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Hidden iCloud 'feature' may someday challenge Dropbox

updated 12:30 am EDT, Thu November 3, 2011

Way to make iCloud sync files with Macs discovered

Users who have purchased at least one of the latest iWork applications and are iCloud members may be able to sync all kinds of documents -- not just iWork files -- between Macs running Lion, researchers have discovered. Putting files in a special folder inside the (normally hidden) user's Library folder "pushes" the file to iCloud and other Macs that have the same iCloud account. The feature could be sign of a future iCloud expansion, or just a bug that Apple will block eventually.

MacWorld's "Mac OS X Hints" sub-site was the first to publish the exploit, thanks to a reader contribution. The trick involves a folder called "Mobile Documents" that resides in the (hidden in Lion) user's Library folder.

The "Mobile Documents" folder is only available to those who have purchased (via the Mac App Store) the latest iWork applications, although the function will dutifully sync other types of files as well. The "Documents & Data" syncing preference of iCloud must also be turned on on all Macs that users want to sync with, and they must all have the same iCloud account.

At present, the feature is similar to only the main aspect of popular sync-and-cloud-space utility Dropbox's abilities -- but does indicate that Apple could, if it wanted, make the feature a permanent part of iCloud. Former Apple CEO Steve Jobs tried to buy Dropbox outright in 2009 but was rebuffed amicably, eventually resulting in the "Documents and Data" feature in iCloud, which has been publicly promoted as being for syncing iWork files across both Macs and iOS devices.

Once located, users can place an alias of the non-hidden "Mobile Documents" folder elsewhere (or drag it into the Dock or Finder's sidebar) for easy "drop box" functionality across multiple Macs. According to reports, Lion will even notify synced Macs of version conflicts and allow the user to resolve them. [via MacOSXHints]

by MacNN Staff





    Comment buried. Show
  1. imNat-imadouche

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Doubt it

    Apple tried to buy Dropbox and failed. Anything Apple will do now will be half assed just like icloud.

  1. Marook

    Joined: Dec 1969


    All Apps..

    can do it, not just iWork.. there is an API for it!
    But as Apple tend to think the user should 'not care about filesystems' the stuff is hidden in the Apps, and hidden folders...

  1. stonefingers

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Not dependent on iWork purchase through App Store

    "The "Mobile Documents" folder is only available to those who have purchased (via the Mac App Store)..."
    I haven't purchased iWork through the App Store, rather it has been on my system since before the App Store for Mac existed, but still have the folder. Within the Mobile Documents folder are three folders, one for each iWork App. I thought maybe since I purchased Pages and Numbers for iOS through the App Store (prior to iOS5 and iCloud) maybe that is what placed the folder there - but somehow I doubt it since I didn't purchase Keynote, and I don't think the three are just that "sync'd". I think it's just a folder created when one upgrades to iCloud provided iWork is installed, regardless of where it was purchased from. Maybe it's installed regardless of whether iWork exists or not. Point is, your assertion/caveat about the App Store isn't true. Anyone else out there NOT have iWork installed at all and STILL have the folder? That would be a good little tid-bit to know!

  1. Evolution_tech

    Joined: Dec 1969


    @ stonefingers

    Sorry your wrong. I don't have any nor have I ever used any iWork programs and I don't have any folders or files in my Mobile Documents folder. So it seems when you have an iWork app it creates all the sub-folders.
    BTW i'm using Lion 10.7.3 on a i7 MBP.

  1. testudo

    Joined: Dec 1969



    It only 'helps' you sync some files on your macs. Since iOS keeps documents specific to their 'apps' (because, as we know, each app has it's own type of file and you'd never want to open it in any other program), you can't do much with a PDF in your Numbers folder.

    Plus it only helps if you have Lion running on all your Macs (10.4-10.6 users need not apply), you only have Macs, and you feel like hoping that the files won't mysteriously disappear one day because Apple fixes the 'bug'.

    Or you could just sign up for a free dropbox account, get something that works on all your computers and accessible on your various mobile devices (iOS or not).

  1. Inkling

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Better than Dropbox?

    iCloud document synching would have to be significantly better to get my attention. Dropbox sometimes draws fire by requiring all synched documents to be inside their Dropbox folder, although the files can be in subfolders. But that's infinitely better than burying documents deep inside an obscure library folder that's then hidden from users.

    Besides, I'm growing tired of Apple's "Our users are too stupid to understand folders" attitude and don't want to do anything to encourage or reward it. I don't buy this concept of simplicity through obscurity.

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