What Is iCloud?

Learn about the basic features of iCloud and what the service provides. This video is a good starting point for those asking the question 'What Is iCloud.' It will tell you briefly about services like iCloud Drive, Contacts, Calendars, Note, Reminders, Mail and other features of Apple's iCloud service.

Video Transcript
Hi, this is Gary with MacMost.com.

On today's episode let's take a look at some iCloud basics.

iCloud has been around for a while now but many new Mac users, and also some Mac users that have been using Macs for a long time before iCloud existed, have some basic questions. I thought I would do a video on some of the basics. Exactly what is iCloud.

The easiest way to see that is to go into System Preferences and go to the iCloud section. Here you basically get a list of exactly what features iCloud has. You can go through them one by one to understand what iCloud is.

It starts off here with iCloud Drive. iCloud Drive is the ability to store your files in the cloud. This means when you save a file on one machine, let's say you have a Mac and a MacBook. A desktop and a laptop. You save a file on your desktop Mac and then you look on your laptop Mac and since they are both logged in to the same account here in iCloud and you have iCloud Drive checked here the file will sync across to both. So the file appears to be in both places. In fact, the main place the file is is Apple's iCloud server. But copies of it live on both your desktop and your laptop.

In addition if you have iOS devices, like say you have an iPad and an iPhone, and if you have an app that corresponds to that file, say it's a document for Pages, you will see that document appear for Pages on both the iPhone and the iPad. So by creating the document on your desktop Mac you now have access to it on all four of your devices because it is synced through the iCloud server.

Even more exciting than that is the fact that you can add new devices to this. Say you get rid of that laptop and you get a new one. You go into System Preferences and login to your iCloud account or more likely you do it when you setup the MacBook. Those files that were saved in iCloud Drive, the Pages documents for instance, would then instantly be available on your new device. You did not have to do anything. You didn't have to migrate or copy files across. They are just available on all your devices as long as you are signed in.

Now what about the rest of what we have here. Let's jump over Photos for a second and let's look at Mail. Well Mail is a special service in iCloud where you get an iCloud.com email address. Some Mac users may have older accounts that have Mac.com or Me.com email addresses. They are all just the same basically as iCloud.com. You turn that on here and in the Mail app you will have access to your email. You will have access to that same email on all your different devices as long as you are logged in.

Then you've got services like Contacts, Calendars, Reminders, and Notes. These four are very similar in that if you have them turned on then anything you create or edit on one device will show up on the others. For instance you add a Contact on your desktop Mac. Go over to your laptop Mac and you will see that the contact now is in your contacts there. On your iPhone it is there as well. The same for Events, Calendars, Reminders, and Notes you create.

Now Contacts, Calendars, and Notes all predate iCloud. So it is possible, for instance, in Calendars to have accounts that are setup on different services. So, for instance, you can set it up on Goggle or Yahoo calendar. You can also have calendars that are just local calendars stored on your local drive that aren't part of iCloud.

A lot of times when people have trouble with Contacts, Calendars, and Notes it really boils down to the fact that they've got some of those things saved locally to a pre-existing kind of local file and you haven't moved it over to iCloud. It is really hard to diagnose and fix those problems unless you know what you are doing. If you are experiencing that you may want to visit the Genius Bar and have somebody help you migrate those things over to the iCloud accounts so they are available everywhere.

Now you have a few other things down here. You've got iCloud Keychain. Keychain stores things like passwords and all sorts of other things. Certificates for developers. Things that you used to just keep on your one local computer but now the great thing is with iCloud you can sync them across multiple devices. So you log into a website say that needs some sort of security certificate and you do that on your desktop Mac. You don't need to do it on your laptop Mac because iCloud Keychain has synced those across those devices. I don't have it checked here because this is a test account that I use for making these videos so there is no need. But I do use it on my main account.

Back to My Mac is a very specific service that basically allows you to access the files on your Mac from outside on another computer somewhere else. Basically like file sharing except that you don't have to be on the same local network. You Mac will basically tell its location to iCloud all the time so that if you are somewhere else and you want to log into it to access those files through file sharing you can.

Find My Mac is another service too that will basically allow you to locate mostly iOS devices like iPhone or iPad if it is lost. But also very useful for MacBooks that can also get lost or stolen and can report their location back to iCloud and you can use this service.

So some different services here that have been tacked on to iCloud.

Now I skipped over Photos because Photos is going to be changing very soon. Right now you've got two services. You've got My Photo Stream and iCloud Photo Sharing. One or both of those is going to be replaced by the new iCloud photo service that Apple will introduce later this year. So we will hold off talking more about that as things are going to change.

You have some options here on the right for some of these services like iCloud Drive. So here you can disallow or allow different apps to store things in iCloud. Now just because you are allowing it, like for instance Pages here, doesn't mean you can't store documents locally. You just have the option to do either one.

To get an even bigger picture of what iCloud is doing you can take a look here at the storage at the bottom and see how much space is being. You can also click on Manage for more details. You get a list of apps here and what space they are using. It is useful to go through this. On my real Apple ID account I found a few games that I'd finished playing that had stored their game data and I was able to go and select and delete those as I no longer needed that data.

But you can look and see what other apps are storing here and how much space they are using. You can also see backups that several of my iOS devices were backed up and had stored data there and I can see those and perhaps if I don't own that device anymore I can delete the backup from that.

You can also buy more storage and we'll have to see how this changes when the Photos app comes online later on because a lot of people are definitely going to need more storage to store all their photos in iCloud. It remains to be seen whether Apple changes how these plans work or most of us are probably going to have to jump above this 20GB level to store lots of photos. So we will have to see how that plays out.

