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Why you should care about CloudKit

Marco Tabini | July 29, 2014
If you've lived through the last couple iterations of OS X and iOS, you've probably had the opportunity to develop a special love/hate relationship with iCloud. Apple's cloud service suite is made up of many different parts and systems, and while it's great when it works, it also has a history of being prone to hard-to-diagnose outages and, for developers, obscure error messages.

If you've lived through the last couple iterations of OS X and iOS, you've probably had the opportunity to develop a special love/hate relationship with iCloud. Apple's cloud service suite is made up of many different parts and systems, and while it's great when it works, it also has a history of being prone to hard-to-diagnose outages and, for developers, obscure error messages.

Apple has worked hard over the last couple years to make iCloud more stable and reliable, and it has largely succeeded, to the point where the grumblings about it have, at least anecdotally, subsided considerably since its introduction.

Despite these improvements, however, iCloud's file storage offerings have always lacked a number of features that made it less compelling than, say, Dropbox for the needs of many modern apps. For example, while iCloud is mostly free and tightly integrated with both iOS and OS X, it's limited to sharing information between multiple devices that belong to the same user — pretty restrictive in a world where services supporting multiple users (often on a massive scale) are the focus of some of the most successful apps.

One and many

Thus far, this has left third-party developers who want to build interaction between multiple users with no choice but to come up with their own home-brewed solutions for everything from user authentication to data sync, which are both complex to program and very expensive to maintain — a hard proposition in a market that favors inexpensive or free apps.

These problems have not gone unnoticed in Cupertino, however, and iCloud is getting a major overhaul in iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite. The nebulous Documents & Data "storage solution" will be replaced with iCloud Drive, which more resembles the iTools/MobileMe iDisk of old. Best of all, it'll give direct access to all of a user's documents and file right from the Finder.

But that's not all: The improvements to iCloud also include a behind-the-scenes technology, dubbed CloudKit, that gives developers a brand new bag of tools poised to have a significant impact on the kinds of apps we're likely to see in the future.

The shared cloud

For starters, CloudKit is all about storage. As before, each third-party app gets access to a "private" data store that is part of a user's iCloud data allotment; this data is automatically synchronized across multiple devices, and can contain both structured data — like a blog post or invoice — and entire files, like a document or image. Apps like games use this to sync progress between iOS clients, while other apps — including Apple's Pages, Numbers, and Keynote — store presentations, spreadsheets, and more. 

 

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