Cloud services have wafted pretty extensively into our computing lives. Before we know it, we’ve shifted into near-total cloud reliance.
I got a haircut last week from a new barber who, once she learned what I do for a living, was eager to talk about all things Apple. We chatted about the iPhone 7, iOS 10, and macOS Sierra as her stainless steel Apple Watch glinted in the mirror while she worked.
She uses an iPad, an iPhone and iCloud to schedule appointments and text customers, and processes payments using a Square Reader that accepts Apple Pay. Her iPhone 6 Plus has seen some wear and tear, and she’s looking forward to receiving a new iPhone 7 Plus.
In our discussion, she also expressed a frustration I hear frequently: “I have too many clouds.” iCloud, Google Drive, Dropbox, Microsoft OneDrive, something offered by a cable provider once. It easily gets to be too much to manage.
Although iCloud has been around for quite some time, Apple is leaning on it more and more, especially with the latest operating-system updates. In fact, I’m surprised at how easily I’ve shifted to near-total cloud reliance.
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For example, as I mentioned in an earlier column, Sierra includes the ability to store the contents of your Desktop and Documents folders in iCloud Drive, making their contents available on any of your devices. I’ve used Dropbox to do this for years, and I still rely on it as a place where I can locate anything I’m working on and know that my files are duplicated in multiple locations.
But since I would guess a great number of people store random things on their desktop (guilty as charged), this solves the problem of realizing an important file is at home or the office.
What’s more intriguing to me are all the other cloud applications. Apple is now requiring two-factor authentication to be able to securely use some services, which in turn opens up possibilities.
For example, I’m smitten by the ability to unlock a Mac just by having my Apple Watch nearby. It’s convenient and also, for now, amusingly science-fictional.
Just this week, I also took my first steps into HomeKit-enabled products by buying a Philips Hue starter kit that includes three Hue bulbs and a hardware bridge. Setting them up was straightforward using the Philips Hue app on my iPhone, and now I use Apple’s new Home app to control the lights. (I could use the Hue app, but Home will let me add other HomeKit-savvy accessories down the line.)
Part of that setup was designating my fourth-generation Apple TV as a home hub to communicate with the HomeKit devices. And because it’s wrapped in an authenticated iCloud bubble, I’m able to control those lights — or future devices, which could include security cameras, smart outlets and more — anywhere I have an internet connection.
Now that I’ve dipped my toe into Apple’s Home ecosystem, I want to spend all my money and get more stuff; perhaps HomeKit really will be the glue that binds all the smart-home pieces together.
And yet the iCloud experience isn’t entirely smooth (though I’ll say it’s much improved over stutters from previous years). One notable example is the updated Photos apps in macOS Sierra and iOS 10.
I use iCloud Photo Library to have the images in my Photos library available on any device, which has been solid for me. The new versions of the apps add a Memories feature that does interesting things with your images and videos, such as creating slideshows or automatically building a movie.
They’ve also revamped how the apps identify people, making it easy to find all the pictures containing a family member.
What’s impressive is that all the processing is being done on the device, not in the cloud, to prevent any personal data from being shared. But in the case of the People feature, Apple’s focus on security means the people you identify on your iPhone are not similarly identified on your Mac or iPad. The data isn’t shared, requiring you to repeat the same steps on each device.
I suspect that will get straightened out at some point. It’s nonsensical that Photos, which was rewritten to be a photos-anywhere experience, would let this hang unresolved. But in the meantime I’m just not bothering with the feature.
iCloud and other cloud services are wafting into our everyday experiences more than I realized (as another example, using Siri to send money to a friend via the Square Cash app). Now I just have to resist the urge to turn my living-room lights on and off multiple times from the barber or whatever coffee shop I’m working in.