There was a time when the “cloud” seemed like merely a bona fide pipe dream, an unattainable computing concept looming in the future skies. The much-sought computing method would allow users to save, sync, and access a wealth of information and multimedia via a remote grid of networked computers, no matter your location or device. Anyone submerged in the Apple ecosystem can readily access iCloud for no extra charge, but many don’t know how to make the most of it.
iCloud is not an application, but rather an application suite, one that’s directly baked into the framework of nearly all Apple products and curated to help manage your content on any device with which it’s associated. Once properly set up, tasks like accessing your entire iTunes library and photo catalog can be carried out with the simple toggle of a switch. Other actions, such as calendar and contact list edits, will automatically update across all devices.
Despite its slick design and simple execution, setting it up can prove difficult if you don’t know what you’re doing or are newcomer to Apple’s world. That being the case, we’ve put together a comprehensive guide for using iCloud, whether you need to set it up or sync your data. Locating your phone after a rollicking, punch-drunk night at the bar has never been so easy.
Setting up & signing into iCloud
Signing up with iCloud is completely free and simple to do with an Apple ID. Each free account automatically grants you access to 5GB of remote storage — available for backups, mail, app data, documents, and other components stored in the cloud — with 10, 20, and 50GB storage offerings available at an additional cost. In addition to an active Internet connection, accessible via Wi-Fi or a cellular network, each iCloud feature requires a different minimum requirement, often available on slew of Apple devices including the iPhone, iPad, Mac, iPod Touch, PC, and Apple TV. There likely isn’t a grave concern for compatibility, but we recommended quickly scanning over the minimum requirements to get a better understanding of what will and will not work on your device. Afterwards, follow the guidelines for your respective device below.
Mac OS X
Step 1: Update your Mac (optional) — It’s always a good idea to update your Mac software prior to setting up a new utility or application. If you haven’t done so already, click the apple icon in the upper-left corner of the desktop to access the main Apple menu and select Software Update from the resulting drop-down menu. Once the App Store launches, click the Update button to the right of the particular software you wish to update or click Update all in the upper-right corner of the application window to download and install all available updates.
Step 2: Enable iCloud — Click the apple icon in the upper-left corner of the desktop to access the main Apple menu once again. Afterward, select System Preferences from the resulting drop-down menu and choose the iCloud option in the Internet & Wireless section of the main System Preferences panel (the logo depicts a blue cloud). Enter the appropriate Apple ID and password you wish to use with iCloud and click the Sign in button directly to the right of the password field when finished. Although you likely already possess an Apple ID — it’s the same account you use to purchase items from the iTunes, App, and iBook stores — you can always create a new account by clicking the Create an Apple ID link below the entry field and following the resulting on-screen instructions. Then, choose either or both of the overarching iCloud options for which services you’d like to utilize and click the Next button located at the bottom of the window.
Step 3: Select your iCloud services — iCloud will present you with eleven individual services, from mail and Safari to contacts and calendars, once signed in. Check the box directly to the left of the applications to choose which ones you’d like to sync across your various devices. Syncing options vary from application to application, but you can typically fine-tune the process by clicking Options on the right, or within the main Accounts setting of each service.
Step 4: Buy more storage (optional) — Most users shouldn’t need more storage than the 5GB provided. However, obtaining a little extra storage can’t hurt if you’re on the cusp of reaching your storage cap. To do so, click the Manage button in the bottom-right corner of the main iCloud interface, followed by the Buy More Storage button located in the top-right corner of the resulting window. You can select from one of the three upgrade plans — $1 per month for 50GB, $3 per month for 200GB, and $10 per month for 1TB respectively — and click the Next button located in the bottom-right corner. Enter your Apple ID password and click the Buy button in the bottom-right corner to confirm your purchase.
Step 1: Update your iOS device (optional) — It’s always a good idea to update your iOS device prior to setting up a new cloud-based utility or application. If you haven’t done so already, tap Settings located on your device’s home screen, followed by tapping General, then the Software Update option and the resulting Download and Install button. Wait for the latest version of iOS to download and install before proceeding to Step 2.
