Brett Terpstra’s recently brought in Paul Mayne and Ben Dolman on his nascent Systematic podcast, the designers and developers who created the delightful personal journal app Day One (available for Mac and iOS, and yes I am behind on my monstro 5by5 listening schedule).
The episode, titled “On Design, Visualization, and Journaling“, brought some attention to iCloud vs something like Dropbox. The discussion’s focus was appropriately on Day One, which dovetails with near perfection into iCloud. That’s the sync service I use with Day One and after setting it up the first time, haven’t worried (or cared) where my actual files are on my file system. I just know they are there, waiting to be reviewed or appended from my MacBook Air, iPhone, or iPad. I just know it’s going to work.
Surely, it’s the kind of user experience Apple had in mind when they moved from .Mac to MobileMe to iCloud.1 This got me thinking, wondering why it is that Day One seems so natural, and some other apps such as Apple’s own iWork suite, seem so far from perfection.
In the past, Apple Pages welcomed users with a template chooser to begin a new project. The latest version on my Air running Mountain Lion lurches straight into a dialog box asking me to select a file for editing. Two clickable chiclets in the top left corner of the dialog let me switch between files on my Mac and files in iCloud. In the bottom left of the same box, a button invites me to open a New File, which slingshots me into the template chooser I was used to seeing on launch. All of this is muddled together with the muted gray that Apple has chosen to wash everything together (the new brushed metal!).
So if I start a file on my iPad, it’s waiting for me in iCloud. I may, or may not, have to click the chiclet to reach into the cloud to snag my work in progress. At this point, my brain is a little confused. Is the file on my Mac? Staying in the cloud? Lurking in both places? Where exactly is the file again?!
I know this is growing pain, that my brain just doesn’t grok this newfangled file system, but it gets a bit more confounding. I know I started a file somewhere and now I want to email it to someone else. I slap the shortcut to attach a file and go¬where?
And that’s the problem, for me at least.
Two Types of Files
Why does Day One seem so natural to me and Pages seem so confusing?
I think it’s because a journal is a personal and perpetually expanding space. It isn’t a blog or a work document, but a place for reflection that isn’t necessarily meant to be shared. Rare is the need for me to delete or edit my work there, whereas Page is all about editing, sharing, and collaborating, probably for some sort of printing or other publication. Summing up, I see two types of files here:
- Personal — For apps used by one person on multiple devices, iCloud is great.
- Traditional — For collaboration, sharing, or knowing with certainty where your files are, there are better solutions.
Dropbox, WebDAV, and others
Dropbox has come closer than anyone to making it right. Consider your Dropbox folder to be a ubiquitous folder for works in progress (it’s the sync method of choice for many iOS apps) or a way keep a constant backup of home files up-to-date. It’s the granddaddy of this class of apps, but it isn’t alone. Other free-to-pay offerings include SpiderOak, Google Drive, and Microsoft SkyDrive.
Bitcasa is a new paid service in this area. What makes it unique (and the reason my inner control freak can’t commit) is the company’s infinite storage moves your files and data from your computer to its remote servers. The advantage, especially with smaller solid state drives Apple has made popular, is that it leaves precious space is ample for your OS and application files while your pictures, music, and movies eat up space somewhere else.
Why stubbornly pick one service? Use what works best for each app. I really wanted iCloud to be the universal solution, but it isn’t there. At least not yet.
I’m still surprised how much trouble Apple has had getting this right. ↩