Why is iCloud Drive sync so unreliable compared to other sync services?

Ok folks, I have read just about every article on the Internet about iCloud Drive sync issues. I am fairly familiar with all of the “fixes” that are recommended. My question here doesn’t have to do so much with how to “fix” the inevitable semi-annual iCloud Drive sync debacle, but rather why does it happen with such regularity?

I have been using iCloud Drive for about a year and a half, and in that time, it has failed spectacularly at least three times that I can remember, forcing me to start over from scratch. What’s worse, is nobody seems to answer why it happens; not even Apple. I understand there’s about a million things that can go wrong with cloud based software, but why is Apple’s cloud storage software so unreliable?

To put this into perspective, I have also used Dropbox, for over 10 years now, and have literally NEVER had sync issues that required me to completely start over from scratch. To give another example of why I get so frustrated with iCloud Drive, is when it once again went out in a blaze of glory last week, yet again forcing me to disable it, and then re-enable it, it took HOURS to “set up iCloud Drive” in Finder. HOURS! Yet when I install Dropbox on a new machine, it is up and running in literally two minutes.

So why does it seem that iCloud Drive is so awful compared to other sync services? Don’t get me wrong, I love Apple, and I HATE Dropbox because they force you to pay ridiculous prices to have more than 3 devices (seriously, your CHEAPEST plan is $12 a month?!?), but I value reliability over prices which means that I have transitioned over to Dropbox after only 1.5 years of using iCloud Drive.

Has anybody else had a similar experience, or has any insight on why iCloud Drive is like this?


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  1. Dropbox had roughly a seven year start on iCloud Drive (2007 vs. 2014.)
  2. Dropbox needs to make sync viable as a paid service; Apple values service revenue but it is not the most important product.
  3. iCloud Drive is at least partly developed by IS&T which is a reputedly dysfunctional portion of Apple software engineering. DropBox engineering has a better reputation as an employer than IS&T.

I am not sure it happens with regularity, as some people report immaculate performance. You do not say how you are using iCloud but I find any Apps designed to work via iCloud seem to do so without difficulty, but I have problems with Sync Desktop and Documents. It is really hard to know what is causing these problems (its surely something I do?) … also I have got to the stage that I am not sure the “fixes” do much because if you wait long enough iCloud seems to eventually fix itself. I have observed iCloud sometimes does not respond well when I move or delete large amounts of data, … also I tried to delete some Pages data in iCloud and it didn’t seem to like that, … perhaps it was expecting any file management to be done via the Pages App? So commiserations but no clarity, … :slight_smile:

Another way of looking at this is that Dropbox is charging higher prices for reliability rather than storage. I.e. reliable sync is self-evidently hard: Apple demonstrably still can’t do it

I willingly (but not necessarily happily) pay for Dropbox because I know I can’t trust iCloud, and Dropbox has been rock-solid for over a decade I’ve been using it.


I think this is the biggest one. It’s kind of like going to a restaurant for dinner. If you want stir fry, your kid wants chicken nuggets, and your wife wants a cheesesteak sandwich, the local mom 'n pop diner might have you covered.

But if you each want your food to be really, really good, you’d almost certainly have to go different places for each of those things.


I have used most of the major services at least once. Amazon and AWS back when I had Prime, Dropbox, Box, Google Drive and Microsoft OneDrive and, of course, iCloud. Out of all of these the only one I remember having any major issues with is iCloud. Glitches, delays, and head-fakes (files you think exist somewhere but turn out to be just symlinks). Worst of all, it is rare that iCloud provides any sort of plain-english explanation of its status. And like a lot of things in Apple-land, the control over how it works is scattered. And don’t even get me started on iCloud Desktop and Documents…

It is this fundamental philosophical difference that causes a lot of the issues. In addition, the rest of the issues are caused, in my opinion, by some fundamental technical difference in how Apple actually performs the syncs. I have no insight into the details of this, but I know it is there mainly because of how it almost never happens with any other service. Checking every single photo for its sync status before it begins to actually sync is a great example of this.

Most of this applies mainly to iCloud Drive - the syncing of preferences and files stored by apps in their own storage space (mainly iOS and iPadOS) seems to mostly work well, with occasional exceptions. But the Drive part - somehow the biggest tech behemoth on the planet hasn’t been able to figure that one out yet.

  1. That’s very true!
  2. Also a very valid point.
  3. I have no insight on that so I’ll take your word for it :laughing:

That sounds like my issue as well. Not iCloud, but iCloud Drive. Apps sync fine, Documents and Desktop is a nightmare sometimes and when it glitches, I will wait days for it to fix itself and sometimes it just doesn’t. I can’t wait around for days on end while a sync service decides if it wants to make my files available on all my other devices haha.

That’s what I need to focus on then because I’m probably gonna bite the bullet and go ahead and start paying for a premium plan.

A good analogy, thanks for sharing!

I haven’t used all of those, only Dropbox, Box and iCloud Drive (in that order). Never had issues with Box either.


It’s been 10 years since Apple introduced iCloud, over 20 since they started with MobileMe. Much of iCloud resides on Google and Amazon servers and they work reliability, virtually 100% of the time.

If iCloud was a priority for Apple it would work. It doesn’t.


What’s your preferred sync service and why?

I’ve settled on Google Drive. Photos and videos pushed me over 300GB so $99 gets me 2TB. Media backup goes to Google Photos, everything else goes to Drive. I can access Drive via Finder and iOS app, photos via web page or iOS app. Upload has gone relatively quickly given my limited bandwidth.

So far I’ve avoided needing a local app to index or organize anything. I may use something like that for future media, but I’ll probably leave the existing set alone, or cull things as I find them.

I feel like it is the best balance between intelligent photo services and storage prices.

100% this. I don’t think Apple can’t, they choose not to…

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I prefer to think of it the other way - out of all the stuff they could do, they didn’t choose this particular thing to prioritize. I don’t think it’s an intentional “no, we’re not going to fix that” as much as it getting pushed out by other stuff that’s seen as more pressing.


Given their recent emphasis on revenue from services (vs hardware and app sales) you would think this would push iCloud to the forefront. OTOH, maybe they get enough people who just pony up regardless the problems that it isn’t worth their while? Either they are satisfied w/ the revenue, and it is significant, or it is insignificant in the big picture and they just don’t care?

Thinking about this a bit, we’re all looking from the outside. It’s easy to be frustrated and to speculate. I would just offer that it might just be a matter of scale. I got curious after seeing the thread and went looking.

Dropbox has 700 million registered users as of 2020. 15 million paying users. Source.

As of 2018 Apple had 850 million users. Wikipedia. I’m sure that number is significantly higher today. Surely that number includes free 5GB and paid accounts all lumped together. I didn’t see a number for paid subscribers but that would be interesting.

Thinking about iCloud, obviously, as a whole, it’s a much larger, more complex service, offering more than file sync.

I don’t intend to make excuses. It’s certainly not a perfect service. That said I think they’ve made progress in becoming much more reliable as they’ve also scaled up both storage and bandwidth. I don’t agree with blanket statements suggesting it doesn’t work. Certainly there have been bumps in the road along the way (early days of iCloud Photos, etc).

In my own personal use I’ve found it to be very reliable even if it sometimes taken longer than I want or expect. I’ve not had any data loss and sync is fast enough that I am comfortable relying on it as my primary storage for files and photos. I quit paying Dropbox 3 or so years ago and have not regretted it.


Maybe, maybe not. When you’re doing press releases and trying to appease shareholders, which sounds better? “We made iCloud sync more reliable”, or “we launched a new service called (TV+ / Fitness+ / Music / Apple One / whatever they come up with next)”?

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