iCloud sync is randomly breaking

A week or so ago, Cloud Battery stopped working for me. The app syncs device battery status across iCloud, providing alerts across all your devices — handy when one needs charging. Having just updated a bunch of them, I figured this was a bug in a nice but not critical piece of indie software and thought nothing more of it.

Then I needed to use Transloader for something. It worked – at first. But then it started throwing up sync errors. On iPhone, the app noted these were 503s. If you’re not familiar with arcane error codes, this one states a server is not able to handle a request. Since the ‘server’ in this case is iCloud, that was a concern. I switched two devices to a spare account and Transloader worked fine. I finished my work, albeit a day behind.

Then Soulver failed — suddenly and very badly. I needed to restart my iMac so was shutting down all my apps. Soulver threw up a permissions error. A week of input was wiped out in an instant. This was a shock on multiple fronts: in part because of the data loss, but also because Soulver is one of the most robust apps I use. It had never failed before.

I swapped messages with the app’s creator, who was mortified. I sent grabs of my iCloud Drive folder where Soulver’s ‘sheetbook’ was stored, which now had an exciting and mysterious new file. I moved the sheetbook to local storage and had had no further problems. I tested the old one several times on iCloud, and it went wrong half a dozen times. The culprit was clearly iCloud.

I griped about this on Twitter. It turned out, I wasn’t alone. Developer Becky Hansmeyer kicked off a thread about the issue, which ended up starring, among others, Paul Haddad (Tapbots), Adam Overholtzer (Cheatsheet), and Quentin Zervaas (Streaks). A quick look on Reddit had already suggested to me that the problem had in fact been around for months, rather than days; terrifyingly, Zervaas said he’d seen this issue “on and off since May 2021”, and his own app only currently fully works on some of his Apple IDs.

On and off since May 2021. For iCloud sync. For an issue that at best causes somewhat random sync failure for the apps that differentiate Apple’s devices and that at worst can cause catastrophic and unrecoverable data loss. That is not good enough.

Several devs noted Apple is at least “aware” of the problem, but it’s apparently been rumbling on for eight months now, and is, as Zevaas suggests “seemingly quite random”. That’s just what everyone — users and developers alike — want to hear about the reliability (or lack thereof) of such a critical service. My question now — having apparently decided at the worst possible time to bin Dropbox and go all-in on Apple’s equivalent — is whether I can trust iCloud sync and iCloud Drive at all.


An hour or so after I posted this piece, some of the Mac website giants stomped on in with their takes. You can read two below:


Update: Zervaas said on 25 Jan he saw a big drop-off in 503 errors. For now (26 Jan), Cloud Battery and Transloader are working for me again. (I haven’t moved my Soulver sheetbook back to iCloud though. It’s going to take a lot for me to trust iCloud Drive with that again.)

January 24, 2022. Read more in: Apple, Opinions, Technology

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You can do real work on an iPad, so stop claiming otherwise

Now iPadOS 15 has appeared, it’s a crushing disappointment to those people who enjoy being crushingly disappointed when Apple doesn’t do precisely what they want. And it’s not like I don’t have frustrations with the iPad myself. For years, I’ve banged on about wanting full external display support, the dream being a fully modular computing experience that could ‘be’ tablet, laptop or desktop within relevant contexts. But as I wrote for Wired, this is not Apple’s strategy. The company isn’t seeking to replace laptops with iPads, but to “finesse the transition between its platforms, with all your hardware and software working together”.

In a sense, iPad still exists where it was originally positioned, between a smartphone and a laptop. It’s just this definition has expanded from the device’s originally fairly limited scope. But even from day one, it was a superior device for some tasks—without that, it wouldn’t have had any reason to exist. Today, the ambition of app creators has helped the platform evolve into a primary device for a wider range of users, including some illustrators and video editors on the move.

It’s with this in mind that I find increasing frustration in commentators who should know better slamming the iPad for not having “real apps” to do “real work”. It’s like the conversation hasn’t moved on in a decade, despite the platform and its capabilities being far beyond what was possible with the original iPad. And while I do understand some people are irked they can’t get Final Cut on their iPad, I’ve also watched video folks scythe through 4K edits on LumaFusion. Elsewhere, I’ve talked with visual designers using Affinity apps and illustrators working with Procreate. Writers? Plenty tap away on an iPad with the likes of Ulysses and Scrivener. Musicians? There are tons of superb synths, virtual instruments and DAWs for the system, many of which work brilliantly, and most of which cost a fraction of their desktop counterparts or equivalents.

Could Apple do more? Sure. But is iPad somehow deficient? I don’t think so, unless your requirements are very specific—or your real aim is screaming that iPad is doomed at the top of your lungs, despite all evidence to the contrary.

July 8, 2021. Read more in: Apple, Opinions, Technology

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For Apple and others, flexibility is the vital component to the future happiness of workers

A tale in three parts:

  • Apple states as of September that employees will be back to the office at least three days per week, and will get the option of two additional remote-work weeks per year (The Verge)
  • Apple employees respond, asking Apple to be more flexible and account for individuals who might want to work from home on a permanent basis (The Verge)
  • Daring Fireball writes a surprisingly callous response, slamming the Apple employee letter and inferring those people “aren’t a good fit for Apple”

I’ve primarily worked for home for 20 years now. It has pros and cons. I’ve been fortunate to be there for most of the big moments in my child’s life, not least her first steps. If I’d been on a 9–5, I’d have missed those—and so much more. But I also recognise that for some people, being around others in an office environment is how they thrive. Also, some jobs can only be done in that way.

