iCloud is going to break Apple

A few weeks ago our AppleTV suddenly, without warning, lost almost all of the menu items under its "TV" tab. The only option there was to watch episodes we had already downloaded. No browsing a store, "top shows", or anything of the sort. It was odd and surprising. One minute we were watching a show we had just downloaded and when the show was over and it dropped us into the menu we were missing key functionality.

In the troubleshooting process I tried rebooting, resetting, and finally, a factory restore. The AppleTV UI obviously keys off of data downloaded from the iTunes store so that it can provide an up-to-date storefront. What I hadn't realized was that the core menu system was ALSO driven over the network from the iTunes store. Once the factory restore was complete I was staring at the original AppleTV UI (I had forgotten how much worse it was) and... the menu was still missing almost all the entries!

Worse still, now the couple hundred hours of TV that we had downloaded over the years was no longer on the device.

At this point it was apparent that the AppleTV was very tightly integrated with iTunes, to the point where if it was having trouble then my AppleTV would actually become useless. And now that I had reset the device I couldn't access media that I had rightfully purchased. This is, of course, the worse-case scenario for digital distribution and DRM.




For years I've had my iPhone randomly duplicate the notes I've taken, presumably due to network synchronization issues and the system getting confused. It's a minor bug in an otherwise excellent phone, but it's still puzzling. Do they not know how revision control works? I can't imagine that they don't. Do they not know how to associate a single primary key (even if composite) with a hunk of data and keep track of its existence with that key? This is basic database stuff, here.

And now Apple has launched iCloud, which will keep all your data seamlessly synchronized in the cloud, or on your computer... but not both. And even if I did want to give up having my computer and my phone synchronized, I have to have a me.com address in order to back up notes in the cloud. This is the ONLY thing that requires a me.com account to sync. I'll never send these notes out, or be sharing them. WTF?




And tonight this system failed me enough for me to sit down and write this rant.

The very basics of a system like iCloud would be to have a clear sense of "identity". And yet, the appleid.apple.com site is atrocious. There's bugs on a majority of the UI panels, it's divergent from the account management system in iTunes but still has some overlap, there's basic data collision issues within the database (ie. it let me add the primary email address for my MacOS App Store account to a new account AppleID account), and the UI sucks.

After verifying an additional email (which entails authenticating), how does one navigate back to the "main" homepage for a logged-in account?

(also, this page scrolls in a fully-expanded Safari window on my 13" Macbook)

You can't delete mailing addresses! In fact, I can't seem to add them, either. Same goes for phone numbers. Actually, it seems like of the 5 panels on this screen, the only that actually works is "Name, ID, and Email Addresses":


What in the hell, Apple? You're famous for "it just works", but getting this set up is like pulling teeth. And God save you if you want something more sophisticated like merging accounts! This stupid system can't keep my basic user details straight, much less any kind of real identity management.

And now it appears that after it erroneously allowing me to add the primary email of another account to this one, that secondary account is in a strange limbo. I can't reset its password, I can't log in/download with its credentials, and I can't even update apps because it can't authenticate.

I take back what I said before about worst-case scenario for digital distribution and DRM. This is much worse. You buy things from a vendor, downloaded them, and then somehow the vendor forgets who you are and now you're locked out. At least before I had a sense that it was a transient issue, but with this it's just irrevocably broken and I have little expectation that I'll be able to get it fixed.




I just don't get the feeling that Apple gets what consumers are expecting with this kind of thing. They are not considering the bizarre corner cases that come up with systems like this, and they are definitely not prepared to be transparent enough to let users attempt to diagnose their own problems. In this kind of situation, the enormous confidence Apple has in itself turns into hubris. The real problem is that they've hitched virtually their entire product line to this concept now, but they're nowhere near ironing it out to the degree they need to.

The identity management aspect of iCloud is a total mess, and it needs to be a tightly designed product in its own right. And they need to figure out the solution for seamless multi-way revisioning and syncing (it's very hard, but it's not impossible). Until they do, users of Apple products and especially people relying on iCloud are in for a rough ride.