How to make the most of iCloud's sharing and collaboration tools

Posted:
in General Discussion
Apple has many times talked up how you can have two people collaborating on the same document at the same time using iCloud. However, it doesn't seem that collaboration is a big thing inside the company because if it were, Apple people would've surely fixed an enormous missing feature.

Detail of iCloud icon over a sharing email
Detail of iCloud icon over a sharing email


Over the years, we've gone from a hate/hate relationship with Apple's cloud services to a love/hate one. We can now see a day when we'll be fully enamored of it, when we will either think we're in a love/love relationship or more likely that we will take it so much for granted that we never give it a thought. Not today.

To be fair, iCloud is superb for many, many things. Yet there is one key failing in iCloud that is so big that it alone is reason to use Dropbox instead.

You can't share folders in iCloud. Not the way you can in Dropbox, Google Drive or Microsoft OneDrive. The only way to do it is with a workaround that leverages Dropbox.

Shared folders is so big an omission that when you first realise it, you are certain you're mistaken. That's especially as Apple so often shows people happily sharing documents and working on them simultaneously. That's different, though: that's about documents. You can collaborate on individual documents that you share one at a time, you can't create a folder of invoices that you and your accountant can use whenever you need.

The workaround

What you really want is to have a folder that you and whomever else you choose can use together. What you can have is a folder that is kept up to date with a separate folder that your colleagues keep themselves.

You can keep your folder on iCloud and they can keep theirs wherever they like, but you both need to use Dropbox as an intermediary. You also both need to be using Hazel which means you both have to be on Macs as there is no iOS or PC version of this utility.

Error when trying to share a document that isn't already in iCloud Drive
Error when trying to share a document that isn't already in iCloud Drive


Hazel monitors folders and then when anything is added or changed in them, it takes action and does whatever you've told it to.

First you have to tell it which folder to watch.

Create a folder on your iCloud Drive and tell your colleagues to create one on theirs or anywhere else. Then create a third folder on Dropbox and share that with them. This Dropbox folder is just going to be a delivery mechanism, it's a way of getting files to and from each other.

So give it a name you'll recognize is temporary: the kind of name where when your Dropbox is full, you know you can delete this one without a problem. We call ours Transport Buffer.

Now tell Hazel to keep this Transport Buffer folder in sync with your iCloud one. Get your colleagues to do the same with their Dropbox folder.

From now on, any time you add a file to your iCloud folder, it will be copied to your Dropbox. As it then appears in your colleagues' Dropbox folders too, their copy of Hazel can copy the same file on to wherever they like.

Using Hazel to keep other folders in sync
Using Hazel to keep other folders in sync


There are other combinations of syncing and copying you can do but ultimately you end up with all your files where you expect them.

Pointless

However, you have to wonder why you don't just both use the one folder in Dropbox and be done with it. Not only would we understand that, it's exactly why people do tend toward Dropbox instead of iCloud.

Plus as well as being clunky to set up, the only thing that you can rely on in the whole process is Hazel. If you or the person you're sharing with makes a mistake and edits the wrong file in the folder, the system falls apart. If you both work on the same file at the same time, then maybe Hazel, Dropbox or iCloud will catch that there's a conflict but we wouldn't bet our work on it.

However, sharing is one thing, collaborating is another. If you're going to be collaborating on many of them, then this workaround at least means everything is in the same place.

Yet still, you're right, we would beg Apple to change this one thing about iCloud. Let us please nominate a folder to share and then make sharing it as easy as you can with an individual document.

Sharing documents

Actually, sharing individual documents could be easier in certain ways but once you've got it set up with a particular file, it works very well.

The problems come when you're setting it up, when you have a document and you want to collaborate with someone else on it. The theory of what you need to do is straightforward and we'd be lying if we said we knew a better way, but there are snags.

One is in terminology. Many apps that run on macOS now include a Share feature but only Apple's iWork ones let you collaborate over iCloud.

While you can do this in Numbers and Keynote too, open a document in Pages as an example of how it all works. Click on the Collaborate button in the menu bar.