Step 2: Enable iCloud — Tap Settings located on your device’s home screen once again. Afterward, tap the iCloud option found midway down the menu, enter the appropriate Apple ID and password you wish to use with iCloud and tap the blue Sign in option directly beneath the entry fields when finished. Although you likely already possess an Apple ID — it’s the same account you use to purchase items from the iTunes, App and, iBook stores — you can always create a new account by clicking the blue Get a Free Apple ID link at the bottom of the screen and following the resulting on-screen instructions.
Step 3: Select your iCloud services — iCloud will present you with over a dozen individual services, from mail and Safari to contacts and calendars, once signed in. Toggle the slider directly to the right of the applications to choose which ones you’d like to sync across your various devices. Syncing options vary from application to application, but you can typically fine-tune the process within the mainsettings of each service.
Step 4: Buy more storage (optional) — Most users shouldn’t need more storage than the 5GB provided. However, obtaining a little extra storage can’t hurt if you’re on the cusp of reaching your storage cap. To do so, tap Storage located near the top of the main iCloud settings, followed by the blue Buy More Storage link toward the middle of the resulting menu. You can select from one of the three upgrade plans —$1 per month for 50GB, $3 a month for 200GB, and $10 a month for 1TB respectively — and tap the blue Buy option located in the top-right corner. Enter your Apple ID password and tap the OK button in the bottom-right corner of the window to confirm your purchase.
Step 1: Enable iCloud on another device — Apple’s iCloud software is designed to work seamlessly with iOS and Mac OS X, so begin by enabling and setting up iCloud on another device prior to setting up the software on your Windows PC. Luckily, the two tutorials above will help you get started on both your Mac and iOS device.
Step 2: Download and install the iCloud Control Panel — Unfortunately, Windows does not sport built-in iCloud integration of any kind (surprise, surprise). Therefore, navigate to the Apple support site and click the blue Download link at the top to download a copy of iCloud Control Panel. Afterward, choose a save location from the resulting window, click the Save button in the bottom-right corner and run the installation software when it’s finished downloading. The bundled wizard will walk you through the entire installation process.
Step 3: Enable iCloud — Launch the iCloud Control Panel and enter the appropriate Apple ID and password corresponding to your previously-registered iCloud account. Click the Sign in button in the bottom-right corner when finished.
Step 4: Select your iCloud services — Once signed in, iCloud will present you with four services, including iCloud Drive, Mail, Bookmarks, and contacts and calendars. Check the box directly to the left of the services to choose which ones you’d like to sync across your various devices. Syncing options vary from application to application, but you can typically fine-tune the process within the main Options setting of each service. Click the Apply button in the bottom-right corner when finished.
Overview of iCloud services
Apple’s iCloud suite does more than just sync calendars and contacts (though it does do that too). The service can automatically integrate with multiple applications, such as iTunes and iPhoto, as well as locate your iPhone by tapping into its highly-accurate location services. Additionally, users can save browser bookmarks and access various iWork apps, as well as save and encrypt passwords directly from within the cloud with iCloud Keychain.
Photos has been around for a while now, and it’s only gotten more useful and feature-rich since its inception. Once properly set up, the cloud-based service allows you to access your photos on any iCloud-enabled device, ditching the need for active downloads and allowing users to share photos and videos with one another via iCloud. It can also store 1,000 of your most recent photos in iCloud for 30 days and currently supports JPEG, RAW, PNG, GIF, TIFF, and MP4, while remaining immune to the 5GB cap other services within the suite must adhere to.
If using an iOS-compatible device, enable Photos by accessing the iCloud options within Settings, clicking the Photos option and toggling on the My Photo Stream and iCloud Photo Sharing options. Mac users will want to to access the various iCloud services within the System Preferences panel and select the checkbox directly left of Photos, while PC users merely need to select the checkbox directly left of Photos within in the iCloud Control Panel. PC users can adjust Photo Stream options by clicking the Options button to the right of the Photo Stream checkbox.
