There have been a lot of questions lately around some of the new services offered with the iOS5 and the 5.0.1 update. The free iCloud service was introduced as part of the much anticipated iOS5 release that premiered in mid-October 2011. The iCloud service offers a seamless synchronization of data across iOS/OS X (10.7+) devices. Per Apple,
“iCloud stores your music, photos, documents, and more and wirelessly pushes them to all your devices. Automatic, effortless, and seamless — it just works. “
True. But, it’s not as simple as advertised (but not so hard either). Much of the configuration is buried within OS/Application settings that need to be set up on either the iOS5 device or on OS X. Windows users can also use the iCloud service by installing the iCloud Control Panel. The purpose of this post is to just outline what you can do with iCloud in hopes to clear up some of the misconceptions or confusion around the service.
The service is accessible through the iCloud website which provides a very simple interface. Apple gives all users a 5GB storage limit with the option to upgrade for an additional cost. Users can double their storage to 10GB for $20 a year, 20GB for $40, and 50GB for $100 a year. Just log in with the Apple ID you use on your iOS5 device or Mac, and you’re ready to begin.
Users see this interface and might wonder, “Where are my pictures”, “Where are my apps”, “How do I create a new document”, “How do I update my settings”, etc… These are all fair questions, and I don’t think Apple has done a good job of making their users aware of how they can leverage the new service. Let me start by outlining what you can do via the iCloud.com front end, and then I’ll talk about what you can do from your iOS5 enabled device or machine running OS X. The iCloud services also work on a PC by using the iCloud Control Panel, but of course the functionality is a bit different.
- Mail – The Mail application requires a me.com account which can be created at no cost. This email can be accessed through the iCloud interface and also through your iOS5 device like an iPhone, iPad or iPod touch. Users can read and compose email messages through a nice interface on the iCloud.com site pictured above. Like any web based email, your messages appear the same in iCloud as they do on your iOS5 device.
- Contacts – Contacts are maintained in iCloud. When you add a new contact to your phone, it is automatically reflected when you check your contacts on iCloud. When you add a new contact via the iCloud interface, you will see that contact on your iPhone as soon as it is added. Contacts are also synched to iCloud through the Address Book application on OS X. Just open the Address book (requires Lion – 10.7) and go to Preferences -> Accounts and make sure your iCloud account is added.
- Calendars – This is your iCloud calendar which can be accessed and modified from iCloud, from your iOS5 devie, or from your Mac (iCal) running OS X 10.7 or higher. One important note is that your iCloud account must be set up on your iOS5 device and your Mac in order for this sync to function properly. Otherwise the calendars will be separate.
- Reminders - The reminders can be managed from the “Reminders” application as well as from the calendar on iCloud.com. Just toggle reminders from Settings -> iCloud on your iOS device if you find they’re not synching.
- Find My iPhone – You may or may not see this option depending on whether or not you have set up this service in the past. The Find My iPhone service allows you do locate your iPhone, iPad, iPod and even your Macbook that has been registered with the service. In the event the device is lost or stolen, just launch this application to pinpoint it on a map.
- iWork – If you have installed any of the iWork applications (Pages, Keyote, Numbers) on your Mac or iOS5 device, this option will be available from iCloud. The applications are $19.99 each for Mac, and $9.99 each for iOS. From the iCloud interface, you can upload documents from your Mac and they instantly become available on your iOS device. If you create a document from one of the iWork applications on your iOS5 device, the document is immediately available from iCloud.com as well. In order to configure this however, you have to make sure that “Documents & Data” is turned on from your iOS device from Settings -> iCloud -> Documents & Data = On. You also have to go in to each application setting (Pages, Numbers, Keynote) from Settings -> <Application Name> -> Use iCloud = On. Deleting documents from an iWork application on your iOS5 device will also remove it from iCloud. One common misconception with iWork is that documents automatically become available as soon as you create them on your Mac. This is not the case. They need to be uploaded through iCloud.com first.
- There are settings all over the place between iCloud.com, iOS5 settings, iOS5 application settings, and Mac application settings. The one setting available through iCloud.com is the “Reset Photo Stream” feature. I’ll cover Photo Stream later, but if you click your name in iCloud and click “Advanced” -> “Reset Photo Stream”, the link between your iOS5 device and iCloud is essentially re-set/broken (ie – pictures you have taken on your iPhone no longer show in iPhoto if you have enabled Photo Stream in iPhoto).
So those are the things you can do from iCloud.com. What about things you can do from your iPhone or Mac OS X?
- Backups – This is a pretty cool feature. If your iPhone is locked, connected to Wi-Fi, and Backups are enabled, the phone will be backed up every day. I’ve found that my phone is fully backed up every night around 1 – 2AM since I plug it in every night and have Wi-Fi at home. Just go to Settings -> iCloud -> Backup and Storage and make sure to turn “iCloud Backup” = On. You can also take backups manually by touching “Back Up Now” from the same screen. The nice thing about backups is that you can set what you want to back up and what you don’t. I’ve turned off backups for most applications, but my camera roll takes up 1.3GB (330 pictures and a few short (2 – 3 minute) videos). You can restore from your iCloud backup if you need to set up your new or existing iOS5 device again. See here for more details on Backups.
- Photo Stream – This feature allows you to take a picture on your iPhone and immediately view it in iPhoto on your Mac without having to import/sync photos from iTunes. You will need to enable Photo Stream in iPhoto for this setting to take effect (iPhoto -> Preferences -> PhotoStream -> Enable) and your photos will show up as soon as they’re taken. You’ll notice that you can’t view these from the iCloud.com interface which seems to cause a bit of confusion given that you can reset Photo Stream there.
So that covers it for now. I am sure I will be adding more as new features are added/discovered. Please post if there is something I have left out or if you have questions on enabling/disabling certain features of iCloud on your iOS or OS X devices.