Should You Switch to Apple’s iCloud Drive?



Before Apple released OS X Yosemite and iOS 8, iCloud users didn’t have a good way to comprehensively sync files between Macs, iOS devices, and the cloud. And iCloud’s storage system restricted which apps could access what files, so that users could only open a file with the app that created it. iCloud Drive has changed the way that iCloud manages files, taking cues from storage services like Dropbox, which enable users to open any file on any device. But due to staggered release schedules, many users didn’t switch to iCloud Drive immediately when it became available. So should you switch to iCloud Drive? What should you consider in deciding whether to make the switch?

How is iCloud Drive different?

iCloud changes that arrived with iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite change the way that iOS and Mac apps can access files. Instead of a file being accessible only to the app that created it, any app that supports iCloud Drive can now access any file stored in iCloud Drive. MacWorld notes that in the past, iCloud-compatible apps could save files locally or to the cloud. That option is now available to all apps with Yosemite, and Mac users can also access files that they created with other apps. They can move and share iCloud Drive files between a Mac and the cloud, or access iCloud Drive on the web, where they can download and upload files, create new folders, and reorganize files. They can also use the web versions of Pages, Numbers, and Keynote to work on documents that are stored in iCloud Drive.

On iOS, there isn’t a dedicated iCloud Drive app that provides Finder-like access to all of the files. Instead, users open files within individual apps, which can, in turn, export files to an iCloud Drive folder. As MacWorld explains, iCloud Drive is less flexible than other cloud storage services, like Dropbox, Box, Google Drive, and OneDrive.

Outside of the options in the sharing menu, you can’t share and sync your iCloud Drive files with other users, unlike third-party services that enable users to share a document with just a link. (With iCloud Drive, only documents created with iWork can be shared this way.) Currently, iCloud Drive could be considered a useful tool for accessing some of the files on your Mac, Windows PC, and iOS device. Many expect it to become more useful as additional third-party apps take advantage of it and add to the lineup of tools that support it.

But just like switching to iOS 8 or upgrading to Yosemite, switching to iCloud Drive is a step that’s difficult, if not downright impossible, to undo. Because switching to iCloud Drive on one device means switching to it on all of them, many users didn’t make the switch as soon as iOS 8 became available (and asked if they wanted to turn on iCloud Drive).

Once you switch to iCloud Drive on one device, documents and data won’t snyc to other devices until they’re switched to iCloud Drive as well. Prior to switching to iCloud Drive on any device, you should first upgrade all of them to iOS 8 or OS X Yosemite, and Mac users should consider backing up their iCloud data.

As Gigaom notes, once you’ve made the switch to iCloud Drive, the ability for apps to open any file in iCloud Drive enables users to define their own workflow. While not every app can open every file type, users can easily move between apps that handle the same file types to edit and modify the same file. Using utility apps like Documents 5 and GoodReader can help users manage where their files are located, since most apps that support iCloud Drive don’t give users any way to move things around.

Could App Store rules hinder apps that take advantage of iCloud Drive?

One worry for potential iCloud Drive users is the set of rules and limitations on apps imposed by Apple itself. In its latest move to enforce App Store rules in a seemingly haphazard manner, Apple has forced file management app Transmit to remove a feature that enables users to send files to iCloud Drive. Apple asked the company to remove the send feature because its rules state that apps can’t upload content to iCloud Drive unless that content was created in the app itself. A post on Panic’s blog explains:

In short, we’re told that while Transmit iOS can download content from iCloud Drive, we cannot upload content to iCloud Drive unless the content was created in the app itself. Apple says this use would violate 2.23 — “Apps must follow the iOS Data Storage Guidelines or they will be rejected” — but oddly that page says nothing about iCloud Drive or appropriate uses for iCloud Drive.

Though Transmit is only prohibited from uploading files to iCloud Drive, the post explains that it had to remove the share feature altogether because the Share Sheet used to send documents to other lists automatically lists iCloud and is “100% controlled by iOS.” Panic writes that “Since we can’t touch the sheet, we can’t remove just iCloud Drive from the sheet, so we have to remove the whole sheet,” doing away with all of the other share buttons in the process.

By prohibiting Transmit from uploading files to iCloud Drive and by providing a share sheet that developers can’t modify, Apple has, frustratingly, effectively blocked Transmit from being able to send files to third-party services like Box, Dropbox, and Evernote, as well. Panic hopes that its blog post will attract the attention of Apple employees who can either make the share sheet alterable or revisit the decision to prohibit Transmit from uploading to iCloud Drive.

What does Apple’s request to Panic mean for other iCloud-enabled apps?

As Mac Rumors notes, iOS 8 has brought a number of changes to the mobile operating system, including new features like Notification Center widgets, third-party keyboards, and extensions which bring deep integration between apps. But Apple has had some difficulty figuring out how it wants these features of iOS 8 used, and its indecision and often unclear documentation have put several developers in the position of being asked to remove core functions from their apps.

Examples of these situations include the Notification Center widget Launcher, which was removed from the App Store in September, and apps like Neato and Drafts being asked to remove widget functionality that violated App Store guidelines. However, as Mac Rumors notes, Transmit could find hope in one notable case in which Apple reversed a decision based on an interpretation of App Store guidelines. In October, Apple asked calculator app PCalc to remove the calculator functionality from its Notification Center widget. It later reversed that decision when the issue drew significant attention.

While it seems unlikely that the current situation will result in countless big-name apps from being prohibited from sending files to iCloud Drive, and therefore blocked from sharing files to any other storage provider, any iOS 8 app with a file manager could theoretically be subject to the same rule that Apple cited in its request to Panic. But one of the selling points of iOS 8 for many power users is apps’ ability to communicate with each other, and share files in the cloud, and Apple will have many disappointed users if it broadly blocks such a significant area of functionality.

It’s impossible to predict how the situation with Panic will develop, but it stands to reason that if you’re happy with the features that iCloud Drive offers now, it’s safe to make the switch. However, it remains to be seen how much farther apps can push the new iCloud features that iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite bring, or if Apple will let developers build truly powerful utility apps to manage your iCloud files and workflow from your iPhone or iPad.

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