OSX Mountain Lion: iCloud Syncing


As we continue to play with Mountain Lion, I thought I’d go over some of neat iCloud syncing features, especially in using a Mac with an iOS device.




When Apple introduced iCloud, they updated all the iWork apps on iOS- Pages, Keynote, and Numbers. While these apps are great, and the iCloud integration seemed to work pretty well, there was one glaring thing missing. The desktop OSX version of these apps had not been updated! The only way to get a document into iCloud from the desktop was to use the iCloud.com website, manually uploading files. While not terribly difficult, the problem then arises when editing back and forth between iOS and Mac. Basically, you had to overwrite the file to update it. Not very smooth.

Desktop OSX iCloud documents dialog.

Opening Pages on the desktop now greets you with an open dialog box that links straight to iCloud.Now, the wait is finally over, and at last the final piece of the puzzle is there, and we have direct syncing into iCloud from Mac! Now, when opening Pages, you are greeted with an open dialog, but it’s different. Now, with one button, all your Pages documents in iCloud are shown instantly. Hit the “On My Mac” button, and you’re shown the normal on-disk open view. This makes it very fast and efficient to get documents into or out of the cloud. No mounting disks or uploading required.One thing to note, this functionality is not limited to iWork or Apple’s apps at all. In fact, these are now systemwide APIs that any app can take advantage of  (for devs: any app using NSDocument can use this). Coupled with an iOS devices, this makes for great opportunities for new app suites.

iOS iCloud document dialog.

On the iOS side, creating a new document shows up in the Pages app, just as you’d expect. You can edit the document, close it, and go back to editing on the Mac, moving back and forth seamlessly. Now here’s something cool- what happens when you have the document open at the same time, on multiple devices? Well, when I edited the document on my iPhone, the one open on my Mac updated itself automatically a few seconds later. No need to close the document and re-open it. And of course that brings up the next question, what happens when it’s edited in both places at the same time? A merge dialog is presented to the user to resolve the conflict, both on the Mac and iOS device. Either version can be

Merge dialog

iCloud conflict resolution dialog, when documents are edited at the same time on multiple devices.

chosen to be used, or both can be kept. Keeping both duplicates the document. Since none of this is triggered by saving, and it’s all automatic, it might make some nervous. Well, the versioning that was introduced in Lion is still there, and one can easily go into the document’s version browser and select any past revision. The document syncing between Mac and iOS is a great feature, and now makes working on an iOS device even more practical. Of course, there will always be a need for disk-based cloud services such as Dropbox or Box.com, but I think this is a great, well integrated model.


OSX Reminders

Another cool feature is syncing of reminders. Like the documents, this is seamless. The reminders app has been out on iOS since iOS 5 was released, and it was on the Mac in a limited fashion- inside of iCal. However, it was more of an afterthought in iCal, while it did sync with iCloud, it didn’t cover any of the advanced features like location based alarms.

Location based reminders allow you to set alarms for the reminder based on a location, either when arriving or leaving. The problem with traditional alarms is that sometimes you don’t know when exactly you are leaving or arriving at a location. You could be running late or early, and if the alarm goes off at a time when you aren’t at the place you need to do the task, you could easily forget about it. Location reminders solve this, for example if you need to pick up something on the way into work, you might set a location reminder to

iOS Reminders

alert you when you’re leaving your house.

The location reminders on iOS work pretty well, however there is one annoying limitation. When specifying a location, you can only

use your current location, or one already in your Contacts. This has been acknowledged by Apple and in iOS 6, you will be able to enter any address in a reminder. That’s great news, except that iOS 6 won’t be out until September. Mountain Lion now provides a workaround for this, as the new Mac Reminders app allows the address entering, and if you create a reminder on your iCloud account, it will show up on your iOS device. When I tried this, shortly after on my iPhone, the region monitoring symbol showed up in the status bar, signifying that the reminder had synced over with the location alarm. When I later on deleted it on my Mac, it turned off as expected.


Other features in iCloud include Notes, Safari tabs syncing, and PhotoStream (not new, but sharing has been added). One thing to note of course is that iCloud tabs syncing does not work with iOS at the moment, as that will be in iOS 6. The tabs syncing does, however work great between Macs running Mountain Lion.

Although there are the other iCloud features, I focused mainly on the Document and Reminders syncing, because those are two of the big parts of iCloud that I’ve been finding most useful already. So far Mountain Lion has been running great, and it’s been a seamless upgrade for me. It’s not perfect, but I think overall, it’s pretty good. I think the integration is just the right amount right now- it’s enough to make things work well with iOS devices, but not too much that I can’t still crack open the Terminal and do things that way. Watch for some more thoughts from our team on Mountain Lion soon.

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