There’s been quite a stir over the last week regarding an area of the Apple cloud ecosystem where syncing has remained unreliable for years. Brian Stucki wrote a detailed post on the matter, which John Gruber linked to with echoing sentiments. Today, however, Gruber followed up on his post with an exciting update:
Good news related to yesterday’s item regarding the fact that text replacement shortcuts have never synced reliably between Macs or iOS devices: an Apple spokesperson emailed me to say they checked with the team, and an update that moves text replacement syncing to CloudKit should be rolling out to iOS 11 and MacOS 10.13 High Sierra users in the “next month or so”.
I use text replacement every day across my iOS devices, and haven’t dealt with syncing issues myself, but it’s great to hear that this long-standing problem should soon be put to rest for everyone else. Recent history shows that once a cloud product moves to CloudKit, syncing issues disappear almost entirely – hopefully that will be the case here as well.
Mitchel Broussard of MacRumors shares an announcement from Amazon about a new Alexa skill for iCloud Calendar:
Starting today, you can now link your Apple iCloud Calendar to Alexa. To do this, iCloud Calendar customers can simply link their account in the settings tab in the Alexa app. Once linked, just say, “Alexa, what’s on my calendar today?” or “Alexa, add lunch with Sarah at noon to my calendar.”
iCloud Calendar support has been a top requested feature from Alexa customers, and we’re thrilled to bring this to Alexa devices in US, UK and Germany today.
It's nice to start seeing some of Apple's cloud offerings integrate with third-party services. Today's Alexa integration follows IFTTT's integrations earlier this year with iCloud Calendar and the App Store. Services as basic as iCloud Calendar shouldn't be restricted to Apple-made devices, so I'm thankful to see Apple opening up – even if it's just a little bit.
Last month a rash of spam calendar invitations began showing up in iCloud users’ calendars from unknown senders. Benjamin Mayo at 9to5Mac reports that Apple has begun rolling out a ‘Report Junk’ link on iCloud.com to address the situation:
This lets users remove spammy invites from their calendar and reports the sender to Apple for further investigation.
At the moment the fix is available through iCloud.com only. Presumably the feature will be added to a future update to iOS, though it has not made an appearance in the iOS 10.2 betas to date.
If you receive a spam calendar invitation, log into iCloud.com, navigate to the spam invitation, open it, and look for the ‘Report Junk’ link. Clicking that link and confirming that the invitation is junk will remove the event from your calendar and report the sender to Apple. Calendar spam can be reported as junk whether or not you have accepted the invitation first, although it is best to avoid accepting spam invitations because it alerts the senders that the invitation was sent to an active iCloud account.
A notable addition to CloudKit announced by Apple today – an API for server-to-server requests:
In addition to providing a web interface for users to access the same data as your app, you can now easily read and write to the CloudKit public database from a server-side process or script with a server-to-server key.
Benjamin Mayo explains what this means in practice:
Until now, interaction with CloudKit has been limited to the APIs Apple provided in apps. Although this was useful, it lacked the options for more advanced use — most modern apps rely on servers to perform tasks whilst users are away. With the addition of the web API, developers can create many more types of applications using CloudKit as the backend. For instance, an RSS reader app can now add new feed items to the CloudKit stack from the server. Before, this action could only occur when a user opened a CloudKit-powered app, which was essentially impractical and meant developers had to use other tools.
Somewhat coincidentally, the announcement follows the news of Facebook shutting down Parse, the popular backend-as-a-service tool for developers. I've tried a few CloudKit apps over the past year that would have benefitted from a web counterpart checking for changes in the background – hopefully this change will enable more functionality for those types of apps. A feed reader built entirely off CloudKit with timely updates would be interesting.
Nice (and free) update to 1Password for Mac released today:
It’s a new year and we’re starting things off on a strong note with a great new update to 1Password for Mac: Version 6.0! This latest version of everyone’s favorite password manager is looking better than ever, and we couldn’t have done it without you. Your awesome feature requests, suggestions, bug reports, and usage scenarios really helped us decide what to include in this release.