However, many jobs can be performed well in a distributed team environment. Apple itself has shown that, in all the many things it’s achieved during a pandemic. At this point, my take—as someone who is very aware of being in a fairly privileged position—is that flexibility is the way forward.

The Daring Fireball take is, for me, colossally bad. From a pure commentary standpoint, it’s distasteful for an individual working however they like to hand-wave away requests for flexibility from people who have discovered how they can do revolutionary work and not miss out on things like family moments (while avoiding soul-sapping commutes).

But the same is true in reverse. Some people thrive on in-person interaction. So denying that (as some other companies are looking to do) is equally problematic. Companies will have to figure out new ways of working that are flexible and smart enough to cater for alternate ways of thinking.

For Apple specifically, the company used to say ‘think different’. It could leverage that approach and lead a new way of how major corporations work rather than being so prescriptive. And while Apple shifting to three days in/two days out is a big cultural shift, it has an opportunity to do more. If your company has been by every measure a massive success during the pandemic, then it has space to be more radical, not less, regarding workers.

June 5, 2021. Read more in: Apple, Opinions, Technology

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Quick tips for app/game devs to improve their chances of press coverage

At some point, I really need to get around to writing a little book about how app and game devs can boost their chances of press coverage. But earlier today, I wrote a Twitter thread instead (which is just like a tiny book, right?) and so I figured I’d ‘reprint’ the tips here.


1. Tell me about your app. Seems obvious, right? But many app/game devs never contact the press. That makes it harder for us to find your amazing work!


2. Have a press kit. Said kit should outline what your app does, what its main points of interest are, and, if relevant, how it differentiates itself. Have the kit online or send it via email. Up to you. If emailing, ALWAYS include app store links.


3. Provide a promo code. You don’t necessarily need to send this right away, but at least offer a code and please be responsive when asked for one. Also: don’t send me ten of the things. They’ll just go to waste. One is fine!


4. Have images readily available. I reckon about 75% of devs do not have suitable images for press that journos can quickly access. If I have to quickly make a choice between two apps of equal quality, I’m going to go with the one that didn’t make my job harder.

On images, do not put them in a device frame—or at least provide unframed versions. What I need is several shots of your app at its best, in uncompressed PNG. Also: provide shots across all platforms (Android, iPhone, iPad, watchOS, etc.), not just one.

You might want to get clever with captions and shots of your app comped on to multiple devices. Or lifestyle shots. Or crops of a bit of the screen. Sure. But offer full-screen grabs too, or I cannot feature your app in most publications I write for.


5. Get a video on YouTube. This one isn’t mandatory—but video can be useful to embed into online articles and some publications require videos for mobile games (not apps). If one doesn’t exist, I might make one, but your game would have to be bloody great for me to do that.


6. NEVER offer money. OK, so most of you wouldn’t think of doing this anyway, but I am getting a lot of “how much would it cost to add our thing to your list” emails these days. No writer of any integrity will accept money for coverage. Ever. Do that with me and I will blacklist you.


7. Don’t be afraid. So you’re a tiny one-person indie? Great. I love tiny one-person indies! I feature stuff by them all the time! I wasn’t keen on something you previously made? OK, but I might like what you did this time. Worst case: I don’t feature your app. But if I like it, I will.


Other journos might have different thinking regarding some of the points I’ve mentioned here, but I’ll bet the majority of them are broadly universal in nature. As one dev put it when responding to my Twitter thread: “Main takeaway: make it easy for someone to cover you by giving them all the tools they need to do so.” That’s it exactly.

And good luck! Creating apps/games is tough. But many of you really are doing great things.

April 6, 2021. Read more in: Helpful hints, Technology

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The day I got temp-banned from Twitter for offering somebody support by using British slang

I guess it had to happen eventually: my Twitter account has been temporarily blocked. But it’s why it’s been blocked that’s interesting.

Earlier today, this tweet from freelance musician Zephy found its way into my feed. It’s a bunch of screen grabs detailing a conversation he had with someone asking him to work for nothing, and being rude, annoying and aggressive when Zephy politely refused.

I replied as follows: “All I take from this is that guy is a massive wazzock and your rates are too low. He should have bitten your arm off for what you were offering.”

Immediately, my account was locked because: “You may not engage in the targeted harassment of someone, or incite other people to do so. This includes wishing or hoping that someone experiences physical harm”.

There are multiple problems here. There was no targeted harassment. This was a direct response to someone, not the person he spoke with. There was no wishing someone harm. At first, I assumed my account was locked for use of wazzock, a British slang word for fool or annoying person.

Except. I now note that I suggested to Zephy that the wazzock in question “should have bitten your arm off for what you were offering”. To bite someone’s arm off is also British slang, and it means to get really excited about something, not to mean them harm. Clearly, Twitter’s algorithm does not understand this and locked my account. So I appealed.

Twitter just responded: “Our support team has determined that a violation did take place, and therefore we will not overturn our decision.”

I’ll leave you to decide which word should best describe the people who made that decision — if indeed any people made it at all.

I have asked Twitter’s press team for comment and will update this article should they reply.

October 28, 2020. Read more in: Technology

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