iPad falls short on cloud integration

Complicated iPad synchronization reveals a missed opportunity

Apple urgently needs to improve its strategy on the cloud. The iPad and the iPhone are perfect smart terminals for cloud computing. At some level Apple knows this, as it was pushing a MobileMe discount with iPads this weekend. But when you get your hands on an iPad, you realize that Apple missed a real opportunity for deep integration with its cloud offerings.

iPad CoverageI’ve been a MobileMe user for a little while, since the transition from .Mac, and I like how it is integrated with OS X setup. On the iPhone, I love the over-the-air syncing of my bookmarks, contacts and calendar. I had expectations that the iPad would take this a step further.

However, the iPad is no more advanced than the iPhone in its cloud integration. I would have loved to have switched on the iPad, keyed in my MobileMe login, and automatically had my email, browser bookmarks, calendar and contacts set up for me, as well as the ability to load in ebooks through my iDisk, and have my photo galleries available.

Instead I was forced through the painfully overloaded iTunes application, and had to tether my device via USB to get all of my content on it. Setting things up was a crazy dance involving configuration in both iTunes and in the iPad’s settings panel. To make matters worse, the iPad doesn’t want to charge over USB. This means I need to plug it in twice: once to the charger, and then somewhere else to sync. Decent cloud access would have mitigated this a little.

I was genuinely surprised that the iWork and Photo applications for the iPad don’t have built-in support for MobileMe. Email appears the be the only generally universal way of getting things out of the iPad.

Both OS X and Ubuntu offer me a much more pleasant out-of-box setup experience for connecting and synchronizing with cloud services. I suspect that because the iPad is divided up into little silos for each application, and iPhone OS doesn’t offer any general notion of cloud services, it can only be this way for now.

I am hoping for a future where all I need to supply a device with is my identity, and everything else falls into place. This doesn’t even have to be me trusting in a third-party cloud: there’s no reason similar mechanisms couldn’t be used privately in a home network setting.

I think the iPad is an amazing piece of hardware, and the most pleasant web browsing experience available. It is still very much a 1.0 device though, and its best days certainly lie ahead of it. I hope part of that improvement is a simple story for synchronization and cloud access.

Somewhat to my surprise, I’m equally as excited about the upcoming Ubuntu 10.04 (Lucid) release for netbooks as I am by the iPad. The iPad is not yet a netbook-killer.

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