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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  • Victor Panlilio

    iPhone OS 4.0 is being previewed April 8, this Thursday. Perhaps some of these concerns will be addressed.

  • Kawika Holbrook

    Until Apple offers OTA updates, backups, printing, and doc swapping, the iPad will be more of an accessory than a PC replacement. I hope we learn more on April 8. Meanwhile, I’m enjoying my iPad for reading, videos, and photos.

  • leef

    I gave up on mobileme just under a year ago. I gave up on the iphone just under a month ago. I dropped aperture a few months ago. Got rid of iweb 6 months ago. Apple is only good at making clean UI’s and that’s all.

  • dsims

    This is why I’m waiting for a 10″ Android tablet.
    Your hope “for a future where all I need to supply a device with is my identity, and everything else falls into place” is exactly how it works with Google Apps on Android devices.

  • Edd Dumbill

    @Kawika I await the announcement eagerly too. It seems clear that Apple *want* us to believe the iPad is an essential part of our lives for more than just consumption, hence the two things they tried hard to push at the iPad point-of-sale: MobileMe membership and also the mail-ahead AppleCare replacement policy, where they ship you a replacement before you mail in your iPad for repair.

  • Karen

    I love my iPad but I had a similar, but so far unsolved issue- my iPod touch works fine on my old eMac (osx 10.4.9) but the iPad won’t run on that. So my bookmarks,notes and contacts are stuck in my eMac while the iPad is connected to another Win XP machine where I imported all my music and apps. Mobile Me seemed like a solution but no, it doesn’t run on the old eMac either. This is why I (mostly) love my iPad, also hate it (just a little!)

  • Navin Samuel

    When will people stop equating the iPad to a computer? I am not sure that Apple wants us to believe that the iPad is an essential part of our lives (did anyone tout the netbook or the PC as such?). What we have is a device that defines it’s own very space. Those who want a netbook should go and get one (I am not sure how useful a netbook will be though except for the price!).

  • Lewis Francis
  • Chris

    I get the feeling that a lot of the iPad was rushed to market. There’s many places where things seem not-quite-done yet. After a few hours, I was left with “That’s all I can do with it?”. As a “browse from the bed” tool, it’s pretty awesome. Goodreads (and I assume others) are taking it a little farther, being able to import PDFs and ebooks via webdav (or even DropBox).
    I agree, setting up/cloning initial accounts was pretty painful – Just as painful as with the iPhone though, you’d think Apple would have sorted that by now.
    The good news is, the iPad is all of 4 days old. 1st gen iPhones didn’t have a whole lot going for them either (especially in terms of folks coming off of some other fairly mature mobile platform like Blackberry or Treo).
    RE: Charging – From what I’ve read, the iPad will trickle charge from a standard 500ma (hub) USB port if not on. Haven’t confirmed this though.

  • C.Ride

    Charging: Yeah, on my iPad plugged into a standard USB port, it doesn’t say that it is being charged, but when leave it overnight I find my iPad fully charged the next morning. I figure this is better on the battery. Trickle charging–I believe–generates less heat, which is a factor in shortening battery life, so the battery should last longer. It just takes a full day to fully charge from a fully discharged unit.