Now as you can expect Apple provides a lot of information about what iCloud is and it's very easy to read through and get to know more. This there is this great page here but you can also just search for What Is iCloud and it is the first one to come up. They go into detail about these links to individual items. So you may want to check out this document and begin reading more if you want to know more about iCloud basics.

Comments: 19 Responses to “What Is iCloud?”

    Joel
    2/16/15 @ 8:51 am

    Did you also skip over Safari?

      2/16/15 @ 8:52 am

      The video was getting quite long. But you can read about the things I didn’t have time to cover by going to the page I mention at the end.

    Marty
    2/17/15 @ 3:44 pm

    I have iCloud turned on for Contacts and Calendar so all my devices are in sync. But when I go to Notes, it says I need to create a free @icloud.com email address which I’m hesitant to do and thus haven’t turned on iCloud for Notes. Nevertheless, with iCloud turned off for Notes, the Notes on both my iPhone and iPad synch automatically, but Notes on my iMac doesn’t synch to my two mobile devices. Very strange? Any way I can get Notes on my iMac to synch without adding a new email address?

      2/17/15 @ 3:47 pm

      Hard to say what might be going on there without a first-hand look. Is Notes turned on in the iCloud pane of System Preferences? I’d have them take a look at the Genius Bar if further investigation doesn’t turn up a solution. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to create an @icloud.com email address as they are a free part of iCloud.

    Nats
    2/18/15 @ 12:57 am

    i lost all my notes on iCloud and I could’t get them back again.

    Carlos
    2/19/15 @ 8:59 am

    I truly want to like iCloud but I have encountered on more than one occasion that I could not open a file that I had stored on iCloud. Somehow the file became corrupted – fortunately I had the original file on my iMac. As far as I can tell there is no way to restore a prior version of an iCloud file.

      2/19/15 @ 9:03 am

      A very recent update to Yosemite added the ability to use Time Machine on the iCloud Drive folder. So you now can, indeed, go back and restore an old copy of a file in iCloud Drive. I haven’t run into any issue of a corrupted file. But the files are stored on your local drive just like any others, so it could be that the corruption had nothing to do with iCloud.

        Carlos
        2/19/15 @ 9:11 am

        Thx Gary for heads up on 10.10.2 now supporting time machine and iCloud. As for not being able to open the file a quick Google search showed me that several others have encountered the same problem. E.g., https://discussions.apple.com/thread/6655696

          2/19/15 @ 9:15 am

          That post showed that the person just had to log out and than back into again and it worked. So it wasn’t a file corruption issue for them, just some sort of connectivity issue.

    GregJo
    2/19/15 @ 10:56 am

    Is there a definitive guide that you have on integrating outlook express/exchange with iCloud Gary? I’ve turned off practically everything iCloud related as duplicates, conflicts seem better resolved with outlook doing the sync. I am barely holding it all together, but would like iCloud to take over for all in seamless background!

      2/19/15 @ 10:58 am

      I don’t use Outlook or Exchange. Not sure what would integrate between them or why. They are separate systems. If you have both turned on for something, like contacts, then you will see data from both.

    Jeff Widen
    2/20/15 @ 6:54 am

    We have an iPhone 4 with limited storage space. I’ve been hesitant to use ICloud Drive for our other Apple products (which are newer) for fear “Drive” will cause the iPhone 4 to malfunction. Any thoughts?

      2/20/15 @ 7:20 am

      I believe the iPhone 4 can only use up to iOS version 7. So it can’t use iCloud Drive at all. It is stuck using the old iCloud Documents system (storing Pages, Numbers, etc, documents each in a separate collection). Upgrading your newer devices to use iCloud Drive would mean they would be incompatible. But they probably already are, as you would be using older versions of those apps on those devices anyway. That’s assuming you use apps like those on your iPhone 4 at all. Your iPhone won’t “malfunction” it simply won’t be able to access documents stored on iCloud Drive.

    Nathan
    3/5/15 @ 9:11 am

    I’d like to share some of my iCloud Documents on my iCloud Drive with a co-worker but not all of the documents. For back up purposes, I typically back up all of my documents. Is there a way to pass-protect the files that I do not wish to share?

      3/5/15 @ 9:19 am

      iCloud Drive doesn’t really have a sharing option like that. You can share and collaborate on documents using functions inside of apps (like Pages), but you can’t just share a file or folder in iCloud Drive like you can with DropBox and other cloud storage services. iCloud Drive is a lot younger than other cloud storage services, so maybe we’ll see it in the future. Until then, I’d use something like DropBox for this. Nothing wrong with using multiple cloud storage solutions.

    Marsha Avery
    3/5/15 @ 6:28 pm

    Can I also store documents from a PC on iCloud?

      3/5/15 @ 6:31 pm

      For iCloud Drive, yes, but it isn’t easy. It doesn’t appear as a simple folder in Windows. You’d need to use iCloud.com to upload and download. If you occasionally need to access your iCloud Drive files on a Windows machine, it works. But if you use Windows regularly you will probably want to use a cross-platform cloud storage solution like DropBox.

    Steve Wittwer
    3/11/15 @ 2:07 pm

    Just got an iMac (no other devices except Apple TV) and am going to start storing some files on iCloud. Once they are on the “cloud”, i.e. on the Apple server, can they be TRASHED on the iMac to open up hard drive space? Also, I notice, on iCloud SYSTEM PREFERENCES page, there is no references to iTunes; so can I rip a CD onto my iMac and store the .mp3 in iCloud, like a big photo?

      3/11/15 @ 2:10 pm

      Think of your iCloud Drive as being a “place.” If you trash something, it is gone. It is a single place “in the cloud.”
      There is a separate product for iTunes music called iTunes Match. It works great and is different than iCloud Drive which is for documents and files. http://macmost.com/itunes-match.html

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