How iCloud Reveals One of Apple’s Weaknesses

iOS 8 iCloud Drive

While Apple is famously successful at building polished hardware and the software to run on it, the company is markedly less-successful at building software that runs remotely online, rather than on devices. The launch of Apple Maps, for instance, resulted in a flurry of bad press and complaints from users unhappy with inaccurate directions and renderings. 9to5Mac notes that the Apple Maps “fiasco” led to a shakeup of the company’s executive team, and the company’s services haven’t fared well since then.

The latest of Apple’s services facing challenging times is iCloud, which suffered a massive leak of celebrity photos in September and has since been scrutinized for security and privacy issues surrounding the cloud-based system. While Apple has since instituted a new privacy policy and enabled two-factor authentication for iCloud, in order to reassure users of the security of the service, iCloud is far from out of the woods. The iCloud Photo Library was meant to be a headlining feature of iOS 8, but missed that release date and remains in beta. The service is now reported to be held back by internal issues within the company.

The Information’s Jessica Lessin reports that “deep organizational issues” are both holding up iCloud releases and complicating products. Lessin notes that iCloud, a system for syncing files across Apple devices, was announced by none other than late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs. She reports that Jobs was particularly excited about iCloud’s potential to sync photos, one of the most widely used types of media.

However, even today, three years later, the full vision for Jobs’s photo project for iCloud, code-named “Hyperion,” has not yet been realized. Lessin explains that the company took a step toward the full vision in June, when it announced iCloud Photo Library, which keeps all of the photos and videos that users take on their iPhone or iPad stored in iCloud and synced across those devices. But this fall, the team missed the initial iOS 8 release date, and only launched an opt-in beta version of the iCloud Photo Library as part of a later update.

The functionality is also absent on OS X, pending an integration via the forthcoming Photos app for Macs. Apple has said that Photos for OS X Yosemite won’t debut until 2015. As Apple Insider notes, the service’s rollout has been incremental on the web, as well. Just last week, users of iCloud.com gained the ability to upload images to the photo library, but the capability is limited to .JPG files, with the service unable to accept images in any other file type.

But Lessin says that the “deep organizational issues” within Apple, which are delaying releases and complicating the development of future products, stem from the company’s lack of a centralized iCloud team at the company. As 9to5Mac reports, the iCloud Photo Library has missed release dates and fallen behind due to its lack of a “centralized team working on core cloud infrastructure.” iCloud Photo Library also lacks a project manager overseeing the initiative, and that leaves developers responsible for working on “nearly everything on their own.”

Lessin said that she spoke to nearly a dozen current and former Apple employees and explained, “One person close to the company says Apple is taking some steps to build some common cloud technology but has moved slowly in part because it’s used to projects residing in isolated teams.” CultofMac explains that the company’s organizational issues may stem from the way that Apple thinks in terms of products. Infrastructure, the report conjectures, isn’t seen as a product within the company.

However, the invisible infrastructure that underpins products and services and the ways that they work together will be an increasingly important product for Apple as more of its hardware and software needs to integrate and communicate. (Take Continuity and Handoff, which closely integrate iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite, as easy examples.)

When Jobs first unveiled iCloud in 2011, he promised that it represented an improvement over its predecessor, MobileMe, which he admitted at the time was not Apple’s “finest hour.” However, it seems that iCloud has so far failed to live up to Jobs’ vision for it, and its weaknesses reveal critical vulnerabilities in the way that Apple handles product development.

Because Apple doesn’t have a team dedicated to building core cloud infrastructure for all of the company’s products, the team working on each of those needs to rebuild much of the underlying technology, according to Business Insider. This may be a result of the company’s efforts to isolate product groups from each other, in order to prevent product details from leaking, but will likely represent a growing problem as cloud services grow into an increasingly important product for both consumers and tech companies, including Apple and all its many rivals.

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