How To Get The Most Out Of iCloud

Mac: iCloud, Apple's cloud syncing solution, is designed to keep your most important information on your iOS devices and Mac in sync. However, it works so silently in the background that few of us give it any thought or know what we can really do with it. Now that iCloud is more tightly integrated with Mountain Lion, let's take a look at iCloud's best features.

First, What The Heck Is iCloud??

If you're wondering what iCloud even is, you're not alone. Apple launched iCloud last year with iOS5, but the general consensus is that and we've mentioned iCloud a few times, but overall the consensus is that iCloud, so far, has sucked. Many people, despite going through the steps to enable iCloud when they set up their iPad or iPhone, have no idea what it is. Photo via BuzzFeed

Basically, iCloud is a built-in syncing and backup service you automatically have if you purchase an Apple device. It syncs and backs up to Apple's online servers your calendars, contacts, email, music, photos, bookmarks and documents across your devices, and it's also available for Windows PC users. Make a change on your iPhone or iPad and pick up where you left off on your Mac. (Sound familiar? Yeah, Apple had a similar and even buggier service, MobileMe, which iCloud has replaced.)

When you set up each of your Apple devices (and/or you install iCloud on a PC), you log in with your Apple ID and choose which content gets synced. (If you don't remember, it's under Settings > iCloud.) Then iCloud works invisibly in the background until it has to warn you that you've synced too much and exceeded the free storage allotment.

Everyone gets 5GB of storage free, and Apple offers yearly pricing plans (starting at 10GB for $21 a year) if you need more.

Syncing through Google's services or using other similar apps might be more attractive in many cases, but iCloud has the easiest, most seamless integration for iOS and Mac. And with Apple's latest operating system, Mountain Lion, that's truer than ever.

Using "Documents in the Cloud"

In Mountain, iCloud is more tightly integrated and less hidden. Any apps that support the new "Documents In the Cloud" feature -- such as TextEdit and Pages/other iWork apps -- now automatically sync all your edits made to documents across iOS devices and Mountain Lion machines and you have quick access to your iCloud storage. It's like working with Google Docs (via Google Drive) or editing a document on Dropbox on your computer, but there are a few cool extra things about this integration:

  • Your iCloud drive appears as a location in your save or open dialogs. So you can easily choose to save stuff directly to iCloud and not your Mac.
  • Moving files from your Mac to iCloud is easy: From a Finder window, you just drag the file to your app's iCloud window.
  • Quickly share files (via email, Message, or Air Drop) from your iCloud account via the share icon/buttons.
  • In your supported apps, you can Quick View docs saved in iCloud (via the spacebar), rename docs, organise them into folders, and so on.

As long as you have Documents & Data checked in the iCloud syncing settings, anything you create or edit within compatible apps will be uploaded to iCloud -- whether it's a text document, a presentation or a drawing.

Other Things You Can Do With iCloud

But wait, there's more! iCloud is trying to be your de facto syncing solution for iOS devices and Macs, so it syncs other things besides documents:

  • Sync Reminders and Notes on your iPhone, iPod touch, iPad, and, now, Mountain Lion Macs.
  • Remote SSH into your Mac through iCloud
  • Locate a lost or stolen iDevice or MacBook with Find My Mac or Find My iPhone
  • Stream photos to your TV (via Apple TV) or iOS devices over Wi-Fi
  • Keep downloaded apps in sync across iOS devices
  • Access your files on icloud.com (works with mail, contact, calendar entries, iWork, and Find My Phone)

Again, these features can be enabled or disabled under System Preferences > iCloud.

Coming Soon in iOS 6

Apple says iOS 6 will add even more iCloud features when it launches later this year. Among the enhanced features are selective photo sharing, syncing tabs in Safari, and improved Find my iPhone and Find My Friends features.

iCloud still isn't perfect and it isn't the cheapest online storage/syncing solution, but it does a lot more than many of us probably realised. And it's there for free anyway, so, hey, we might as well use it.


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