How to use iCloud like a Dropbox or Google Drive-style cloud store

How to use iCloud like a Dropbox or Google-style cloud store

While Apple never meant iCloud to work like Dropbox or Google Drive, if you don't mind polishing up your ninja-skills you can get it to do just that!

There's no shortage of online storage solutions -- Dropbox, Box.net, SugarSync, Microsoft SkyDrive, Apple's soon-to-be end-of-lifed iDisk, and now, Google Drive. Apple's new iCloud isn't meant to be online storage at all; it's designed to abstract away messy concepts like file systems and folders and tuck everything away neatly behind apps.

But that doesn't work for everybody. Now, like my colleagues here at iMore, I think Dropbox is currently the best cloud storage solution for iPhone and iPad users. However, Dropbox gives you a measly 2GB of free storage and charges a pretty hefty premium for more.

iCloud, on the other hand, gives you 5GB for free and if you are a prior MobileMe user – you should currently have 25GB of storage space available to you. Like Dropbox, you can always buy more space if need be.

iCloud is great for automatically storing your device backups, keeping all your personal information – contacts, etc. and for uploading Word, PowerPoint and Excel files (see our ultimate guide to iCloud for detailed instructions on how to do all of that and more).  Did you know, however, that you can also (with a little tweaking) upload movies, audio files and pictures to store in iCloud for safe keeping?

Sure, you could get an extra 5GB of free storage with Google Drive, Microsoft SkyDrive, or by combining other accounts, but if you're already an iCloud user, you may not want the extra hassle of maintaining multiple accounts. You might just want to have your iCloud cake and eat it to. So here's how.

Note: These directions are for Mac OS X users, we'll do a Windows version soon.

How to use iCloud like Dropbox or Google Drive

First, make sure that iCloud is up and running on your Mac.

  1. Launch System Preferences on your Mac.
  2. Click on iCloud.
  3. Make sure Documents and Data is checked.
  4. Close System Preferences.

Next we have to go to where iCloud's Documents in the Cloud live.

How to create aliases for Documents in the Cloud folders.

  1. Launch the Finder
  2. In the Menu click on the Go menu and then down to Go to Folder (or use the keyboard shortcut, CMD + SHIFT + G)
  3. Type ~/library/ and click on Go
  4. Double click on the folder called Mobile Documents (if it isn’t there – don’t panic, we will show you how to create it below).
  5. Find the folders that store your Documents in the Cloud, namely:
    1. Com~apple~pages
    2. Com~apple-numbers
    3. Com~apple~keynote
  6. Double click on the com~apple~pages folder.
  7. Right click on the Documents folder.
  8. Select Create Alias, which will put an alias for that folder on your desktop.
  9. Repeat this procedure on all Macs that use your iCloud account.

How to create the Mobile Documents folder

If you don’t see the Mobile Documents folder, you can actually create it:

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  • Launch Finder.
  • In the Menu click on the Go menu and then down to Go to Folder (or use the keyboard shortcut, CMD + SHIFT + G)
  • Type ~/library/ and click on Go
  • Click on File in the menu and then New Folder.
  • Name the new folder Mobile Documents.
  • Double click the new folder and make a series of new folders called:
    1. Com~apple~pages
    2. Com~apple-numbers
    3. Com~apple~keynote

  • Double click on the com~apple~pages folder.
  • Right click on the Documents folder.
  • Select Create Alias, which will put an alias for that folder on your desktop.
  • Repeat this procedure on all Macs that use your iCloud account.
  • How to use iCloud alias folders

    Now that you have your Documents in the Cloud folders aliased to your desktop, all you have to do is drag and drop files into them. Drag Word and text documents into the Pages folder, Spreadsheets into the Numbers folder, and Presentations into the Keynote folder.

    If everything is properly set up and working, dragging a file into the folder on one computer will automatically put it into the folder on the other computers that use your iCloud account, just like Dropbox!

    How to use iCloud to store music, movies, photos, and other files

    Now, this is great if you are using Office files, but what if you want to use your iCloud to store movies, audio files or pictures?

    Fortunately, there is a workaround to upload any file to iCloud – not just documents.

    This method works with images, videos, audio files – even full directories and stores them in your iCloud account for later retrieval.

    1. login into iCloud.com
    2. Click on the iWork icon
    3. Click on Upload

    You'll see that you can only upload Word or Pages documents, Excel or Numbers documents, PowerPoint of Keynote documents or text files. That's where this gets tricky.

    1. Navigate to any video, image or audio file (or even folder)
    2. Right click on it and select Compress from the contextual menu
    3. Add .txt to the end of the file the extension.
    4. Agree to the file extension warning to confirm you want to make the change.

    Now, go back to iCloud on your computer

    1. Click on the Gear button in the upper right hand corner
    2. Click on Upload Document
    3. Select the file you just compressed and changed the extension for.

    Now, when you go to Pages, you will see the file (it will look like a text file) and it should show up on every device you have connected to the iCloud account.

    To retrieve the file from another computer, just repeat the process in reverse.

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    1. login into iCloud.com
    2. Click on the iWork icon
    3. Download the file
    4. Go to your Downloads folder.