If you use multiple vaults, you may want to check out the new functionalities in 1Password 6.0 (release notes here). I don't, but I may reconsider this to set up vaults for my family and MacStories.
Also of note: AgileBits built a framework to use CloudKit JS for the version of the app sold outside of the Mac App Store. Apps that aren't available on the App Store can't implement iCloud support natively, but AgileBits figured out a way to use CloudKit technologies for web apps in their Mac client:
From our customers’ point of view, iCloud Sync in the AgileBits Store version of 1Password will look a little bit different during the initial setup. CloudKit JS does not use the iCloud settings from OS X, so to authenticate with Apple, 1Password will prompt you to log in to your iCloud account by displaying the iCloud login page in your default web browser. Once you have logged in to your iCloud account, CloudKit web services sends an authentication token back to 1Password, which it then stores (securely, of course). This enables 1Password to sync with iCloud without having to reauthenticate each time. Since the iCloud login for CloudKit JS is completely separate from the iCloud settings in OS X System Preferences, you can even use a completely different iCloud account if you like!
I don't know whether I should be impressed that AgileBits created this workaround or sad about Apple's decision to restrict iCloud to the semi-abandoned Mac App Store (maybe a bit of both). AgileBits plans to make AgileCloudKit open source, too.
The latest version of Tweetbot for iOS has upgraded its iCloud syncing engine to CloudKit, bringing faster performance for timeline, DM, and mute filter sync. From the release notes:
This update is all about sync. We've switched our syncing engine to use CloudKit which will provide you with faster, more consistent syncing between your iOS devices and Macs. It also sets up a foundation for some cool features we have planned for future releases. We know improved syncing doesn't sound too exciting, but it will provide a better underlying experience.
From a user's perspective, nothing's changed – Tweetbot still uses iCloud and you don't have to change anything in your preferences. However, Tweetbot is now using a better version of iCloud, with near-instant sync of changes between devices.
I've been running this version of Tweetbot with CloudKit sync for a few weeks, and it's a very nice upgrade from the old iCloud sync. I've often left two devices running with Tweetbot in the foreground at the same time, and I've seen the timeline scroll on one device just a second after I stopped scrolling on the primary device. It's impressive.
If you haven't tried iCloud sync in Tweetbot in a while, go check it out again. Tweetbot 4.3 is available on the App Store (my review of Tweetbot 4.0 is here).
If you purchased a monthly plan before September 16, 2015, your account was upgraded automatically. If you're currently on an annual plan, you'll continue to renew annually at that rate. If you select a new monthly plan, your annual plan won't be available to you.
I missed this last night, but Apple has rolled out the updated iCloud pricing scheme they announced last week. My account was automatically upgraded to the 200GB/€2.99 plan, which I'm primarily using for storing photos and videos. I'm going to keep paying for iCloud storage, but I wish I could use it more.
Dan Moren, writing for Six Colors on Apple's new iCloud feature to restore deleted files and data:
A few weeks back, I noted that recovering lost files from iCloud required a trip to the web interface. At the time, the only data available for recovery were files stored in iCloud, but in the intervening weeks, Apple’s added new capabilities and reorganized the layout in the process.
Rather than Apple squirreling away data recovery options under “Advanced > Data & Security”, you now scroll down to an Advanced section, which contains direct links to file recovery and adds the option to restore both contacts and calendar/reminder data. Clicking any of those links will open the restore data dialog box with the correct tab pre-selected.
On both MacStories and Connected, I've often noted how the lack of visible file versions and ability to restore deleted files has pushed me away from iCloud to embrace the safety of Dropbox. I'm still going to need Dropbox for the foreseeable future (and there's still no comparison with what iCloud is offering when it comes to recovering deleted files and viewing versions), but this is a start by Apple and I like how it applies to iCloud data as well – not just files. More of this, please.