Is now a good time to switch to Apple’s iCloud Drive?

Long time Apple users may recall iDisk, an online file storage solution for Macs originally associated to your iTools account. It later became part of a .Mac subscription and finally was a feature of what was once MobileMe. Sadly, iDisk did not survive the transition from MobileMe to iCloud, and in June of 2012, it was no longer available.

With iCloud, Apple took more of an app-centric approach to data storage. Each app would use iCloud Data Storage to save documents and files online. Provided apps were purchased from either the iOS or Mac App Stores, they could ‘sync’ files across all of your devices. The problem was that the files were only accessible to the same app on each device. So as an example, the Byword document you created on your iPad could be opened only with Byword on your iPhone or Mac. This also left Windows users out of the document sharing solution entirely since OS X apps would not run on Windows.

iCloud changes that arrived with iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite look to change this app specific way of storing files with an almost re-introduction of iDrive called iCloud Drive.

iCloud Data or iCloud Drive

Just like upgrading to iOS 8 or OS X Yosemite, switching over to iCloud Drive is pretty much a one-way-only move; going back will be difficult at best and impossible in most cases. Something else to consider is that when you make the decision to switch over iCloud Drive, you are making the decision for all of your devices. Once you switch over to iCloud Drive on one device, the documents and data will no longer sync to other devices until you switch them over to iCloud Drive as well.

For that reason, I would definitely recommend that you first upgrade all of your devices to either iOS 8 or OS X Yosemite prior to enabling iCloud Drive on any one of your devices. Another good idea before you switch over for Mac users is to make a backup of your iCloud Data. iCloud files are stored on your Mac’s hard drive in the folder ~/Library/Mobile Documents.  To access this location from the finder, select the “Go to Folder…” option from the Finder’s Go menu. Once backed up, you can then begin the process of turning on iCloud Data on each of your devices.

A real Finder for iOS

While the Finder on OS X can quickly and easily view all of your iCloud Drive folders, there is no such utility app from Apple included with iOS 8. Instead you need to download a file access tool like Documents 5 from Readdle (Free Universal) or GoodReader from Good.iWare ($4.99 Universal).

In Documents 5 all you need to do is just tap on the cloud icon located at the bottom of the screen, then hit the iCloud Drive button at the top of the screen. Here you will see all of your saved iCloud Drive files. In GoodReader access is a little more hidden. Tap on the tools icon located on the top right of the screen, then swipe to reveal the “Import” option on the bottom of the screen. Once selected, you will see the exact same view of all of your saved iCloud Drive files.

Not just for utility apps

What is interesting is that support for opening any file located on your iCloud Drive is not limited to just utility apps like Documents 5 or GoodReader. In fact any app that supports iCloud Drive can access any file stored on your iCloud Drive. Going back to the example of using Byword, once you enable iCloud support within the app, you can view and try to open any file. Simply tap on the “Open other…” option on the main page. From here you will also see the exact same iCloud Drive view of all of your saved files that you saw in both Documents 5 and GoodReader.

This ability for apps to open any file on your iCloud Drive helps you create your own workflow. Granted not every app is capable of opening and editing every file type, Byword as an example works great with text files, but is not a good image editor. For apps that do work with similar file types, you can quickly and easily move between apps and edit and modify the same file.  You no longer need to struggle with the awkward “Open in…” workflow workaround of iOS past.

Missing from many apps that do support access to your iCloud Drive files is the ability to move things around.  Given the app centric view of file storage of iOS in the past, most apps do not have the UI built to support any sort of “Save As…” feature that would allow you to move files around in folders.  That is where Documents 5 and GoodReader come into play, as these apps will help you manage where your files are located.

Windows Users Included

The good news for Windows users is that iCloud Drive is now something you can consider as well. The latest release of the iCloud Control Panel for Windows includes support for Windows 7 and 8. Once enabled, the same folder structure that is created on OS X will be created and synced to iCloud on your PC. You will be able to use Windows Explorer to browse the files created by the iOS apps you use on your iPhone and iPad directly from your PC. This alone could be enough of a reason for iOS users that use PCs rather than Macs to upgrade their iCloud accounts to use iCloud Drive sooner rather than later.

Is it safe to switch over yet?

This is always a tough question to answer. iOS 8 adoption is only at 60 percent which still leaves roughly 320 million iOS devices yet to upgrade (based on 800 million devices sold to date back in June of 2014). Not everyone that upgraded made the switch over to iCloud Drive right away either. I made the switch a long while back and was sweating bullets when I read about others loosing data with the reset all settings bugrandom apps crashing as they introduce iCloud Drive support, and overall slow performance. iOS 8.1.1 and OS X Yosemite 10.10.1 seem to have resolved many of the more serious issues associated with using iCloud Drive.

Thankfully I have not lost any data since moving over to iCloud Drive. I have noticed slower performance in certain apps when trying to access my files stored in iCloud Drive. In most cases, logging off and back on to my iCloud account has resolved any temporary performance issues I have experienced and the frequency on how often I have felt I had to log on and off has decreased greatly.  Overall I feel that the benefits of using iCloud Drive outweigh the inconvenience of intermittent and occasional performance issues I encounter.