    And there's your file. Just rename it back to .zip, uncompress, and voila!

    Yes, as hacks go it's really ugly and really inefficient, but if you understand how the iCloud and Mac filesystems works, and ever really need it in a pinch, it's there for you. (Unless or until Apple changes things -- that's the risk of using any hack.)

    More on using iCloud like Dropbox or Google Drive

    So, that’s how you can take advantage of your free iCloud storage to store more than just the music and movies you buy from iTunes and your personal information.

    Is newfound cloud storage helpful to you? Share you experiences in this forum thread.

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    There are 33 comments. Add yours.

    Kevin says:

    Some of this is correct. When you go to iCloud.com you will ONLY have the gear option to upload if you have purchases either keynote, numbers, or pages. If you have not purchased one of these you will not have the gear option.

    impaler says:

    Too much work. Steve Jobs already said it, that folks think it's a "big hard disk in the sky...we think it's way more than that."

    FlopTech says:

    Wow. Thanks for the great article Gary!

    murphycoverdot2001 says:

    Mobile Downloads or Mobile Documents? The section titled "How to create aliases for Documents in the Cloud folders." says to find the Mobile Downloads folder and not to worry if you don't have one, 'cuz we'll show you how to make it, but the next section tells you how to create the Mobile Documents folder if you didn't find one…
    Also, in my Mobile Documents folder I have folders whose names start with 10 random uppercase alpha and numeric characters (like 243LU8883U (not real in case it matters for security)) followed by a tilde and the app URI with ~s in place of .s. (My apps are com~apple~movietrailers and com~melodis~soundhound~free, so I'm not sure if other apps escape the leading garble, tho I doubt it. Probably should have been mentioned in the article. Unless it's because I have more than one iPad connected to my account?
    Anyway, I hope these help improve the article.
    al

    Rene Ritchie says:

    Mine says "Mobile Documents"; fixed the text above, thanks!

    Zafod says:

    Any way to do this in Windows ?

    Justin says:

    Since this is an unsupported method of using iCloud, you risk data loss and random issues that Apple will not be able to help you troubleshoot.

    JD says:

    Mobile Downloads or "Mobile Documents"
    Big difference. I have one, not the other. Your create section references Mobile Documents but earlier on it suggests Mobile Downloads.

    jasondeno says:

    $9.95 a month for online Dropbox backups and delivery to ALL my devices including multiple PCs is hardly what I'd consider 'hefty.' More like 'essential!'
    Some day I hope these two clouds will merge, but for now, I use both..

    Marky253 says:

    I have only one question! Why is it that when I put a calendar appointment in my iPhone it sync's and appears on my iPad, but when I make one on my iPad the appointment will not sync or appear on my iPhone?

    Raghvendra says:

    Please mention in title that this is only for Mac users and not for PC users..

    Rene Ritchie says:

    It already says that right before the instructions :)

    Luis says:

    I'd consider this if after iCloud configuration it would remain as a similar Dropbox product, but the fact that it doesn't go near as simple as drag and drop offered in dropbox, drive,
    Besides, I already have dropbox + drive installed, no harm in using both <3

    makya53 says:

    Great article, thanks.

    Aftershock says:

    My God what a mess about every time you want to transfer some files!!
    If you need dropbox functionality then just stick with dropbox.

    paulthefencer says:

    Something else that you can do is if you sign up with Box.net, you're given 5 gb for free. Then (and only if you have an android phone) if you sign up with Box on your android device as well, they give you an additonal 45 gb for free. So that's 50 gigs with Box. I have an iPad 3, and the iPod touch 4th gen, but I couldn't afford the iPhone so I just bought a cheap LG phone, which for me is fine. But now I have 50 gigs on Box.net, and I downloaded the box app to my iPad. Just FYI.

    John says:

    Great article.
    One "small" thing I would like you to ponder (and solve if you are inclined to), is how I can use iCloud to manage a single set of templates for numbers and pages, or themes for keynote, across multiples Macs as well as iPad and iPhone. On the Mac pages and numbers create a My Templates folder, or you can manually create additional templates folders. Presumably, using aliases perhaps, there would be a way to automatically get them across multiple Macs, next step getting them into the right places on IOS. Over to you.
    Regards
    John

    Morwen says:

    Isn't this a waste of time since Apples been notifying all iWork.com users that it's going away as of July 31st?

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    krsgdlw says:

    Are the instructions only for uploading to iCloud? Can I not download as well?

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    marciokoko says:

    I use dropbox, but Im slowly moving into iCloud. I would like to start by syncing my work documents on iCloud. I already have my Dropbox folder on my mba. I already have mountain lion on my mba as well. Can I simply tell iCloud to look at my Dropbox folder and sync that to my iCloud? That way I dont have to be modifying files in Dropbox folder & iCloud folder?

    anthonymaw says:

    I found a "~/Library/Finder/ Mobile Documents/com~apple~finder/iCloud" folder that can store any file format and is automatically replicated like a Dropbox. I dragged a shortcut into my Finder's left side favourites and it works great. Files copied in there are immediately uploaded to my iCloud account. It would be great if there was a way to just redirect the user profile's Finder Documents to this folder.