Choosing who to share your document with
Choosing who to share your document with


The Add People dialog that appears will look different on everyone's Macs as it includes options to do with whatever apps you happen to have installed. However, the first four will always beMail, Messages, Copy Link and AirDrop.

On the surface, it looks simple. Click on Mail or Messages, for instance, to say that this is how you want to invite someone to collaborate with you. Click on Share and your Mac will open a new email or a new message for you to address.

Only, click on Copy Link or AirDrop instead and before you can click the Share button, you are prompted to add an email address or a phone number.

The whole point of choosing AirDrop is to be able to AirDrop it to someone standing next to you but still you've got to get their phone number. And the entire point of choosing Copy Link is because you want to send that link out to a dozen or more people in a group email yet you're going to have to enter at least one here.

Don't bother trying to enter your own email address. If the address you enter is any of the ones in your own Contacts card then it will be accepted but the Share button will stay grayed-out.

Messy

Click on Mail and then Share. You're taken to Mail with an invitation email waiting to be addressed and sent.

Then it's just a matter of waiting for that addressee to take the invitation.

How your recipient sees your invitation to collaborate on a document
How your recipient sees your invitation to collaborate on a document


Except both Mac and iOS will report that you and your collaborator must be using the same version of the app. So if you've shared a Pages document, your recipient must also be using Pages and the right version of it.

That's far from unreasonable. It would be peculiar if you could have one person writing in the document in Pages while another person is in Word.

However, say your recipient is an iPad user who's still on iOS 11. He or she will get the notification that to read your document, they must update to the latest version of Pages.

There'll even be an update button in the notification so they tap that and they're taken to the App Store. Except the App Store says no, you've already got the latest version.

Not as helpful as it seems. This error masks the fact that you also need to update iOS
Not as helpful as it seems. This error masks the fact that you also need to update iOS


The missing fact is that you must also both be on the latest versions of iOS or macOS. Your recipient is using the latest Pages that can be run on iOS 11 and that's not enough.

Explain that

You can already think of people who you'd have trouble talking through this process.

Apple could do better with the business about latest versions and it could most certainly improve that Add People dialog. However, apart from these issues, the principle is exactly the same as Google has been using for years.

The practice is different only because Google works everywhere. You have to have a Google account to collaborate on a document someone sends you and they have to have created it in their Google Drive.

If you've not got a Google account, then the process just steps you through creating one and Google is very happy to have you. You follow the steps, you don't have to think about what version of software you do or don't have. You don't have think about what type of device people are using.

Strictly speaking you should be saved from that last concern about devices with iCloud because you can collaborate with this across Mac, iOS and PC -- if people use icloud.com.

How shared documents look on iCloud.com
How shared documents look on iCloud.com


That site is remarkable: it has fully working versions of Pages, Number and more which can be used on a PC in a browser. We've used Keynote this way for presentations, so we appreciate the usability and we recognize how well done it is.

Except we'd love to see figures for how few people use iCloud.com. If you're an Apple user then you have these apps on your device so there's no benefit using the online ones. And if you're a PC user, it's unlikely you've even heard of icloud.com.

So in practice you do have to think about what devices your colleagues are using and do you always have to think about talking through getting set up.

To be fair, though, once you're both collaborating on a document, iCloud now does it very well.

It looks very flashy at an Apple presentation when two people collaborate on a document together. And it's very useful when you're in a group that needs one centrally located document that you all work on.

However, giving us this ability and denying the seemingly simpler one of sharable folders means collaboration is one area that iCloud is still poor in.



Keep up with AppleInsider by downloading the AppleInsider app for iOS, and follow us on YouTube, Twitter @appleinsider and Facebook for live, late-breaking coverage. You can also check out our official Instagram account for exclusive photos.

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 15
    Apple’s productivity and collaboration tools are horrendous. As an example they are still stuck with Pages that’s essentially focused on making nicely formatted birthday letters no one wants. Instead Google Docs (which doesn’t have that) is actually a great multi-user productivity tool, as well as Team Drive and many of their other ‘instruments’ in the toolbox. Keynote is my favorite presentation software but collaboration is absolutely terrible. Numbers lacks any modularity.

