That Syncing Feeling

In the beginning we had islands of data. What was on our computer stayed on our computer. What was on our Treo stayed on its chubby little atoll. Then we had SD cards and USB drives to float between islands. Eventually we got Dropbox syncing and it felt like the future. Every document I wanted was available to me on any computer with an Internet connection. Fast forward and it’s started to feel like we settled a little too soon.

Dropbox is still one of the best services for syncing files but the pricing feels out of whack. It also feels like syncing and file storage is no longer a top priority for a company collecting email, note-taking and text narration applications. But here we are and 95% of iOS apps rely on Dropbox, or worse iCloud, for data syncing.

It’s rare that WebDAV or SFTP is even an after thought. App makers that can afford it build their own solutions. The Omni Group and Panic both have fantastic syncing options but they live on servers out of my control. OmniPresence provides a mechanism for syncing through my own WebDAV server but only Omni apps support it on iOS. It’s great but it is its own island.

In my use, iCloud is not a good alternative to Dropbox. iCloud syncing is opaque. There’s no indication of success or failure. There’s no troubleshooting. Performance is unpredictable and wildly variable. There’s no consistency of where I can find my files. In many ways it’s the anti-Dropbox and I’ve learned to be careful of what I wish for. I also can’t help but wonder where we’d be if Dropbox decided it was more valuable to buy cool tools than to compete in the file syncing space.1

We’re almost a decade into the era of the everywhere-computer and I’m emailing myself sensitive documents.2 I’m bouncing between my pocket computer and my desktop computer to file a loan application or search through my medical records because I don’t trust iCloud technology or Dropbox security.

I guess I just want more options and more competition for data syncing. Amazon Cloud Sync is nice but I’m not aware of any apps that integrate with it. The number of apps that support syncing could barely form a baseball team. SFTP and WebDAV are still a thing too, but not as an integrated syncing solution. Even my beloved NAS, Synology, is leaning harder on external syncing solutions than providing API access for app makers. Data syncing may be the most critical aspect of modern computing and we’ve settled too easily for the most convenient solution.

Now excuse me while I shoo these damn kids off of my lawn.

  1. To be fair to Dropbox, they did just update their API↩︎

  2. Regardless of what you think of the Dropbox board, and I do think it was a terrible PR move, their privacy policy is very readable↩︎