The Problem with iCloud and Instacast

I don’t blame developers for having a rough time with implementing iCloud syncing into their apps. Between Apples less than stellar iCloud documentation — not to mention issues with the service itself — building iOS apps that rely on the syncing itself is tough. In the end though, users end up suffering from poor experiences (in turn the developers suffer as well when they deal with angry customer emails).

Being on the user end of things, I know all too well how painful it can be to deal with syncing app states between various iOS devices. Just as an example, I use Instacast on both my iPhone and iPad on a daily basis. Many times I’m switching between my iPhone and iPad, depending on what I want to carry around me. It’s crucial that I be able to put down my iPhone in the middle of a podcast, pick up my iPad, and carry on from pretty much the exact point where I last left the episode.

Between switching iOS devices, one thing that seems to work more reliably than anything else is syncing your position in the timeline. I can’t remember the last time it didn’t sync this properly (though it’s not 100% perfect either, and not as fast as I’d like). This is great, as it means I won’t be annoyed that the episode I was listening to isn’t exactly where it needs to be.  Where Instacast seems to go wrong many times is re-downloading old episodes of various podcasts that were already marked as well. Without a doubt, this is indeed annoying. What makes this worse? On both of my iOS devices, I have Instacast set to sync both the episodes as well as the downloaded version as well. I always prefer Instacast to cache my episodes while on Wi-Fi so I don’t have to eat up my monthly allotted data in order to stream. Syncing downloaded episodes is a great feature in theory, however, more times than not I end up with already listened to episodes on more than one device.

The last glaring issue I’ve encountered seems to be with podcast artwork. On numerous occasions, I’ve had Instacast play the correct episode, yet display the wrong piece of artwork for that show (usually artwork belonging to another podcast that I subscribe to). Whilst my day isn’t ruined, nor is this an earth shattering bug, it’s still annoying to have to deal with. I’ve seen at least one other odd scenario where the app will decide to not only display the wrong piece of artwork, but display artwork for a podcast I had already unsubscribed from. To me this says that its caching mechanism is kind of borked. I’m not 100% certain it’s not directly attributed to some quirky iCloud syncing bug, but it’s just a theory.

Once again, I don’t necessarily fully blame the developer, and iCloud syncing has certainly gotten much better as of the latest release. There certainly are big constraints you need to deal with when syncing data to iCloud and to and from various iOS devices. Things to take into account are: network performance, such as how reliable is it to sync data between devices that are on different wireless networks? In my example, I’m not always on Wi-Fi, and my third generation iPad supports the immensely faster LTE wireless network, whilst my iPhone 4S just supports HSPA+. So when you have two different devices on two different wireless networks that vary greatly in speed, I’m not sure what more I can expect from iCloud.

With the release of OS X Mountain Lion on the horizon, I’m hoping that Apple finally beefs up their iCloud developer documentation. This will not only make developers lives less stressful, but it means they can build more robust and reliable apps — all on the solid foundation of Apple’s iCloud syncing services.