From Apple’s iCloud to Microsoft’s SkyDrive and all of Google’s various services, cloud storage and applications are quickly becoming critical to consumers’ mobile lives. Forget about lugging USB drives or emailing files to yourself. Cloud-based productivity tools let you keep your documents up to date, and online music and movie stores let you access entertainment on multiple devices.
To decide which of the three major cloud services offers the best all-around experience, we pitted them against each other in a seven-round battle royale with categories ranging from photos to value. So read on to see whether Apple, Google or Microsoft takes home the title.
iCloud will take a more prominent role in Apple’s upcoming OS X Mountain Lion, starting with the company’s iWork productivity suite. Instead of manually syncing your documents, Mountain Lion will automatically sync your iWork files with iCloud, eliminating the need for Mac users to use the iCloud Web page. Naturally, users will still be able to access their iWork files via the iWork app suite, which includes Pages, Keynote and numbers, on their iOS 5.1 device. Unfortunately, iWork for iCloud does not support shared viewing, something both SkyDrive and Google Docs do. So you won’t be able to collaborate on projects with other iCloud users.
iOS 5.1 users will also have to purchase the iWork suite or individual iWork apps if they want to use iWork for iCloud on their iPhone or iPad. Since Apple wants iCloud to be a seamless system, the company didn’t create a Web-based document editor; neither Google Docs nor Microsoft’s SkyDrive require such an investment.
Google Drive (“formerly Google docs”) has evolved over the years from a simple alternative to Microsoft Office into one of the premier cloud-based productivity suites. Available through Google Drive, the software includes a standard word processor, spreadsheet software, a presentation creator and form creators and a basic drawing program. One of the biggest advantages to using Docs is that it allows you to share documents with as many other users as you like. But sharing is just the half of it. You can also view and edit shared documents simultaneously, making collaborating on group projects much easier.
With Google Drive’s desktop software for PC and Mac, users can also store files on their local hard drives for later access. Mobile users can access Drive from their Android smartphone or tablet using the Drive app. Google says they are currently working on a Drive app for iOS users, but Windows Phone users will be disappointed to learn that there is no official app for their operating system. On top of that, we were unable to edit documents when we accessed Docs on our Windows Phone, making it all but useless.
If you’re comfortable using Microsoft’s Office suite, you’ll feel right at home using SkyDrive’s free Office Web Apps. The productivity suite offers Web-based versions of Microsoft Excel, OneNote, PowerPoint and Word, with just one caveat. Office Web Apps don’t offer the same level of functionality as its desktop-based namesake. Like Apple’s iCloud and Google’s Docs, documents created using Office Web Apps are automatically updated and synced with your SkyDrive account. Unfortunately, Microsoft has not released a SkyDrive app for Android.
Office Web Apps, like Google Docs, support document sharing with other SkyDrive users, something Apple’s iCloud doesn’t offer. Users can choose to share both Office Web App files and files uploaded from their native hard drive. And while Google Docs allows users to share documents with other Gmail users, SkyDrive allows you to share documents with SkyDrive users and post the document to Facebook, MySpace or LinkedIn. SkyDrive also offers a host of other social media services and access to document-specific links. Changes others make to your shared documents, however, can’t be viewed in real-time. Instead, you’ll have to click Save before the changes appear.
Microsoft’s SkyDrive takes this hotly contested round thanks to its extensive file-sharing options. We would, however, like to see Microsoft release a SkyDrive app for Android.
Winner: Microsoft SkyDrive