It seems cloud sync is the next thing these days. Having everything available anywhere is almost expected of respected apps and services. Remember a few years ago when we had to manually plugin in and out the phones out of the computer in order to sync the contacts? Or, when we couldn’t sync contacts to the computer at all?
The cloud is getting more mature. Dropbox was for me the first service which gave me a “Whoa” moment. Having files around on your harddrive, and visible in a web interface, and automatically synced to any other computers (there were no devices back then) was huge. Apple’s iCloud is becoming an invisible way of syncing user data and files. MobileMe was quite a misstep, but it’s clear that Apple is going for iCloud at full speed now. With iCloud, files “just exist” – you don’t even have to “sync” them (however, I prefer the use of the term for now). Google is okay at syncing stuff, but Apple’s way of syncing contacts and calendar events feels better to use with Apple’s eco system. Sure, Google’s stuff is widely supported by other services, but I remember things have always felt a bit hacky to perform (once I had to switch language to English in order to sync multiple Google calendars to my iPhone).
My view on “syncing” and “cloud computing” is all about safety, in the sense of that “I can put this file here and be sure of that I’ll be able to access it from any other device”. That was what Dropbox did: I was in a hurry and put a document in my Dropbox, and could safely continue with it from another computer. With iCloud, I’m able to write text in one app (currently iA Writer) and trust iCloud to make it show up on my iPad and iPhone1. In my daily life, manually syncing everything would be a huge pain. I gather a lot of information every day in lectures, meetings, and group projects. Making everything available to me and everybody else just wouldn’t work without Dropbox, Google Docs, Basecamp, GitHub, et al.
In a way this is how the web really should work. Up until now, the devices of the internet have been big, clunky computers. Same kind of input, interaction and display ratios. Now, the member of the web includes tablets and smartphones: why shouldn’t my data be available for them to access? This is in line with the philosphy of responsive web design. It’s interesting to watch the web make computers and devices barely “consumers” of data. They’re not thin clients, but heavy clients in the sense that more work is done on the client and the server just syncs everything.
The cloud is a buzz word, sure, but perhaps because it’s important. Over the air sync has moved from being a gimmick, a “feature”, to something you would expect from a service. Don’t lock my data in if you don’t have to! Let me access it from whatever screen I want to! Let me know it’s safe to just throw in my stuff in this bucket, and have it showing up when I open the bucket next time.
1. There’s no web interface for iCloud stuff (yet), but the upcoming OS X Mountain Lion will have a deep iCloud intergration. Screenshots from the developer preview show an iCloud file manager à la Finder.