Apple was incredibly proud of iCloud when it was first announced. The service, which promises to keep users’ documents, photos, and other data in sync across devices, was described by Apple’s executives as “magical” more than once during its unveiling. Finally there was a synchronization service that would, according to Apple, “just work.” But that was 2011 and now, two years later, we know that the only dependable aspect of iCloud is its utter lack of dependability. Despite all of its promise — and the promises, perceived or otherwise, made on its behalf — iCloud is broken.
Now it’s Google’s turn to make the same promises on behalf of its own services. The company has developed tools and services to keep users’ photos, game data, documents, and other data in sync across devices — and it’s doing so for Android, iOS, and the Web, not just its own products.
Google recently combined the free storage it offers to Drive, Gmail, and Google+ users into a single 15-gigabyte-large “bucket.” This will allow users to keep their documents, photos, and email archives in sync across all of their devices without worrying about arbitrary limits placed on each service. Data is no longer attached to specific Google services, it’s simply attached to Google.
And, unlike iCloud, Google isn’t simply storing this data and making it available on other devices. The company announced at the Google I/O developer conference today that photos shared with Google+ can now be edited and enhanced, as well as backed up, with Google-built tools. Google Keep allows Drive users to make their notes and lists available and editable across devices.
Then there are the new games services Google announced today, which promise to keep saved data and facilitate multiplayer gaming via Google’s cloud. This is similar to Apple’s Game Center, a multiplayer gaming service that sometimes works across the iPhone, iPad, and Mac, and iCloud, which also promised to keep game data synchronized across devices. The difference between the two? Google’s services aren’t restricted to its own devices.
Apple developed iCloud for people who want to keep data in sync across their iOS and Mac devices. Besides rudimentary photo-sync support on Windows PCs, iCloud doesn’t allow any data in or out from, say, the Web or Android. Anyone wanting to make their data available on all of their devices without being restricted to Apple’s products must turn to other solutions, and that doesn’t seem to be changing any time soon.
Google is different. Despite operating the world’s most popular mobile operating system, Google is keeping data in sync across iOS and the Web instead of restricting its services to the Android ecosystem. Apple develops its best applications for its own devices; some of the best Google apps are found on the iPhone. Google seems to view data the same way it views software — it’s better when it’s everywhere.
Apple failed to deliver on the promise of iCloud. The service is buggy at best and a “developer’s worst nightmare” at worst — and that’s before you consider the lock-in, which is typical Apple but still frustrating. Google is now making similar promises, and doing so without the restrictions inherent to iCloud even if it were operating perfectly. And, given Google’s experience with managing massive amounts of data and shipping online services that, unlike Apple’s, actually work, it’s easy to believe that Google can fix this problem better than Apple has.
That doesn’t mean that Google will succeed where Apple has failed, however. The company’s executives attempted to demonstrate some of the new games services in front of all the developers and members of the press gathered at the Moscone Center; they couldn’t get it to work.