How iCloud lifted my iPad-induced bad mood

Dick Pountain

Dick Pountain struggles to get contacts onto his partner's Apple iPad

I'm writing this at my desk in Italy, on a balmy evening, watching fireflies drift in and out among the vines. (I thought I’d see whether I could type that without smirking, but my reflection says I’ve failed.) Our existence here is a testament to advances in communications technology over the past few years.

Communication with the rest of the world happens through a Telecom Italia mobile mast on the mountain opposite, via which my laptop and my partner Marion’s iPad are connected on pay-as-you-go mobile data plans. These are fast enough to watch live streamed television and listen to music and radio, without recourse to the huge, expensive satellite dishes required only a couple of years ago. My package gives me unlimited data for €19 per month.

The moral of the story for me is that the cloud just works

Being here has given me the opportunity to get to grips with the iPad, and hence caused me to oscillate wildly between being very impressed indeed and hair-tearingly frustrated. The latter state is almost always induced either by the lack of documentation, or by Apple’s smug assumption that everyone buys into its total ecosystem, which I most certainly do not.

A most egregious example of the latter concerned Marion’s contacts, which it fell to me to transfer from her netbook into the iPad’s Contacts. For historical reasons, these have been kept for many years in Palm Desktop. When the iPad arrived, I realised there wasn’t going to be any direct way to export addresses to it since Contacts appears to lack any menu for importing. So I opened a Gmail account for her and exported them all into that via a CSV file, believing job done. Fat chance. The Apple Contacts app lacks any mechanism for importing from the enemy Gmail. After hours of footling, I gave up and suggested she log onto Gmail via Safari to see her contacts.

Months passed and a friend loaned us a book called iPad 2: The Missing Manual, which solved many puzzles, such as how to recover when you accidentally lock the screen into portrait. One chapter began with the soothing words "Putting a copy of your contacts file onto your iPad is easy" and suggested using iCloud or iTunes. Like an idiot, I decided iTunes would be easier since it was already installed on the homescreen. More head-scratching followed because iTunes did nothing but offer to sell me David Guetta albums.

I’m embarrassed to divulge how many hours it took me to realise that iTunes has to be installed on a computer (assumed to be a Mac) rather than the iPad for this. I flirted with the idea of polluting my VAIO with the Apple software, but fortunately, first took the precaution of Googling "uninstall iTunes from Windows 7": horror stories about how much junk it leaves behind cured me of that impulse. I Googled more and the scales were removed from my eyes by a crystal-clear blog called "Apple iPad Tablet Help". The answer is: use iCloud, stupid!

It took about ten minutes once that penny dropped. Pull up Gmail on my VAIO; log in as Marion; export her Gmail contacts to a vCard file on the VAIO; go to www.icloud.com and log in with Marion's Apple ID; drag the VCF file onto the Contacts icon in iCloud. The iPad remained lying in the other room, and no cables were involved. I fetched the iPad and opened Contacts... where to my disappointment were only three entries I’d added manually months before. However, before I could muster a curse, up popped another, then another and in they all streamed, 1,200+ of them, in less than a minute.

The moral of the story for me is that the cloud just works: feeble documentation, different OSes, squabbles between Apple and Google, smug assumptions that iPad owners have a Mac too, all just melted away in the universality of HTTP and the internet.

This was the same month we decided to adopt Dropbox in place of Dennis Publishing’s own server to transport RWC copy, and it’s proving more convenient and reliable for all concerned. The cloud just works. (Of course, being a paranoiac, I download it all to archive on my machine too.) For extra cloudiness I’ve also built an archive of all my previous Idealog columns from 1994 in Blogger, where you can read them onscreen in a convenient format.

As I was uploading one from August 1996, its headline, Wake Me When It All Works, caught my eye. In it I complained: "Somewhere along the line, everyone seems to have forgotten that simplifying means removing stuff, not just hiding it on the 19th tab of some dialog". Now, 16 years later, I can smell the coffee...

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