iCloud: What You Need to Know

iCloudWith the release of iOS 5 in October, we finally got iCloud. It was first announced in June by the late Steve Jobs himself. I’ve been using several facets of iCloud and am really happy to have it — especially the email component. In this article, I’ll offer an overview of iCloud, and for each aspect, I will tell you some important things you need to know when getting started. At the end of the article, I point you to some very helpful resources for using iCloud.

The Appeal of the Cloud

Cloud computing is simply incredibly handy. I like adding an appointment or contact on my desktop computer, then seeing shortly after that it’s been automatically placed on my iPad. As long as both devices are connected to the Internet, or are on the same local network, the syncing happens automatically in the background. You don’t have to connect your iPhone or iPad to your computer.

Also, having your data in the cloud lowers the risk of losing it. I’ve known a number of people who lost or damaged their phone or PDA — and in the process lost all information about their contacts. The cloud changes all that. Your most important information is no longer just stored locally; it’s also stored in the cloud, that is, on servers someplace on the Internet.

This not only backs up your information, but also automatically shares and syncs it among your various devices. Make a change to some aspect of iCloud on any device that’s logged into your account, and that change registers on the other devices.

In addition, cloud offerings typically let you access your information from any computer that’s connected to the Internet. That means that if you’re traveling and don’t have a computer or cell phone access, but do have access to a computer in an Internet café, you can simply log into your account and access certain features of iCloud, such as your email and calendar.So in general, the cloud offers backup, syncing, and ubiquitous access.

Enter iCloud

Apple already had a cloud service called MobileMe, but Steve Jobs was very disappointed with it. The $100/year service didn’t have the vaunted ease-of-use typical of Apple products, and it didn’t have many subscribers.

iCloud is Apple’s second attempt, and this time Apple did a better job. It’s free, fairly easy to set up, easy to use, and many of the features are automatic. Still, it’s not without its hitches, and we’ll note some of those. The biggest challenge is if you inadvertently have more than one Apple account.

You can use iCloud for putting your calendar, contacts, and email in the cloud; for storing your entire music collection and accessing it from any computer; for automatically backing up to the cloud all of the photos that you take with your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch; for automatically backing up everything on your iOS device every day; for tracking your friends or a lost phone, and for storing and syncing documents, apps, and iBook purchases.

Lets look at some of the features of iCloud in a little more detail so that you can see how it will be useful to you, and then look at some important things you need to know in setting up and using the service.

What You Need to Know

To learn about iCloud, go to apple.com/icloud. To set up iCloud, go to apple.com/icloud/setup and follow the simple instructions. You’ll need to be running iOS 5 on your device. Go to Settings>iCloud to log into your account, turn on iCloud, and enable the iCloud features that you want to use. You’ll also need to go to Settings>Store and enable automatic downloads.

On your Mac, you’ll need to be using OS 7.2 or later in order to use iCloud. You set up iCloud via the iCloud Preferences pane. In Windows, iCloud works under Vista SP2 and Windows 7. You’ll need to download and install the iCloud Control Panel. Also, to use the iTunes and Photo Stream features of iCloud, you’ll need to turn on iCloud in the preferences menu of the respective applications (more information is below).

If you need more than the 5GB of free storage, you can get an additional 20GB of storage for $40/year and 50GB for $100/year. Go to Settings>iCloud>Backup & Storage>Buy More Storage. If you used MobileMe in the past, you’ll be prompted to transition from MobileMe to iCloud.


iCloud websiteWith iCloud, you can put a wide range of content in the cloud and keep it synced everywhere — your iOS devices, your desktop computers, and even your Apple TV. In addition, you can access certain features of iCloud by logging in with your Apple ID and password at iCloud.com (see below). This lets you use any web-connected computer to access your email, calendar, contacts, iWork documents (if you’ve set up those features), and to access the Find My iPhone feature. Again, any changes you make using this web interface, such as to your email or calendar, will automatically be synced to your desktop computer and iOS devices.

You can access some of the aspects of iCloud, like Mail, Calendar, and Find My iPhone, through iCloud.com

What You Need to Know

You create an iCloud.com account by going to iCloud.com and entering your Apple User ID and password (the same User ID and password that you use with iTunes). You can use features of iCloud without ever accessing your account via iCloud.com, but its main purpose is to give you access to the specific features mentioned earlier.


One of the most touted features of iCloud is iTunes. Any music you purchase in the iTunes Store automatically becomes a part of your iCloud account and is immediately available on all your devices.

What if you have music that you didn’t purchase in the iTunes Store but would also like to have universally available via iCloud? And what if you want to have all your past purchases added to your library in iCloud? Apple’s new service, called iTunes Match, lets you put your entire music collection in your iCloud library, at a cost of $24.99 per year.

Not only does this make your entire collection conveniently available on all of your devices — it also eliminates the necessity of having the entire collection stored on each of them. If you have a large collection of music, it could fill up a significant portion of the memory on your iPhone. With iCloud, all your music is available to you on your iPhone, but it doesn’t all need to be stored in your iPhone. You can download specific playlists, or you can simply stream your music from the cloud.