Photo Stream requires little in the way of action on your part once set up. Photos you capture using an iOS device will be automatically uploaded to your stream when you close the camera and connect to Wi-Fi, while any new photos you upload to iPhoto or Aperture will do the same, assuming you’re connected via Wi-Fi or an Ethernet line. PC users are required to manually add photos to their stream by individually adding them to My Photo Stream folder housed within the main pictures library or another previously-specified save location.
Find my iDevice (or Mac)
I hate to break it to you, but losing your iPhone, iPad, or Mac is bound to happen sooner or later. Thankfully, Apple’s Find My iPhone, iPad, and Mac software has made it easier than ever before to hone in and access your Apple device no matter your location. Once properly set up, users can lock, locate and track their device, force it to play a sound, or remotely erase all of its content while using the iCloud Web interface or the same software on another iOS 7-compatible (or above) or Mac OS X (or above) device. The latest version of the mobile software even comes coupled with an Activation Lock feature, requiring users to input their original Apple ID and password in order to reactivate their device after it’s been remotely wiped. Check out our comprehensive guide on how to use Find my iPhone for more information.
If using an iOS-compatible device, enable Find my iPhone by accessing the iCloud options within Settings and toggling on the Find my iPhone option near the bottom of the list. Mac users will want to access the various iCloud services within the System Preferences panel and select the checkbox directly left of Find my Mac. Keep in mind the setup must be done prior to losing the device.
Once you’ve lost your device, access the main iCloud Web interface and log in with your Apple ID and password. Afterwards, click the Find My iPhone button in the bottom-left corner, click the green Devices option at the top of the page and select your device from the resulting drop-down menu. Once you’ve chosen your device, additional options for forcing your device to play a sound, initiating Lost Mode and remotely wiping the device will appear in the top-right corner of the page. Alternatively, iOS users can download the Find my iPhone app, log in with their respective Apple credentials and choose their Apple device from the resulting list to perform similar functions. If you have Family Sharing set up, a member of your Family group can also locate your missing device.
Despite the $25/year price tag, iTunes Match is a step in the right direction. Once properly set up, the software is convenient and effortless, allowing users to store up to 25,000 songs in the cloud and providing a simple means of accessing and downloading said content on up to 10 iOS or Mac OS X devices. The supported file formats are robust, automatically upgrading songs matched by the iTunes Store to 256 kbps, and service even allows ad-free listening when using iTunes Radio. Google Music and Amazon’s Cloud Player offer similar services, but none of them integrate quite as flawlessly in the iCloud ecosystem as iTunes Match.
Begin by updating or obtaining the latest version of iTunes for Windows or Mac OS X. If using Windows, click the main iTunes preferences icon in the top-left corner, select iTunes Store from the resulting drop-down menu, followed by the Turn on iTunes Match option. Afterward, click the blue subscribe button, sign in with your Apple credentials and follow the on-screen instructions to verify payment options and agree to the iTunes Match Terms and Conditions. A status indicator will appear charting iTunes’ progress as it scans, matches and uploads any unmatched songs to the cloud with additional updates available via the Update iTunes Match option located in the main iTunes Store drop-down menu.
If using an iOS-compatible device, enable iTunes Match by tapping Settings > Music. Afterwards, scroll to the bottom of the page and tap the blue Subscribe to iTunes Match option to begin the setup process and storing your music in iCloud.
Once setup and synced, a process that can take several moments depending on the amount of music you have housed in the cloud, simply tap the cloud icon when viewing an artist, album or song within the Music app to download the specific audio file to your device. Afterward, play them as you would normally, but remember you can only download as much music as you have available storage for.
Physical connections are a thing of the past thanks to iCloud. Once properly set up, users can automatically download previous purchases from the App Store, iTunes, and the iBook Store instantly, regardless of which iCloud-enabled device you’re using. It’s incredibly convenient — download a game on your iPhone and it will automatically download directly onto your iPad — and the software even additionally remembers to sync your bookmarks and viewing location across devices.
