iCloud services fail: What’s Apple planning?

But they seem to have an accent on sync and discovery,...

But they seem to have an accent on sync and discovery,…

The news: Following some reports of instability, many of Apple’s key iCloud services came crashing down yesterday, prompting global reports, angry customers and giving the usual suspects a big stick to wave around and an excuse for finger-pointing and “Bad Apple” style comment.

The criticism: If we assume Apple’s iCloud services weren’t being hacked or attacked, then it’s reasonable to assume either:

1/ A software patch went unexpectedly wrong

2/ An anticipated maintenance/service upgrade took place.

The problem is that in either of these cases the company should surely have some kind of backup system in play? Indeed, if iCloud were under attack then surely the fail-safe backup should have kicked in? That’s even more required in the event this was a scheduled patch.

However: There are a couple of situations in which Apple may have had no choice:

1/ There have been reports the company is attempting to bring all its iCloud servers in house, cancelling relationships with third party suppliers, thought to include Amazon. Such migrations are never without issues, and migrations of such magnitude may have been hard to prepare for.

2/ Apple may be applying significant service improvements to iCloud. This shouldn’t surprise anyone really — WWDC is a few days away and we already expect things like security enhancements across it services, additional improvements in Apple Music, new developer tools for Maps, Handoff and more; and that’s even before we think about the things we don’t think about, such as added features for Web apps like Pages or Numbers.

In either of the latter cases the company may have encountered unexpected challenges in the transition. (Well, I say “unexpected” but most of the Web devs I’ve ever known have learned that unexpected is something to be expected. Shit happens.)

The speculation

It may also be worth noting that these events took place 12-days prior to Apple’s WWDC keynote. I have no inside track, but I’ll chance a guess that if Apple did have plans to apply service upgrades to its online offers, it wouldn’t want to do so too close to the event in case those “expected unexpected’s” happened as unexpected (but expected).

It should also be pointed out that these outages took place from around 3.30pm UK time. That’s around 7:30am in California. When Apple’s main HQ gets to work.

The App Store, Apple TV App Store, Mac App Store, iTunes in the Cloud, and the Volume Purchase Program were the main services affected. Is it possible Apple is improving discoverability on these systems?

All the same I do agree with critics who say Apple should have better systems in place to prevent service problems like these, I also remember similar incidents in the past when the company has been quietly ramping up service improvements.

I think it is very likely we will see enhancements to Apple’s iCloud services in the next few weeks. What’s open to question is if these enhancements will be compelling enough to make us think the temporary service failure was worthwhile.

While we wait, I’m interested in what you think on this matter, please let me know in comments below. (I’m sorry we have to approve comments before they get published here, we have been suffering a scourge of comment spam)

Jonny Evans

Watching Apple since 1999. I don't say what they should do. I say what they might do. They sometimes do.

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