    Our entire company moved to GSuite and Apple could have taken that market if they’d only stopped focusing on lame consumer solutions, because those consumers have often grown into (semi-)professionals the last decade.  
    edited November 2018 mcdave
  • Reply 2 of 15
    Apple’s productivity and collaboration tools are horrendous. As an example they are still stuck with Pages that’s essentially focused on making nicely formatted birthday letters no one wants. Instead Google Docs (which doesn’t have that) is actually a great multi-user productivity tool, as well as Team Drive and many of their other ‘instruments’ in the toolbox. Keynote is my favorite presentation software but collaboration is absolutely terrible. Numbers lacks any modularity.

    Our entire company moved to GSuite and Apple could have taken that market if they’d only stopped focusing on lame consumer solutions, because those consumers have often grown into (semi-)professionals the last decade.  
    If you don’t mind Google selling all your corporate data to advertisers then you can congratulate yourself for not being a “lame” corporation. We “lame consumers” are happy with our very private, reliable and secure iCloud, thank you...
  • Reply 3 of 15
    The above half done implementation by Apple is the exact reason many/most businesses use Office 365. Office 365 document/folder sharing works well in my experience and the ability to edit documents in a web browser works quite nicely as well.
    seanismorrisspace2001
  • Reply 4 of 15

    To be fair, though, once you're both collaborating on a document, iCloud now does it very well.

    It looks very flashy at an Apple presentation when two people collaborate on a document together. And it's very useful when you're in a group that needs one centrally located document that you all work on.

    However, giving us this ability and denying the seemingly simpler one of sharable folders means collaboration is one area that iCloud is still poor in.
    Sharing a folder is a security risk. If I need to share a folder I will buy Dropbox or OneDrive. I prefer a secure but unshared iCloud Drive to sharing a folder on iCloud Drive. iCloud Drive is not a corporate realm, Apple has never claimed that. iCloud Drive is an online extension to individual personalized devices that's all. Let people learn first to use their own iCloud Drive instead of someone else's iCloud Drive. Besides, Apple provides an adequate amount of collaboration and sharing among its applications, as the article duly mentioned. Collaborating on a document is different than sharing a folder, let's not mix-up things.
  • Reply 5 of 15

    loopless said:
    The above half done implementation by Apple is the exact reason many/most businesses use Office 365. Office 365 document/folder sharing works well in my experience and the ability to edit documents in a web browser works quite nicely as well.
    Great. Congratulations to Microsoft. They made a huge commitment to iOS and macOS and I am glad to see them succeed. Microsoft opens the gates of the corporate realm to macOS and iOS as mainstream productivity platforms. This is a good thing why complain or blame Apple?
    edited November 2018
  • Reply 6 of 15
    The iCloud is for syncing pictures and iMessages between devices.  Basically, Apple is stuck in personal use only mode.

    Microsoft with Office 365 (+OneDrive) is the only game in town for business.  Check out their videos on YouTube, in the past 10 years there’s been enormous progress.

    I dislike Windows 10 (developed by committee?) but I have to give credit where credit is do with Office 365.
  • Reply 7 of 15
    The iCloud is for syncing pictures and iMessages between devices.  Basically, Apple is stuck in personal use only mode.
    Personal use OK but iCloud as you summarized was at the very beginning. iCloud has made a significant progress with macOS features Desktop on iCloud, Documents on iCloud, iCloud Drive and the Files app on iOS along with iCloud Backup and iMovie Theater.
  • Reply 8 of 15
    I like these help articles you folks have been posting. Any chance you can write one that demystifies iCloud Photos? I still can't figure out how to delete a photo on my phone and prevent it from being deleted in iCloud. Which pretty much makes iCloud Photos worthless for me, since I don't want to keep every single photo I've taken on my iPhone.
  • Reply 9 of 15
    tylersdad said:
    I like these help articles you folks have been posting. Any chance you can write one that demystifies iCloud Photos? I still can't figure out how to delete a photo on my phone and prevent it from being deleted in iCloud. Which pretty much makes iCloud Photos worthless for me, since I don't want to keep every single photo I've taken on my iPhone.
    Unlike iTunes, Music and Books, there is no way to "Remove Download" in Photos. You can hide unwanted photos on your iPhone, these will be put in the Hidden album in Photos. If you don't want iCloud photos consume iPhone storage, you can select "Optimize iPhone Storage" in Settings app under Photos pane. Then the iPhone will keep only a low resolution preview of a photo, as a pointer to your real iCloud photo. Without that preview, you'd lose track of your photos, so there is no other way to not keep a photo in the iPhone but to keep it in the iCloud.

