OS X Yosemite Cloud Drive: Explained

iCloud drive in OS X Yosemite: Explained

Need to sync files between Macs, or between Macs, iOS devices and PCs? Look no further than iCloud Drive

Steve Jobs famously told the creators of Dropbox that their app was a feature, not a product, and they proved him wrong. Dropbox and other file sharing services have grown to near ubiquity as people find more uses for them. Apple's not ready to cede Jobs' position, though. iCloud Drive is coming to iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite, and it provides a lot of the same functionality that Dropbox does, but with much better top-to-bottom integration with Apple's ecosystem.

Cloud-based file service integrated with the system

iCloud Drive is a file sharing service that works in the cloud — iCloud, as the name implies. Files are visible on your Mac and your iOS device, and can be manipulated on the Mac by simple drag and drop. You can also create files using iCloud-aware apps on your iOS 8 device.

iCloud Drive appears on your Mac just like any other drive or service: it's listed in the Favorites sidebar; clicking on the icon will open the iCloud Drive folder. Inside the folder are documents and other folders, each containing the files you've put there. From your Mac you can store any file on iCloud Drive you want to, in whatever folder structure you want, and you can access them from your Mac, iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad running iOS 8.

To move a file into the cloud you simply drag them into the iCloud Drive from the Finder. You can also create a new document using an iCloud-enabled app on your iOS device; those files are then stored in their own folders on iCloud Drive.

Smoothing the rough edges out of file sync

For years iOS users have begged Apple to provide some sort of visible file system for iOS, to make it easier to move documents between applications and to do more with those files. While iOS 8 won't have a visible file system, iCloud Drive does solve a big problem: the "siloing" of documents that can only be opened by their respective applications.

In the case of iOS devices, apps will be able to open any iCloud Drive document that registers as readable to them, so you'll be able to import graphics you've made from one document into the presentation document you've created using Keynote, say.

This is a huge step in the right direction for iOS device users who expect the same sort of workflow flexibility out of their iPhone or iPad that they get out of their Mac.

"Sherlocking" Dropbox

Where does iCloud Drive leave services like Dropbox? I'm sure that Dropbox's developers aren't overly concerned at this point: More than 200 million registered Dropbox users were around by the end of the last year.

But it does save Mac, iPhone and iPad users from having to download a third-party utility that has to jump through hoops to provide some level of basic integration with its host computer and devices. This is an Apple-made solution that's going to see widespread support in fairly short order after launch.

Apple's smart to make iCloud Drive work on PCs, too. Many of us depend on PCs in the workplace or other environments where a Mac just isn't available. The apps available in iCloud.com — along with all the other related services — work just fine on the PC already.

Dropbox will remain a popular option for many users who want to share files with each other regardless of what platform they're working on, but users dialed into the Apple ecosystem may find that iCloud Drive is a friendlier end-to-end service for their file needs.

Bottom line

I'm a long-time Dropbox user, but it's never been a perfect solution for me. Despite its developers' best efforts, Dropbox has never really gained complete integration with either my Mac or iOS workflow: It's always felt grafted on. I'm excited about iCloud Drive for exactly that reason — instead of a product, it really is a feature. And a useful one at that.

Do you plan to replace Dropbox with iCloud Drive? Does iCloud Drive solve problems for you in iOS? Let me know what you think in the comments.

Have something to say about this story? Share your comments below! Need help with something else? Submit your question!

Peter Cohen

Managing Editor of iMore, Mac and gaming specialist and all-around technologist. Follow him on Twitter @flargh

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Reader comments

iCloud drive in OS X Yosemite: Explained

53 Comments

Any idea if my iDevice backups are going to count towards the (free) iCloud Drive storage allotment? If it will, then Dropbox has the great advantage of giving a lot more space for free!

Are you saying that you backup your iDevice to Dropbox? Like, instead of iCloud? With all your settings and passwords, etc?

