud could resume syncing, due to playing catch-up, and it quickly becomes a pain when Wi-Fi is finally available.

The iCloud service sounds wonderful, and I am pretty sure I will be giving it a try when it's available in both OS X and iOS 5. I do think it's worth keeping an eye on mobile data usage once it gets rolling.

Image credits: Apple; Flickr user swimparallel

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  • RE: iCloud synchronization to push data caps to the limit

    The issue with data-caps is how long the application tail will be allowed to wag the carrier dog.
  • RE: iCloud synchronization to push data caps to the limit

    iCloud relies on local storage. Considering that the most popular iPhones and iPads have only 16 GB of space to begin with (most of which users already have filled), this seems problematic. At least with DropBox and SugarSync all your data is in the cloud, and you can decided which synced folders are appropriate for which device.

    Also, the fact that the iCloud server drops photos after 30 days is going to come as a big surprise to a lot of folks who will assume that their photos are all backed up in the cloud.

    I pity the Best Buy employee who has to explain how photos, music, video, and documents all sync differently and each has unique limits.
  • RE: iCloud synchronization to push data caps to the limit

    I don't think this is going to replace services like Dropbox, but see iCloud as complimentary. It does seem WiFi leaning, since the syncing seems to be linked to plugging in to charge, though I wonder if you can manually trigger a sync. I am also assuming that this supplements the existing sync capabilities, not replaces them.

    What is going to be important for this, will be the configurability for the user. In iTunes, when you click on the device, you have the access to all the data types and the control over what does or does not get synced. That ability needs to come over to the local device.

    Someone with a 16GB iPhone and a 16 or 32GB iPad who gets most of their music purchases through Apple will be OK. The really advanced users who already micromanage the space on their gadgets will probably be alright. The ones with a 64GB iPad and Touch, with hundreds of CD ripped that like to take their whole collection with them may have some problems. And will podcasts count against the 5GB or will they be considered purchased content? That's the one that will nail me.

    The $25/yr Match service service is interesting. I'll assume that iTunes burning will only be available on the source system where the ripped copy resides and will be based on that copy. But it can sure be a nail in the coffin of file sharers. Check out the CD at the library, rip then Match it and you've got the high quality MP3 across all your devices, for as long as you keep the service? How'd Apple get the RIAA to swallow that???

    By the way, did anyone else notice that video wasn't - purchased, ripped or from my HD Camcorder - wasn't mentioned at all?

    My prediction (and this is ALL unsubstantiated speculation). Apple has probably beaten the 80-20 rule of project management, and by a good margin. Most customers will be quite happy. Of the 10-20% whose need is not completely met, I'm betting many of those will be able to make partial use and still consider themselves better off. There will be a small minority unable to take advantage of the service and these will be the loudest voices. Look for blogs - or at least their comments sections - to be inundated with whining about limitations that have no real meaning in the overall market.

    James and others have noted the threat Amazon represents to Apple. I think what we're seeing here is that Apple agrees and this is Apple's (preemptive) response. The best thing for us is that Amazon is quite capable - and I believe willing - to meet the challenge. Yes, Apple has a head start on hardware, but Amazon is (arguably) ahead in the content purchase/management universe. Amazon's biggest gap is not having an iOS client for video purchases as does Netflix or Hulu, though I can think of some relatively easy solutions.

    Bottom line? This should be a win-win-win situation. Both Apple and Amazon should win with innovation and the resulting profits and we should win by realizing the benefits of the innovation better pricing for tech and/or content.