Apple's iCloud service is a handy and free option built right into iPhones, iPads and Macs, but it's also a closed system that's hard to tweak to your liking. Fortunately, you have a few options for making iCloud a more usable, so you can step out of Apple's restrictive box and use it how you like.
We've talked before about getting the most out of iCloud, and we've debated about whether iCloud is even useful to begin with. iCloud is far from perfect, but since it's a standard service on Macs and iPhones, we're stuck with it to some extent. You can fix a few of the bigger annoyances though, and doing so will make iCloud more usable.
Browse Files and Open Them with Whatever Software You Want
One of the biggest problems with iCloud is the fact that all your documents are hidden away within OS X, and they're only accessible with Apple's programs or apps that are made to sync directly. This is fine with certain file types, such as Pages or Keynote, but it's annoying for everything else. Fortunately, a few options exist to give you access to those files easily.
If you want to get a snapshot of all the files in iCloud, we like Plain Cloud. It's free, and it gives you access to all your iCloud files, including game saves, sync settings and documents. From there, you can open whatever you need to easily.
If you're looking for something that integrates with Finder, Cloud Mate is a $7.49 app that shows you everything in iCloud as if it's just a normal folder on your computer. It's handy if you want to create extra backups, or if you need to open up a file on your computer in a program not supported by iCloud.
Finally, you can also set up iCloud to work more like Dropbox by creating a syncing folder. This just requires a simple Terminal command:
ln -s ~/Library/Mobile Documents ~/Desktop/SyncFolder
This creates a folder on your desktop with your iCloud files. You'll be able to drop files in there just like you can with a service like Dropbox, or dig around for whatever files you need. Whichever of the above methods you choose, you'll get access to those files that Apple keeps hidden away.
Get Access to Your Photo Stream without Dealing with iPhoto
The Photo Stream is one of the nicest things about iCloud. Every photo you take is instantly synced in iCloud and available on your computer through iPhoto. The problem is that the only way to get access to them is with iPhoto, and not everyone wants to do that. Thankfully, tech blog The Iconmaster shows us how easy it is to get access to that Photo Stream without iPhoto.
- In OS X's Finder, Option-Click Go and select "Library".
- Navigate to Application Support > iLifeAssetManagement > assets > sub.
- In the search field, type "jpg" and select "Kind: JPEG image."
- Select just the "sub" folder in Finder.
- Select the "Save button" to save the search.
- Select "Add to Sidebar" to give you instant access to your Photo Stream in Finder.
- If you want, you can also add that folder to your dock by right-clicking the sidebar item, and selecting "Add to Dock".
You can adjust your search however you like. If you just care about photos, then the JPG search will grab everything you need. Alternately, you can also add PNG to get any screenshots you take from your iOS device. The end result is the ability to instantly see what's added into your Photo Stream without ever opening iPhoto.
Turn Off Default iCloud Saving in Mountain Lion
By default, most of Apple's apps default to automatically saving everything you do in iCloud. That's fine in some cases, but if you want to just create a text file in TextEdit that sits on your desktop, you have to make an annoying series of clicks just to save it there. If you're not using iCloud that much, Mac OS X Hints shows how to change the default setting with a Terminal command:
defaults write NSGlobalDomain NSDocumentSaveNewDocumentsToCloud -bool false
Now, whenever you go to save a file in TextEdit, Pages or any other Mac app that supports iCloud, your default location will be your hard drive instead of iCloud.
Create Multiple Backups In Case iCloud Fails
When you have the iCloud backup turned on in iTunes, your iPhone or iPad automatically saves all your settings to iCloud. Unfortunately, you can't automatically back up your device both locally and in iCloud at the same time. So you need to do in manually if you want to create a local backup:
- Open iTunes with your device connected with a USB cable.
- Select your device and click the "Summary" button.
- Now select "This computer" and click "Back Up Now".
You'll now have a local copy of your backup as well as an iCloud backup. So if something goes wrong you'll be able to restore your device from almost anywhere.