You might say that iCloud Drive was long overdue. When iCloud was introduced, many people were disappointed that it didn’t include a regular file repository that could be accessed from the Finder. You could sync contacts, calendars, and bookmarks through it, but you couldn’t drop files onto it manually. With iCloud Drive, however, you can.
It’s also at the heart of Handoff, Apple’s recently introduced tech for starting a document on one device and then picking up where you left off on another. You’ll need OS X Yosemite to access iCloud Drive (and be running iOS 8 if you want to use compatible apps, such as Apple’s iWork suite and a growing selection of third-party apps that will surely expand moving forward).
In addition to the iWork suite, you can store documents from many third-party apps in iCloud Drive.
Signing into iCloud on your Mac running OS X Yosemite lets you switch on iCloud Drive (go to System Preferences > iCloud), after which it will become available as a shortcut both in the sidebar of any Finder window and in the Go menu from the Finder. Select it, and your iCloud Drive folder appears in a Finder window as any other folder would, though with a unique design. You can then drag and drop anything from your Mac onto the drive and it will upload to the cloud.
For small documents this will take a matter of seconds, but for bigger items it will depend on your connection speed. You also only get 5GB of space for free; while this is fine for uploading some files, if you’re backing up your iOS device too, those backups may already be using most of that space. You can upgrade for a modest monthly fee of $0.99 to 20GB of storage, though 200GB ($3.99/mo), 500GB ($9.99/mo) or 1TB ($19.99/mo) options are available — and you can downgrade, too, if you change your mind.
In Finder, you can open iCloud Drive with the keyboard shortcut of Command + Shift + I.
Not Just for Storing
As well as simple file storage, the space on your iCloud Drive can be used for other things when you are running the latest version of OS X. Perhaps the most useful is a new feature called Mail Drop, where you’ll be able to send Mail attachments much larger than those allowed by any email provider directly from inside Mail.
Attach a file, and, if it’s large, Mail will upload it to iCloud and instead of sending the whole message through your email service, the attachment gets uploaded to your iCloud Drive. If the recipient is also using Mail they see an inline copy of the file and can click to download it. Users of other mail programs will see a link to enable them to do the same.
Attachments of up to 5GB are supported, though you’ll be waiting a while for anything that big to upload over a home broadband connection. You’ve been able to use other upload services for this before now, but it’s now integrated into Mail, removing several steps.
Cutting out the Middleman
On a device running iOS 8 you can also use iCloud Drive, but there’s no dedicated app for exploring its files; instead you have to use an app that’s been updated to be able to read and save files directly into iCloud Drive. This includes Apple’s iWork suite, of course, and it’s been made easier for third-party app developers to incorporate the functionality, so expect to see it coming to more apps soon. The reason this updating is necessary is because iCloud Drive works differently to the old iCloud “documents in the cloud” model. Previously, apps could still use iCloud to save their documents across device, but you couldn’t browse them in other apps — it was all very locked away. iCloud Drive is more flexible, letting you browse for, say a text file that’s been saved in TextEdit’s iCloud Drive folder to open in Pages. It’s easy to do this on iOS or Mac.
You can also easily share a file or photo as a link to a colleague or friend by tapping on Share and selecting Share Link via iCloud, or alternatively, send it direct by opting for Send a Copy.
Unfortunately, some apps aren’t suited to cloud operation — mainly those that deal with large files like video. But many are (since they deal with much smaller files), and even pictures are pretty easy to upload and download depending on the speed of your internet connection.
Sorting and Access
Viewed on a computer, your iCloud Drive sorts documents into folders by type: Numbers documents, Keynote documents, and so on, and also allows regular arbitrary file storage, though this means you’ll have to know where you put the files to find them in iOS apps. You can also access your drive from a web browser at icloud.com and open and edit iWork documents, as well as upload and download other files.
You can access iCloud Drive on the web so you can reach your files no matter where you are or what device you're using.
How to Get a File from Mac to iOS via iCloud Drive
1. Enable iCloud Drive on your Mac
In Yosemite, go into System Preferences > iCloud and switch on iCloud Drive from the list of available items. Sign in with your Apple ID. From the Go menu or from any Finder window sidebar, click on iCloud Drive to view the files stored on it.
2. Drag and Drop
Drag and drop a file or folder from your Mac into the iCloud Drive window and it will be uploaded to the cloud. This will be quick for smaller items, but could take longer for larger ones. Organize things into folders (such as pictures, movies, sounds and so on).
3. Access in iOS
On your iOS 8 device, find an app that’s able to use iCloud Drive (like Numbers, Pages, or Keynote). Open a document from iCloud and you should be able to pull any compatible file from the cloud and open it on your device. More apps will support this feature as time goes on.