If using an iOS-compatible device, enable automatic downloads by tapping Settings > iTunes & App Store. From there, you’ll see the Automatic Downloads section, where you can toggle on/off the various components you wish to automatically download on other iCloud-enabled devices, whether it be music, apps, books, or updates. If using a PC, click Edit at the top of the iTunes window, then select Preferences from the resulting drop-down menu and toggle on the various components you wish to automatically download on other devices beneath the Store tab. Mac users will do the same, except click the main iTunes menu in the top-left corner prior to choosing the Preferences option.
As the name implies, automatic downloads require little of the user once set up. Everything you download in iTunes or on any of the mobile stores will automatically download across all devices on which you have the feature enabled. Just carry out your day-to-day tasks as you would normally and your purchased content will appear alongside the rest of your app, book, or music library without lifting a finger.
Mail, Contacts, Calendars, Notes and Reminders
The tools we use day in and day out are the ones most crucial in terms of productivity and resourcefulness — they’re also the ones constantly being updated to reflect changes and new developments. The mobile, Web, and desktop versions of the applications all function in a similar manner, allowing you to carry out tasks such as forwarding emails and setting calendar reminders, while simultaneously syncing across platforms so even the most minute details are always up-to-date. The best part is none of the applications, whether it be mail or notes, require much setup and usage instructions aside from those provided in the initial iCloud setup process.
If using an iOS-compatible device, enable Mail, Contacts, Calendars, Notes, and Reminders by tapping Settings > iCloud, and there you can toggle the various services. Mac users will want to access the various iCloud services within the System Preferences panel and select the checkbox directly left of the various services, while PC users merely need to select the checkbox directly left of Mail, Contacts, Calendars, and Taskswithin in the iCloud Control Panel. Additional options specific to each service are available within each app’s respective settings panel.
Once set up, updates and changes to the service suite will automatically sync while using the software on any available platform. Though dependent on the designated refresh rate, any iCloud-enabled reminders and calendar events you edit on the iPhone will appear updated on your Mac, and vice versa. The rest of the services seamlessly work in a similar manner—make adjustments as necessary and the changes will reflect on all devices on which you have the features enabled.
Safari is certainly not the top dog when it comes to browsers, but the comprehensive iCloud integration makes the software more appealing than ever before. Once properly set up, the browser provides automatic, cross-platform syncing for maintaining bookmarks, reading lists and the like without the requiring any additional setup aside from that reserved for your initial iCloud account.
If using an iOS-compatible device, enable Safari by tapping Settings > iCloud and toggling on the Safari option. Mac users will want to access the various iCloud services within the System Preferences panel and select the checkbox directly left of the Safari option, while PC users merely need to select the checkbox directly left of Bookmarks within in the iCloud Control Panel to sync Chrome bookmarks across devices.
Once set up, Safari automatically syncs any reading list items and bookmarks you create across devices. If using a device running iOS 7 or later, tap the book icon located at the bottom of any Safari window to access your bookmarks, reading list, and shared links, or swipe down when viewing your open tabs to access any additional tabs that may be open on other devices using Safari. The same can be done in the desktop version of Safari by clicking the book, glasses. or cloud icons housed to the left and below the address bar.
Google Drive and Dropbox may have become the renowned method for storing documents and data in the cloud, but that doesn’t mean other alternatives don’t exist. Apple replaced Documents and Data with iCloud Drive with the introduction of iOS 8, but it still serves the same purpose as its predecessor. Once set up, iCloud Drive will allow you to store and sync documents across all enabled devices, which includes any edits made along the way. With iOS 9, you can start working on a document in one app, and then work on that same document in another app, with no progress lost. The iCloud Drive app for iOS makes it even easier to access, organize, and share documents, and that same ease of use extends to Mac OS X and Windows. The utility may function better on iOS and Mac OS X platforms, but the web-based version of iCloud is always accessible regardless of platform.
If using an iOS-compatible device, enable iCloud Drive by tapping Settings > iCloud > iCloud Drive. Tap Upgrade to iCloud Drive or, if you’ve set it up previously, toggle iCloud Drive on. Mac users can access the various iCloud services within the System Preferences panel under iCloud. Select iCloud Drive, then select Continue. PC users need to open iCloud for Windows, select the checkbox beside iCloud Drive, and then select Apply in the bottom-right corner. On iCloud.com, choose Pages, Numbers, or Keynote, and you’ll be asked to upgrade to Google Drive.
