iCloud 101 - A Beginners Guide

In order to show that this blog is indeed one that spans many skill levels with the Mac, I thought it would be a good idea to raise an issue that is aimed more at the novice end of the Mac User spectrum. 

Upon speaking with a peer today who used to work at the Apple Store, he said it was quite alarming how many people would ask him to explain what iCloud was as they had heard about it from friends/family and the like yet they had no idea what it was and, quite rightly, given the news reports recently regarding..well, let's not go over those details again - they were reluctant to use the service. I figured this would be a fantastic topic to kick off the 101 Beginners Guide set of blog posts on this site. 

What is iCloud?

iCloud is a cloud service, hosted by Apple, that lets you store your music, photo's, documents and more from whatever device you are on. As long as you have a connection to the Internet, this happens everywhere and it happens automatically, taking many steps out of your standard workflow for saving your important files. 

iCloud uses your Apple ID to wirelessly sync these files between your Apple devices. As an example, you could be on a day trip with the children and taking some quality photos of them. They will automatically upload to your Photo Stream which is stored....that's right, in iCloud. When you get home, turn on your MacBook, you will find those photos there ready for you to view or edit in iPhoto. 

You could be working on a document in Pages on your iPad and save it to iCloud. This means that the document can be opened on your Mac and vice versa. The ability to wirelessly sync across platform is a real productivity booster and makes life just that little bit easier. 

Contacts - these can be stored in iCloud meaning they will - you guessed it - be synced across all your devices. The same goes for your Calendar. for Mail. For your messages. You can even go to www.icloud.com, login with your Apple ID and get access to all of this content from there. Now that's handy if, for some reason, you find yourself on a PC. 

Find My iPhone - if your iPhone is lost or stolen, then it's location is stored in iCloud via it's in-built GPS receiver. In order to turn the feature off, then the Apple ID and Password registered to the device needs to be entered. This obviously makes it far easier to track. 

Safari - all of your Tabs and Bookmarks are now stored in iCloud meaning that if you are browsing on your iPad, looking at - i don't know - www.soliamsays.com and you switch over to your Mac, you can open this tab directly from your Mac. This is a superb feature and one I use often - but for better websites. 

iCloud Keychain - all of your passwords can now be stored in iCloud for use on all of your devices. Now I'm no security expert and will not pretend to be - however this is one feature of iCloud that I just cannot get completely sold on. I will always use a third party app like 1Password for this, especially for important passwords like my Bank or Email accounts. This is just down to personal preference mind. I know lots of people that use iCloud Keychain and have not had a problem at all. 

Photos - you can create a Shared Photo Stream in iCloud that is accessible to anyone you allow via their Apple ID. Fantastic if you don't fancy putting your snaps on social networks like Facebook or Twitter but would rather have something slightly more controlled. 

Another good feature of iCloud is the ability to schedule a back up of your iPhone or iPad. This means that should, for any reason, your device get to a stage where it needs to be restored from a backup, a quick connection to iCloud via your Apple ID will restore no problem. 

So - what does this process backup?

  • Purchased music, TV shows, apps and books
  • Photos and video in the Camera Roll
  • Device settings
  • App data
  • Home screen and app organization
  • Messages
  • Ringtones

Your iOS device backup only includes data and settings stored on your device. It doesn’t include data already stored in iCloud, for example contacts, calendars, bookmarks, mail messages, notes, shared photo streams, My Photo Stream, and documents you save in iCloud using iOS apps and Mac apps

As far as how much space you get, as a new user you are given 5GB of storage space. There are upgrade plans available for 10GB, 20GB and 50GB which are priced at approximately £14, £28 and £70 at the time of writing. 

For me, day to day, using iCloud is a no brainer. My daughter can send me an iMessage that would ordinarily arrive on my phone however because all of my Apple devices are configured to receive them, it pops up while I'm at work on my Mac. A distraction admittedly but one I like. It's great when a day out with the family ends with us coming home, putting Apple TV on and being greeted by the photo's already there. My music is available on all my devices. A wide range of apps now support iCloud storage for documents so I can work across platforms. It really isn't anything to be scared of and should be embraced. 

As said, this is a very simplified guide for a beginner to understand the basics of what iCloud is and does. For a more advanced breakdown, please visit Apple's website