Apple + Software & Apps

iCloud Changes in Mountain Lion: Is the Platform Getting Better or Worse?

Posted on by

When Apple introduced iCloud in June 2011, they established not only a successor to their popular but troubled Mobile Me service (previously iTools and .Mac), but also created an iconic brand that would go on to take root in many consumers’ minds at “The Cloud.” Although Cloud Computing continues to grow in mindshare, it’s still a confusing concept for most people, and the iCloud transition has been a bumpy ride for many. But with Lion/Mountain Lion adoption at a higher rate than any previous version of OS X, and Mobile Me officially deprecated, we can consider the worst behind us.

Now that the majority of Apple users are also iCloud users, Apple has the freedom to really grow the platform. They have no intention of maintaining iCloud as a service choice among many. It is their clear intention that iCloud be THE data platform of the future consumer. This objective is clear given that Apple has permitted decade-old conventions in OS X to be modified to match iOS and this new touch-driven cloud platform of file storage and data management.

The iCloud File Browser in Mountain LionThe new iCloud File Browser in Mountain Lion

In Mountain Lion, when I open up Pages, I am greeted with a file browser of recent documents to continue working on, but now I have two destinations to work within: My Mac, and iCloud. You’ll notice iCloud is listed first.

The convenience here is that any files saved to iCloud will appear in the versions of iWork that run on my iPhone and iPad, but an interesting shift has been made here. I can easily access my iCloud files even when I’m offline, as local versions are cached, but there is no easy way to ever view these documents in Finder. A user will not find a generic iCloud file storage directory as they did with Mobile Me’s iDisk, which is a bigger shift than it might appear at first glance.

When iOS debuted, one of the first efforts of the jailbreak community was to open the file management system and allow Finder-style navigation of the phone’s disk. As expected, however, most users stick to the software Apple has provided and have simply learned to treat files as subject to individual apps, rather than as free-floating objects. In OS X, this has been the convention in applications like iPhoto and iMovie, but never with regard to document management. Apple is making a clear move here to treating files as incidental bits of data inside the application. The application is pre-eminent.

How this will play out in the future remains to be seen, as there are clear advantages to both approaches, but many fear that we are seeing the beginning of the end of the Mac as we know it. Steve’s vision has always been to meet the needs of consumers, but Apple may be leaving the old guard of pro users behind in these most recent changes. Not everyone trusts the cloud for file storage (with good reason) or would want convenience over security. I for one am glad that on my Mac, I can still choose to store files locally if I want, but I wonder how long I will have that option.