Once set up, documents can be directly uploaded to iCloud through iCloud.com. To do so, navigate to the site, enter your Apple login credentials, and select the iCloud Drive icon. Afterward, drag and drop the desired documents from your desktop into the browser window ,or click the Upload icon at the top of the window. The software will automatically save and sync document edits as you make them, ensuring the file is always up to date on any iOS or Mac OS X device that accesses it. If you had devices set up for Documents & Data before you upgraded to iCloud Drive, those documents and data will automatically be copied to iCloud Drive when you upgrade. Those documents and data are then available on all your devices set up for iCloud Drive. Documents can also be shared via your iCloud email by clicking the share icon in the upper-right corner when viewing a document, selecting the output format, and entering the necessary information.
Digital wallets are an overlooked novelty to say the least, even if they can’t replace the real deal. Apple’s Wallet utility — previously known as Passbook — supplies a convenient location for storing all of your precious coupons, boarding tickets, movie tickets, and the like within a central hub on all your iOS devices. Some passes include time or location-based activation, meaning the pass will automatically appear at a designated time or when you arrive at a particular location, while others will need be brought up manually from within the Wallet app. Each pass functions differently, but iCloud will keep all of them up to date on any Wallet-enabled device in your arsenal.
If using an iOS-compatible device, enable Wallet by tapping Settings > iCloud, then toggle on the Wallet option found near the bottom of the page.
You can add passes to Wallet in several different ways, such as by using the Add Credit/Debit Card link in the Wallet app, scanning a bar code, or through a web browser. When it comes to using them, it depends on what kind of pass you’re dealing with. Some automatically appear at the appropriate time or place because they include information based on your time or location (provided you enabled location services). If you’re using an iPhone with iOS 9 or later, however, there are even faster ways to use a pass. For instance, you can open Wallet with a double-press of the Home button and use a card that works with Apple Pay, or enable Automatic Selection and hold your phone near a contactless reader with your finger on Touch ID sensor. To turn Automatic Selection on, open the Wallet app, tap the required store or rewards card, and tap the information icon before you toggle on the Automatic Selection option.
Backing up & restoring iOS devices with iCloud
Apple’s iCloud may be a terrific way to sync data between your iOS devices and computer, but the software also offers an effortless way to back up the entirety of iOS whilst connected to a power source and Wi-Fi. Backed-up information includes everything from device settings, like your chosen wallpaper and app organization, to direct purchases from the App Store and text messages. Although it’s by no means necessary, it offers a quick and convenient way to completely restore an iOS device should you lose it or opt for an upgrade.
How to back up to iCloud
Step 1: Navigate to the iCloud storage settings — Tap Settings > iCloud > Backup.
Step 2:Toggle on iCloud Backup — At the top of the page, you’ll be able to toggle on the iCloud Backup option to allow the software to automatically back up your camera roll, accounts, documents and setting when your device is plugged in, locked and connected to Wi-Fi. Alternatively, tap the Back Up Now option to manually back up your device when connected via Wi-Fi.
How to restore from iCloud
Step 1: Start from the beginning — All new iOS devices sporting iOS 5 or later feature a setup assistant allowing you to restore your device from a backup. However, if you’ve already opted out of restoring from iCloud during the initial setup process, you merely need to reset your device to its factory defaults to access the same setup assistant featured on new devices. To do so, tap Settings > General > Reset > Erase All Contents and Settings. Tap Erase iPhone to confirm.
Step 2: Restore from backup — Once you’ve begun the initial setup assistant, you’ll be prompted to either setup a new device, restore from iCloud or restore from iTunes. Select Restore from iCloud Backup, enter the Apple ID corresponding to your iCloud account, and tap the blue Next button located in the upper-right corner. Afterwards, tap the blue Agree button in the bottom-right corner — followed by the translucent Agree button in the pop-up window — and select your desired backup. If available, you’ll see the three most recent backups for each of the devices on which you’ve enabled iCloud Backup.
