Apple’s iCloud Finally Syncs Docs Across Macs and iOS Devices

Launched nine months ago, Apple’s cloud service has at last fulfilled the promise of automatically syncing documents between Macs and iOS devices, thanks to the release of Mountain Lion.

Apple’s iCloud service now syncs iWork documents automatically between Macs and mobile devices. It took nine months and a Mac OS update to get there, but I’m not complaining (much).

When Apple launched iCloud on October 12, 2011, the free service was a solid improvement over the company’s MobileMe in syncing music, videos, photos and other stuff across computers and devices. Despite what Apple’s iCloud press release implied, however, iCloud was a washout when it came to complete document syncing.

iCloud automatically synced files created with Apple’s iWork apps between iOS devices, but not with Macs. And that was too bad, as I suspect many people, like me, often create Pages, Numbers, and Keynote files on their Macs and not their iOS devices.

That’s all changed with the release of Mountain Lion, Apple’s latest OS update ($20 and well worth the price). To sync files between Macs and iDevices, you’ll also need the recent, free updates to the iOS and Mac versions of Apple iWork software. Also, make sure iCloud document syncing is turned on, both in iCloud’s Systems Preferences on your Mac and within the individual iOS apps’ settings.

Once you’ve taken those steps, any changes you make to, say, a Pages text file on your Mac will be synced instantly to the same document on your iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Conversely, new files created on an iOS device will instantly be accessible on your Mac.

iCloud does a nice job minimizing potential file conflicts, too. When you open on your iOS device a document created on your Mac, you get the message below, which gives you the choice of opening the original document or a copy of it.

Pages iOS iCloud Mountain Lion document sync

Should you elect to open the original and then modify it while the same document is open on another device, you’ll receive an alert that “modifications aren’t in sync.” You’re then given the choice of which file version you want to save.

One gotcha: As always, you may lose some formatting when you create a file in an iOS iWork app and open it in its corresponding Mac software, and vice versa. For instance, I created a Numbers spreadsheet on my Mac, which was then synced to my iPad. When I opened the file on my tablet, I received ‘Spreadsheet Import Warnings,’ informing me that the table fills and sheet settings, such as headers and footers, were removed. Even so, I have to admit: I didn’t notice anything different.

The full document syncing that Mountain Lion makes possible isn’t enough to make me abandon the Dropbox ship. Dropbox isn’t the least expensive file-syncing-in-the-cloud service, but nothing beats it for simplicity and variety. Dropbox automatically syncs all the files in my Dropbox folder—everything from movie files to Office documents—across multiple computers and to Dropbox mobile apps on different mobile platforms, which iCloud currently doesn’t do.

Still, I’m happy to have document syncing with iCloud—even if it took nine months.

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