    The brute force option is to download those iCloud photos to your computer, then to delete them from your iCloud Photo Library. You can then upload these to a folder in your iCloud Drive. They will be inaccessible in the Photos app but accessible from within Files app.
    edited November 2018
  • Reply 10 of 15
    The inability to share folders on iCloud Drive is the single most frustrating thing about iCloud. I really need this option for my work. I wanna stop using Google Drive for sharing my folders to customers. And I have 2TB of iCloud space to store everything so let me utilize it fully. Just give me that one function please! Have already wrote Apple about it. 
  • Reply 11 of 15
    mcdavemcdave Posts: 1,129member
    loopless said:
    The above half done implementation by Apple is the exact reason many/most businesses use Office 365. Office 365 document/folder sharing works well in my experience and the ability to edit documents in a web browser works quite nicely as well.
    O365 is a disaster.  Most of its functions only work with MS Apps (Outlook), it’s architecture is totally confused with collaboration functions strewn between user/apps, admin/web GUI & admin/Cmdlets or PowerShell - just a total mess.  On the Admin portal there are Azure Security Groups, SharePoint groups, Teams etc. etc. User-shared docs cause permissions exceptions and checkouts which mess with any moves/cleanups, admin can’t providing access to any service shares except email and then on MS apps only, OneDrive needs manual, client sync setup rather via admin controlled deployment.  I could go on for ages with this nonsense product set.

    If Apple could provide simple macOS server-style admin as iCloud Pro, that’s the small business/creatives market done.
  • Reply 12 of 15
    mcdavemcdave Posts: 1,129member
    I’m with William on collaboration confusion right from terminology to services.  To me ‘sharing’ is persistent and interactive i.e. ‘collaborating’ and ‘sending’ is detached.  Collaboration shouldn’t require an email or messages or even AirDrop unless it’s with a non-native user; the notification service should be enough with shared-Continuity accelerating everything.

    I think we need to move on from folders in Cloud Drives.  Information Management has moved on.  Photos gives a clue but abstracted libraries are the way to go allowing live collaboration; viewing, comments/markup, editing & full-control and it starts with defining collaboration groups, that first.
  • Reply 13 of 15
    tylersdad said:
    I like these help articles you folks have been posting. Any chance you can write one that demystifies iCloud Photos? I still can't figure out how to delete a photo on my phone and prevent it from being deleted in iCloud. Which pretty much makes iCloud Photos worthless for me, since I don't want to keep every single photo I've taken on my iPhone.
    As MacPlusPlus posted Photos on your iPhone are only stored in little bite size images, not full resolution if you turn on "Optimize iPhone Storage". If you want to show the image, it downloads a larger image, while the full version is on iCloud. You can also "Offload Unused Apps" both explained here: 
    https://appleinsider.com/articles/17/09/15/how-to-free-up-space-on-your-iphone-in-ios-11-without-deleting-apps-or-photos

    And here from Apple to Save space on your device
    https://support.apple.com/en-gb/HT204264
    edited November 2018
  • Reply 14 of 15
    This is a great conversation. I too am constantly seeking this solution. I consult with multiple organisations, and I use MSO365, GDrive, DropBox and iCloud. The only one that truly allows me to collaborate live is GDrive -- the rest have serious collaboration flaws. Trouble is I have been trying to get off of GDrive for 2 years due to the serious privacy concerns with Google in the last 5 years; but I cannot work with my clients unless we all use GDrive where live collaboration takes place in every meeting, with staff online all over the world. GDrive is a superb FREE collaboration and sharing tool which relies on data mining our information. I would SOOOO love to pay someone for this a service that does not data our mine – thank you Tim Cook for speaking out clearly about this, often.

    iCloud Drive Pro was a suggestion below...I've been hoping for this for 2 years now.  I get why others say otherwise, but its the best combination of true, live, simple collaboration and privacy.