Once chosen, the setup assistant will handle the rest. A progress bar will appear beneath indicating how long it will take download and install the iCloud backup, and when finished, your iOS device will reset and begin downloading the same version of any apps you had previously installed on the device. Enter the appropriate password when prompted and ensure you’re connected via Wi-Fi for downloads larger than 50MB.
Deleting iCloud backups
If you haven’t figured it out already, iCloud is a terrific and autonomous way of syncing and storing data from all your connected iOS devices. Unfortunately, the provided 5GB of storage only goes so far when you’re constantly backing up an iPhone, iPad and iPod using the same iCloud account. Luckily, select backups can always be manually deleted directly on your iOS device to free up storage when they become extremely outdated or in the event you no longer posses the device to which the backup belongs.
Step 1: Navigate to backup — Tap Settings > iCloud > Storage, then tap Manage Storage.
Step 2: Delete the backup — Select the backup you wish to delete and tap the red Delete Backup option at the bottom of the resulting menu. Each backup will show its relative size and the specific date when it was initially uploaded, so you shouldn’t have much trouble distinguishing between the various backups. However, you’ll typically want to keep the most recent backup.
Tips & tricks
The various ins and outs of iCloud are easy to master with a little time, but there are always tools and tricks available within the software if you read between the lines. Below are a few pointers and additional suggestions regarding how to make the most of Apple’s immense cloud storage utility.
Check your storage
Wondering how much of your free 5GB of storage is remaining? If using an iOS-compatible device, tap Settings > iCloud > Storage. Your total and available iCloud storage will be visible at the top of the Storage page. Mac users can view their available iCloud storage by selecting System Preferences, click iCloud, then click Manage, while PC users merely need view the main interface of the iCloud Control Panel.
Share your calendar
Sharing and syncing calendars with your iCloud-enabled devices is handy, but sharing your schedule privately or publicly with others is even handier. If using an iOS-compatible device, open the Calender app, followed by tapping the Calendars option located at the bottom to access your various iCloud calendars. Afterwards, tap the information icon located to the right of the calendar you wish to share and tap the blue Add Person option beneath the Shared With section to add individuals via their email. Alternatively, toggle on the Public Calendar option at the bottom of the page to allow anyone to subscribe to a read-only version of the calendar.
If using a Mac, open the Calendar app, click the share icon located to the right of the calendar you wish to share and check the box to the left of Public Calender or add individuals in the resulting text field above. The instructions for sharing via the iCloud Web interface are essentially the same as those for Mac, accessible through Calendar tool located on the iCloud homepage.
Snag an Apple TV
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends
The Apple TV isn’t just a fantastic way to mirror the screen on your iOS device. Since the Apple TV 6.0 update, the company’s sleek, black gizmo allows users to quickly and effortlessly stream content — whether it be shared photo streams, iTunes Match songs or purchases made through the iTunes store — by simply turning on the device and entering the Apple ID tied to the account. It offers a wealth other features, such as Netflix and Hulu Plus streaming. You can get a third-generation Apple TV for $69, or the fourth-generation model starting at $149.
A little encryption can go a long way when it comes to securing your backups. Enabling backup encryption will require users to enter a specified password when restoring from backup, thus preventing others from accessing data without authorization. It’s incredibly easy to implement, but should you forget your designated password, it will also prevent you from recovering your data and require you to perform a full software restore in order to use your device.
To activate encryption, click the checkbox directly to the left of Encrypt iPhone backup beneath the Backups section when viewing your connected device within iTunes. Afterwards, enter and verify a password and click the Set Password button in the bottom-right corner of the pop-up window. If desired, uncheck the box to disable the backup encryption.
“How to use iCloud” is a big phrase. We obviously can’t cover every scenario and answer all questions relating to Apple’s flagship cloud service, but chances are the Apple Support site will shed more detailed light on any questions you may have. Additionally, free apps such as Guide for iCloud and others can offer you a plethora of tips and tricks on the go. Still, the best way to learn iCloud is with the tried-and-true method of trial and error.