Apple Talk: Why I'm struggling to see iCloud's silver lining

Cloud depends on trust but I've lost my faith in Apple's service...

Apple's iCloud may be a victim of its own marketing. It promises much and yet delivers so little. The only consolation is that it's bound to get better, says Seb Janacek.

Apple has a chequered history with online services. It has acknowledged as much and doing so must have hurt its pride. Past failings help explain why it was so important to get iCloud right.

iCloud is Apple's cloud storage and computing service, announced by Steve Jobs in June at the World Developer Conference. The company had invested over a billion dollars in a mysterious datacentre in North Carolina to cope with the bandwidth.

Steve Jobs unveils iCloud

In one of three major launches, Steve Jobs unveiled iCloud in June at the World Developer ConferencePhoto: Donald Bell/CNET

I've used Apple's cloud services since the first time they came out. It started with iTools in 2000 with a email address, online storage and basic web page publishing.

That service was in turn replaced by .Mac and then MobileMe, for which I paid approximately £60 a year. Again, the services provided were good though not spectacular and often affected by reliability issues.

The MobileMe debacle is well known. According to Apple legend, Jobs assembled the MobileMe team on the Cupertino campus and registered his complete disgust at the failure of the product, sacking the product chief on the spot and putting iTunes chief Eddie Vue in charge of operations.

I never had that much of a problem with MobileMe. It provided the standard suite of email, calendar and contact syncing, plus the convenience of iDisk cloud storage and the ability to quickly create simple websites and photo/video galleries of the kids for the grandparents.

I was a customer for the entire length of the product lifetime and never really had too many serious questions about cancelling the annual upgrade. But to Apple it was an embarrassment and a running joke. Subscriptions were refunded and large quantities of humble pie were consumed.

And so we come to iCloud, the most interesting of the trio of product announcements made at the conference, alongside Mac OS X Lion and iOS 5.

For 10 years, Apple had put the Mac at the centre of our digital hub. Now, with the iCloud vision, the web itself became the hub and the Mac was demoted to a device, although as it turns out one of lesser status than its iOS stablemates.

iCloud does some things very well. It syncs contacts and calendars more effectively and reliably than its predecessors. Those functions are the bread and butter of cloud syncing. The Photostream feature lets pictures taken or uploaded to one device cascade onto others. It's a neat trick.

But that's largely where the good stuff ends. Beyond these tricks, iCloud is just...