"You don’t need to store all your music on your iPhone. You can download specific playlists, or simply stream it from the cloud."

Similar services, such as Amazon’s music vault, let you store your music collection in the cloud, but you first need to upload your collection to their servers. ITunes Match, on the other hand, simply checks your iTunes Library against the iTunes catalog of 20 million audio files. For the songs in your collection that match their library, iTunes Match adds those songs to your iCloud library directly from its catalog. In addition, if you have songs that have been recorded at a poor-quality low bitrate, your iCloud version will be Apple’s higher quality ACC files. Those files are DRM-free, meaning that there’s no copy protection.

Interestingly, iTunes Match doesn’t care whether you purchased the music in your iTunes Library or not. It matches everything that’s there, and gives you a legit copy in your iCloud account. The music labels receive a portion of your $24.99/year to make them happy.

If iTunes doesn’t find a match in its catalog for specific songs in your collection, it then gives you the option of uploading those specific files manually to your iCloud library.

What You Need to Know

To enable the iTunes feature of iCloud, so that any music you purchased is automatically downloaded to all your devices, go to Preferences in your iTunes application and select Store (on a Mac) and Edit (on a PC). You’ll also need to go to Settings>Store on your iOS device to make sure that automatic downloads are enabled for Music, Apps, and Books.

Note that this automatic download feature is only in effect for purchases you make after enabling this feature — not music you purchased in the past. You do, however, have access to all of your past purchases, including TV shows, from all of your devices.

Photo Stream

iCloud website

I’ve occasionally heard tales of woe from people who’ve taken lots of photos with their phone or digital camera — only to lose their phone or camera, and all of their photos with it.

One of the really neat features of iCloud is Photo Stream, which automatically backs up your 1,000 most recent photos to iCloud. As soon as you take a photo on your iPhone or iPad, it’s automatically uploaded to iCloud and then is synced to your other devices. However, you need to be in range of a Wi-Fi hotspot in order for Photo Stream to work. If you’re not currently connected via Wi-Fi, Photo Stream waits until you are. Also, in order for the syncing to happen automatically, your device needs to be plugged in, locked, and connected to Wi-Fi.

In addition, Photo Stream puts photos in iCloud that you take with a digital camera and import to your computer. All of your photos are now available to you in the cloud. It keeps them for 30 days, after which they disappear. But they do remain on your iOS device.

Photo Stream, as you can see, isn’t permanent storage for all of your photos in the same way that iCloud is a vault for all of your music. Instead, it’s expected that sometime within the 30-day period you’ll have your main computer connected to iCloud, and your photos will then sync to your master photo library on your Mac or PC.

Also, Photo Stream only uploads your photos — and not any videos that you take with your iOS device. Plus, it only uploads photos that you take after setting up Photo Stream, and not any earlier photos that might already be on your device.

I have to admit to my amazement as I enable these iCloud features. I took some photos with my iPad, and there they were in my iPhoto application on my iMac.

What You Need to Know

Setting up Photo Stream wasn’t as easy as I would have liked. First of all, you need to have a recent version of iPhoto or Aperture if you’re on a Mac. My iPhoto was an older version, so I had to pay $14.99 for the current one. If you use a PC, Photo Stream syncs to your Pictures Library.

And there are several different settings that you need to enable. I had to turn on Photo Stream in Settings>iCloud on my iPad, and in my iCloud preferences on my iMac, as well as enabling it in the Preferences in the iPhoto application.

Also, Photo Streams’ limitations of 1,000 photos and 30 days, described above, are a bit confusing. And keep in mind that the automatic upload of the photos you take only occurs when your device is connected to a Wi-Fi network.

So be sure you understand clearly what it can do for you, and what its limitations are.

Calendar, Contacts, and Mail

My favorite feature of iCloud is perhaps the most basic: syncing mail, contacts, and calendar. Unlike Photo Stream, which requires a Wi-Fi connection, my iPad will sync the info via my 3G connection to Verizon’s cellular network.

You can access your mail, calendar, and contacts via iCloud.com, and via Outlook or Apple’s Mail, Calendar, and Contacts, just as you’re accustomed to doing. The only difference is that now everything will be synced with your devices and with your account on iCloud.com. If you flag a message for follow-up in Apple Mail, that flagged message will appear on your iPad and in your iCloud.com email. Your data now resides in the cloud and is always available to you in a variety of ways.

This sort of service has long been available via a protocol called IMAP and Microsoft Exchange Server, and more recently Gmail. But iCloud is my first experience with IMAP, and it’s wonderful. I like being able to delete an email on my iPad and have that email then be deleted on my computer. It’s amazing to have everything be in sync. I also like the ubiquity — being able to access my data from any computer connected to the Internet.

What You Need to Know

To use these features, you’ll need to enable them in Settings>iCloud. Note that in order to use iCloud for email, you’ll need to use an email address in the me.com domain name.

You’ll have to either use this email address from now on, or simply turn on auto forwarding of your regular email account so that everything goes to me.com. You’ll still be able to do your email in the usual way, and you can set it up so that recipients of your email will see your usual email address, not your me.com address.

