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  1. Computer Skills
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Computers

Apple's Web Services Considered

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Apple is famous for making exceptional hardware and software. It isn't, however, known for its successful web services. Almost every time Apple has announced a new feature that relies heavily on server-side processing with great fanfare, it’s been met with bad press. Apple Maps is now a byword for tech disaster.

In this tutorial I’ll have a look at some of Apple’s major web services that have received negative attention to see if they still deserve their bad reputations, or if things have improved.

Apple Maps

I'll start with Apple Maps, Apple’s most infamous product launch. Within days of iOS 6 being released, Apple Maps was headline news around the world—and not in a good way.

Thousands of users were taking to Twitter to complain about bad directions, misplaced locations and missing features. Searching for London took you to the small city of London, Canada rather than the much larger, and more important, London, England

apple maps transit
Apple Maps now has public transport directions.

A huge part of the problem was that Google Maps, that had come with earlier versions of iOS, had slowly developed into a great navigation app. Due to political reasons, with Google, Apple suddenly needed to replace a seven year old service with a brand new one.

Since 2012, Apple Maps has continued to be developed. After the initial bad launch, it rapidly became more accurate. 

Last year, public transport directions were added for 14 North American cities, Berlin, London, Mexico City, Rio de Janeiro, Sydney and around 300 Chinese cities. This was one of the most requested features and one of Google Maps’ biggest advantages.

Apple Maps is now an entirely competent navigation app. It isn’t as good as Google Maps in smaller cities—where Google often has public transport directions and Apple doesn’t—but in major cities around the world it holds isn’t own. Its reputation as a punchline is no longer so deserved.

Apple Music

Apple Music is Apple’s attempt to stay competitive with streaming services such as Spotify, Tidal and Rdio, and even with piracy. 

Most of Apple Music’s bad press came before the launch when Taylor Swift wrote a much-quoted open letter about their royalty plan. Tim Cook responded and the Swift-furore was dealt with to everyone’s satisfaction.

Unlike other Apple web services, Apple Music requires an ongoing subscription. After a three month free trial, it’s £9.99/$9.99 a month although there are family and student plans available. 

apple music
Apple Music is a worthy Spotify competitor. 

Apple Music’s main competitor is Spotify and, in most ways, it compares favourably. 

  • They both have very similar catalogues, with Apple having a few important exclusives like Taylor Swift
  • They both offer a few different ways for users to find new music
  • They both have great mobile apps where you can save music for offline listening

The only place where Spotify is a clear winner is that their free-tier is ad supported rather than time limited.

While I’ve been a Spotify user for three years now and have no plans to move everything to Apple Music, I’ve tried it and the choice between the two services is fairly inconsequential. They both do music streaming really well, it’s only in a few minor features that there are any differences. 

Pick the one that appeals to you most.

iCloud Storage

Since it launched in 2011, iCloud hasn’t so much upset users as confused them. The main feature of iCloud was a way for developers to sync data between the same app on different devices. When it worked properly it was great. When it didn’t work, however, it was a nightmare as users had no way to troubleshoot the problem. Early on, it didn’t work far too often.

Now things have definitely improved. Backup, Photo Stream, iCloud Drive and app data syncing all work seamlessly. 

iCloud drive
iCloud Drive makes iCloud a lot more useful.

Backup has always been the most under-appreciated feature of iCloud. Even from the start, it was reliable. It just works in the background. All your important data is saved to iCloud while your phone charges at night.

Similarly, Photo Stream quietly works uploading all your images to your iCloud Photo Library. You don’t even notice it happen. They’re just available everywhere.

iCloud Drive is also a great addition. Rather than being stuck with a closed blackbox, now users can access the underlying file structure. It makes it a reasonable Dropbox competitor.

Over the last year, I’ve moved most of my data syncing, for apps like 1Password and Ulysses, from Dropbox to iCloud because I’ve found it to be more reliable for Mac apps. I’ve had absolutely no problems with syncs failing for unexplained reasons.

The one issue with iCloud is that the free 5GB that comes with every account isn’t enough for anyone with more than one device or a large photo collection. Fortunately, additional storage is cheap. You can get 50 GB for $0.99 a month; more than enough for almost everyone.

iMessage

While iMessage has never had anywhere near the level of bad press Maps received, it’s had one continuing issue. When you attach your phone number to your iMessage account, any other iPhone user will automatically send you iMessages rather than SMSs. This causes problem if you switch to an Android phone, or any other non-iPhone. Any iPhone user will still see your phone number as being attached to an iMessage account.

iMessage
iMessage doesn't lock you in any more.

Apple has long fixed this issue although it still occasionally pops up. If you have your iPhone, you can put your SIM in and in the Settings app turn off iMessage and FaceTime. This deregisters your phone number from iMessage.

If you don’t have your iPhone any longer, you can visit Apple’s Self Solve site and enter your phone number. You get texted a confirmation code to enter which will deregister your number. Problem solved.

Conclusion

Everything Apple does is subjected to a huge amount of media scrutiny. Almost every Apple service, from FaceTime to iTunes gets the occasional bit of bad press. Siri was recently in the news for its stock responses to domestic violence claims. Apple quickly acted and fixed the problem.

The idea that all Apple’s web services are useless just isn’t true. Even Apple Maps is now a decent app. If you’ve been holding out on some of Apple’s server reliant features because of a bad reputation, it’s now time to revisit them and give them another chance. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

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