    To be fair, though, once you're both collaborating on a document, iCloud now does it very well.

    It looks very flashy at an Apple presentation when two people collaborate on a document together. And it's very useful when you're in a group that needs one centrally located document that you all work on.

    However, giving us this ability and denying the seemingly simpler one of sharable folders means collaboration is one area that iCloud is still poor in.
    Sharing a folder is a security risk. If I need to share a folder I will buy Dropbox or OneDrive. I prefer a secure but unshared iCloud Drive to sharing a folder on iCloud Drive. iCloud Drive is not a corporate realm, Apple has never claimed that. iCloud Drive is an online extension to individual personalized devices that's all. Let people learn first to use their own iCloud Drive instead of someone else's iCloud Drive. Besides, Apple provides an adequate amount of collaboration and sharing among its applications, as the article duly mentioned. Collaborating on a document is different than sharing a folder, let's not mix-up things.Tuubor said:
    The inability to share folders on iCloud Drive is the single most frustrating thing about iCloud. I really need this option for my work. I wanna stop using Google Drive for sharing my folders to customers. And I have 2TB of iCloud space to store everything so let me utilize it fully. Just give me that one function please! Have already wrote Apple about it. 
    mcdave said:
    loopless said:
    The above half done implementation by Apple is the exact reason many/most businesses use Office 365. Office 365 document/folder sharing works well in my experience and the ability to edit documents in a web browser works quite nicely as well.
    O365 is a disaster.  Most of its functions only work with MS Apps (Outlook), it’s architecture is totally confused with collaboration functions strewn between user/apps, admin/web GUI & admin/Cmdlets or PowerShell - just a total mess.  On the Admin portal there are Azure Security Groups, SharePoint groups, Teams etc. etc. User-shared docs cause permissions exceptions and checkouts which mess with any moves/cleanups, admin can’t providing access to any service shares except email and then on MS apps only, OneDrive needs manual, client sync setup rather via admin controlled deployment.  I could go on for ages with this nonsense product set.

    If Apple could provide simple macOS server-style admin as iCloud Pro, that’s the small business/creatives market done.
    mcdave said:
    I’m with William on collaboration confusion right from terminology to services.  To me ‘sharing’ is persistent and interactive i.e. ‘collaborating’ and ‘sending’ is detached.  Collaboration shouldn’t require an email or messages or even AirDrop unless it’s with a non-native user; the notification service should be enough with shared-Continuity accelerating everything.

    I think we need to move on from folders in Cloud Drives.  Information Management has moved on.  Photos gives a clue but abstracted libraries are the way to go allowing live collaboration; viewing, comments/markup, editing & full-control and it starts with defining collaboration groups, that first.

  • Reply 15 of 15
    Apple’s productivity and collaboration tools are horrendous. As an example they are still stuck with Pages that’s essentially focused on making nicely formatted birthday letters no one wants. Instead Google Docs (which doesn’t have that) is actually a great multi-user productivity tool, as well as Team Drive and many of their other ‘instruments’ in the toolbox. Keynote is my favorite presentation software but collaboration is absolutely terrible. Numbers lacks any modularity.

    Our entire company moved to GSuite and Apple could have taken that market if they’d only stopped focusing on lame consumer solutions, because those consumers have often grown into (semi-)professionals the last decade.  
    If you don’t mind Google selling all your corporate data to advertisers then you can congratulate yourself for not being a “lame” corporation. We “lame consumers” are happy with our very private, reliable and secure iCloud, thank you...
    Their enterprise suite doesn’t sell data to third parties, and you can opt out from it all. 
    You might want to check their policies instead of throwing in the “google is evil!” card. The moment they would sell our companie’s documents and data is the moment they will be crushed legally for billions of dollars. That’s not what they “sell”. 
    edited December 2018
Sign In or Register to comment.