You can actually use any email client to access your iCloud email.

The settings are:

Incoming mailsmtp.mail.me.com

Username: your Apple ID

Password: your Apple password

Port: 993

Outgoing mail server: smtp.mail.me.com

SMTP port for outgoing mail: 587

Find My Friends/Find My iPhone

Find My Friends

The ability to Find My iPhone has been around for a while, and it’s nicely implemented in iCloud. If your iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, or Mac is stolen or misplaced, you can use this feature to locate it on a map. You just log into iCloud from any computer, and you’ll see where your precious device is. If you already know it’s hiding someplace in your home, you can click the option for playing an alert, and your hidden iPhone will play a sound.

In addition, you can use this feature to display a message on the screen of your device, set a passcode lock, or even wipe the contents from your device as a security precaution.

The Find My Friends feature lets you share your location with friends or family members. Those who’ve shared their location with you appear on a map. This feature is also integrated with Maps, so that you can get directions to where your friends are located. Find My Friends gives you ways of controlling what information you reveal, such as limiting the availability of your location to a particular period of time, so that you become invisible to your friends, after that time period has expired.

There are also parental restrictions, so parents can control how their children use this feature. Parents can also set a password so that children can’t override those settings.You use the Find My Friends feature by downloading the Find My Friends app (free, app2.me/4254).

Documents in the Cloud

ICloud also lets you sync documents among your devices, but it only works for documents that are iCloud-enabled, such as Apple’s Pages, Keynote, and Numbers. The advantage of having documents in the cloud is, of course, having them always in sync. Make a change to a document on one device, and that change is automatically synced to your other devices.

What You Need to Know

It’s important to realize that iCloud is no Dropbox (dropbox.com), and it only works with specific apps. If you’re looking to sync a wide range of files and documents across devices and your desktop computer, you’ll need to use Dropbox, SugarsyncBox.net, or a similar service.


In keeping with making it unnecessary to tether your iOS devices to a desktop computer, iCloud’s backup feature automatically backs up all the content and settings on your device via Wi-Fi once a day. You no longer need to sync with iTunes.

What’s really cool is that if you buy a new iOS device, or need to restore your data to the one you already have, you simply need to connect via Wi-Fi, enter your Apple ID and password, and everything is automatically put on the device — all of your data and purchased content.

What You Need to Know

In order for automatic backup to work, you not only need a Wi-Fi connection, but your device also needs to be plugged in to a power source and locked. You can initiate this backup manually, even if you’re not plugged in, by going to Settings>iCloud>Storage & Backup, and tapping on Back Up Now.

iBooks and Apps

iBooks SyncThese two features of iCloud are simple and straightforward, and they are useful only if you have multiple iOS devices. If you purchase a book in the iBookstore, the iBooks feature pushes that book to all your iOS devices. IBooks will sync any changes made in a book to all your devices. For example, if you’re reading a book on your iPhone and are up to page 30, when you access it on your iPad, it will automatically open to page 30.Similarly, any app you purchase in the App Store is pushed to your other iOS devices. You can access all your previously purchased apps through a new menu item within the App store app called “Purchased.”

If you're reading a book on your iPad, when you open the book on the iPhone, it'll automatically open to the page where you left off.

What You Need to Know: Multiple Apple IDs

While iCloud generally works well, and many people were quickly using various facets of it, one of the most common problems early on was the issue of multiple Apple IDs. For iCloud to best serve your needs, it’s advisable to have a single Apple ID.

However, many users, including me, have multiple IDs. I was an early user of MobileMe, and my ID on that account was jkarpen@me.com. But I’ve also long had an iTunes account with a slightly different ID. When iCloud became available, I wanted my iTunes account ID to be my main account, because this is the one I’ve used the most.

I was hoping that the accounts could be merged, especially since MobileMe users were being given a year of 20GB extra storage. There were rumors in September that Apple would make it possible to merge accounts. But when iCloud came out, Apple said that it wouldn’t be possible.If I want to use services such as iTunes Match, I’ll need to use my iTunes ID. But that ID doesn’t have the 20GB extra storage associated with it. Rather, it’s associated with my MobileMe account.

Also, some people have multiple iTunes IDs, which also creates problems, because they may have purchased music on both accounts. They won’t be able to merge these accounts in iCloud.

I’m faced with having two accounts: one iCloud account for email, etc., and the other for iTunes. Some people simply abandon one or more accounts. Or maybe by the time you read this, Apple will have figured out a solution.

Getting Help with iCloud

I think iCloud is great, and will keep getting better. I suggest you jump in and begin using whatever aspects of it will be of most use to you. If you run into setup challenges, or don’t understand something, you may want to invest in the eBook, Take Control of iCloud, available for $4.99 in the iBookstore. It walks you through all aspects of iCloud, and helps with any challenges, including multiple IDs.

Also, see Apple’s iCloud support website (apple.com/support/icloud), which has extensive information. The page also links to Apple’s support forum for iCloud (discussions.apple.com/community/icloud).

January-February 2012
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