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A curious thing happened this week that got me thinking.  I know, a dangerous thing, but there you go.  The happening was, that I started using FaceBook in my iPad’s web browser and abandoned the FaceBook App.  Not a very radical step I hear you say, but its strange because the App interface is supposed to be better and makes best use of the multi-touch interface on the tablet.

Why did I stop using it then?  Its simple really, I just find the web interface easier to use and more attractive.  Quite a lot of the stuff you can just glance at on the main Facebook page, such as latest comments are hidden in the App.   The main picture on this blog is a snapshot of my FaceBook page.  So you know what I mean, here is a snapshot of the rather sparse App interface.  You can see that comments aren’t previewed anymore and the main screen to me, takes minimalism a bot far.

Why is this significant?  Well, the App is the great innovation of the age, isn’t it?  Everyone expects there to be an App for everything and well, you can get everything from a bubble-wrap simulator, a spirit-level to something that makes a farting noise.  Now I’m a great fan of Apps and it has to be said that I use quite a few.  I love StarWalk (fun) and DropBox (practical document management) for example.  However, ask me if I could only have the software built in to my iPad, making me do most things on the Web would I leave it home.  Certainly not, the only thing I would have Apple add (and this would be another rant) is the support of Flash.

The thing is that there is a difference between the type of App which is genuinely needed, and does something you can’t do with a web site or is especially well engineered, and those that are simply cut-down front-ends to web sites.  The point is that web sites ARE front-ends and in the days before Apps, web site developers simply had to make their web sites work with mobile browsers.  Now they are under great pressure to produce an App interface to their web sites and the results are often poor.    These “skin” Apps, of which FaceBook is a prime example, don’t add sufficient value to the website, they don’t even pre-download content to make the response times faster and they make you have to learn a whole new, uninspiring, user interface.

Next time I may have a rant about e-magazines but thats a different story.  Apps are here to stay but hopefully as the mobile web gets faster and web developers get the hang of mobile, the “everything must be an App” hype will wither away.

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I have loved Apple products since the day in 1997 when I first owned an iPod.  When I finally got my hands on one of these devices I instantly “got” Apple; it wasn’t so much the technical features and specification as the sheer quality and beautiful experience of owning and using it.  This has been the theme of Apple products in the last decade, while the sceptics slag their products off because of what they don’t do, everyone else marvels at how well they do the things they do do.  I remember when the iPhone was launched how people said that a phone with a touch screen as its only keypad would never gain acceptance and when the iPad was launched it was a “solution looking for a problem”.When the late Steve Jobs announced iCloud a few months ago, I was well excited.  This was billed as “Cloud as it should be”, it offered the promise of freeing my data (documents, photos, music videos) from my devices, so I could access it from any device. Imagine, photo and music libraries synchronised on my phone, iPad, Mac and PC, the need to synchronise my iPhone with my Mac finally over!  Apple have a track record and reputation of taking an establsihed and tiered concept (e.g. the Smart phones) and astonishing everyone by re-inventing it.  The idea of someone doing that with Cloud IS exciting.  I was one of these unfortunate people who signed up to a paid Apple “Mobile Me” account, only to let it lapse because you could get a much better service from Google for free, but this time it would be different, this time it would be better.

In reality though, when I started playing with iCloud a few days ago, I was rather disappointed.  Does it keep my photo library in sync between my laptop, desktop, iPad and iPhone? no.  Does it do the same with my iTunes music library? No.  Does it synchronise all my documents with the Cloud in the manner of DropBox? No.  Does it really replace the need for me to sync my iPhone with my computer?  No.  Granted, I can now access any purchased song from any of my registered devices without having to re-purchase it, but the iTunes store really outght to have let let you do that for a long time.  Granted, if I take a picture on my iPhone, it finds its way automatically to a a special “Photo-stream”  folder in the photo library on my iPad. (the iCould feature called Photo Stream is a kind of temporary Cloud based holding area to enable new photos to be synchronised between devices) This is a really useful facility but hardly Cloud rocket-science and its far from instant.  The fact that there is no Web interface yet to iCloud services is interestingly radical but to my mind kind of misses the point of Cloud.

Has Apple lost the plot then?  Well maybe, or maybe not.  The logo for iCloud is an image of a cloud on a brushed mettle background that may portray the companies product bent and explain why iCloud is so product-orientated.  However, there is part of me saying they probably know what they are doing because they usually do.  I remember the slagging-off that the first iPhone and first iPad got.  There is nothing here that seems to directly challenge the Cloud Goliaths like Google and maybe that’s deliberate because if you are a young upstart David, you had better be sure of your shot if you are going to take on a Goliath.  What’s going to be the surprise next world-shattering thing from Apple?  I don’t know but it doesn’t look like iCloud is going to be it.   If I did know, you would read about it here first so I will let you know if I figure it out.