WWDC and the future of iCloud in iOS6 and Mountain Lion

Posted on June 4, 2012

Last year Apple announced iCloud, the glue that would tie applications together between multiple devices such as the iPhone, iPad, Mac and Apple TV. iCloud has, in this function, taken over the role of services such as photo sharing galleries through mobile me and iWork.com for sharing documents.

However, iCloud today does not offer much in the way of sharing capabilities, certainly not in a coherent, consistent or powerful way. If you want to share and collaborate on a document today, Google docs remains by far the most powerful solution.

With social sharing becoming increasingly important to today’s lifestyles, Apple needs to provide these capabilities. iCloud seems to be the obvious, and chosen, platform for this role.

I would expect that role to be announced at WWDC 2012 next week. It has been a year since iCloud has been announced and since it has been in use, and I think that that is enough time for Apple to have ironed out the kinks and made iCloud a solid syncing platform. Many people would agree that they have achieved this goal.

So the next logical step would be to enhance the iCloud service with sharing, for both social and professional goals. WWDC would seem to be the best place to announce these new features and introduce them to developers.

What would sharing features look like in iCloud?

The only application in Apple’s stable so far to include sharing via iCloud is the iOS version of iPhoto. Journals have clearly replaced photo galleries (and they are much better) and iPhoto allows these to be shared in two ways:
1. on a journal homepage that is unique to the user, or
2. with a direct link that must be provided.

So sharing is very application specific. I would expect to see journals added to the MacOS version of iPhoto at WWDC. What is not available though, is social commenting. I don’t expect this to be added as I feel that Apple believes that this is the realm of social media entities such as Facebook.

One thing we might see though, is sharing expanded out to iMovie and Garageband.

Document Sharing

The big issue today in the iWork suite is the ability to share a document and have third parties comment on it and make changes. iCloud cannot support this today, and it’s a big problem, especially given that iOS devices don’t consistently support third-party solutions such as Dropbox on an OS level.

Moreover, the fact that Apple’s signature productivity applications don’t support iCloud syncing between the Mac OSX versions and the iOS versions a year after introduction is big. We have already seen previews of this being available in Mountain Lion. Potentially, the reason for not releasing this in Lion is either that there are new APIs necessary on the OS level, or that there will be improved functionality coming to iCloud.

Given too that the iWork.com beta is due to be removed from service shortly, that might point to new sharing features being introduced at WWDC.

I’d certainly like as a minimum to be able to send a link to a document that is hosted on iCloud. Yet, going further, I like to see versions being integrated into iCloud that can capture changes made by people I have shared the document with. I’d also like to see enterprise control of sharing, so I can provide access to certain of my iCloud documents, but not all.

It may require another iteration of the iCloud concept to get there. Apple doesn’t seem to be in a rush, and they don’t necessarily always go the full way in supporting business features in their application suite.

Third Party Apps

The big question that remains is, how can third party apps leverage iCloud sharing? Apple for iPhoto has clearly built a special web application to permit journals to be shared, but today that is not possible for third parties to build such web-based extensions as apps that access the iCloud APIs must be in an application store.

Hopefully Apple will provide a solution for this, with some standard sharing templates and updates to APIs for document collaboration.

What new features do you see iCloud getting at WWDC?