No, of course not. But I would use iCloud for device back ups, passwords, etc and Dropbox for everything else :)

I'm very tempted to move over. But how well does this support collaboration? I work with several different groups of people using shared Dropbox folders. If this isn't available, I'm (at best) going to have to use both Dropbox and iCloud, and that probably means that Dropbox wins just to keep things simple.

Also, Dropbox has one feature that is critical, called Packrat. This stores old versions of files. If you are collaborating with others, it saves you from someone else bone-headedly destroying the contents of a document and having it propagate to everyone else.

Packrat, exactly. I don't know that I would want to give that service up by dumping Dropbox.

If iCloud has an analog, I'll take my 500GB off Dropbox and onto iCloud in a heartbeat.

I don't use Dropbox but do use a few other cloud services, mainly Box. But if this will work as fluidly as I'd need it to, then I could conceivably narrow everything to one service. I like keeping things as simple as possible so I hope Apple succeeds here.

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Peter, are any of the new services/features going to help users manage media better...without being a tech wiz? The biggest problem I see is that people fill up their iPads and iPhones with images and videos...this includes media produced on the device and media attached in messages. Those that I know with persistent space issues have purchased the max storage for backing their devices but they are still filling up the device drives and running out of backup storage space. There doesn't seem to be an intuitive, native, simple solution for disk space management with respect to media files.

It would be nice to see options to selectively or automatically move all media or specific file types to the cloud and off the device. My understanding of My Photo Streams is that it is only a temp place holder to allow all devices to sync, which puts the storage burden on the device. Will the new cloud services ameliorate this issue in a way that my parents can implement it without help?

I totally agree on what you wrote above.

Another thing: iPhoto... I haven't used it much as I want my albums to be synced between computers with the possibility to make selective sync (some computers have small SSD drives and can't sync everything to them). Today I'm using dropbox to this but would love to use iCloud Drive and iPhoto instead...

Dropbox is ubiquitous now. I can use it on Android tablets, Windows, Mac, iPhone, iPad, Blackberry, Linux. No matter what. I can also use the web and I can rollback to older versions of documents.

I can't trust iCloud Drive to give me everything the way I want yet. I'll be a Loyal Dropbox user until there's no doubt I'd ever want access to my files and not have it (e.g. from an Android tablet).

I will replace it... I have dropbox but just to keep files there, it's a better experience if using iCloud has more integration..

I find iCloud drive depressing for one reason. In today's world, 5GB is simply not enough for anything. Flickr provides a TB of storage for images, and Amazon will provide UNLIMITED image storage for Firephone owners. I'm not saying I need that much, but when all my images, plus saves from apps like Sketchbook and Pages and Numbers are all sitting on iCloud, I don't see how 5GB will be enough. And what happens when I reach my 5GB limit? can I simply not use those apps any more? or will files save locally on my iPhone instead? or will documents automatically get deleted from iCloud? not sure how people are managing with this paltry amount of storage. Any tips would be appreciated. Thanks.

because that is ridonculously expensive...

See, I try to avaoid monthly fees. iCloud is now so integral to Osx and iOS, yet we are stuck with the same clogged up storage space we have been using for 3-4 years. I mean, I do try to move stuff to Box and dropbox when i can, but I find it is unnecessarily complex when hunting for files.

It's way cheaper than dropbox? If money is so tight that you can't splurge on $5 a month for a decent amount of cloud storage then iCloud Drive sounds like the least of your problems.

Well, being under 18 means I have no credit card. My $300 monthly income means I can easily afford it, but what I am saying is, why should I have to pay $1 per month for 20GB of storage when competitors already offer more for free?

When they changed iCloud to become a major point of connection between osx and iOS, they knew that people already had shit in iCloud. So they orchestrated the shift so that old users will almost certainly have to pay, or toss digital content. I just think that is a bit short-sighted.

As soon as the iCloud drive app and Yosemite are released I'll uninstall Dropbox from everywhere. UNLESS Dropbox drops its exorbitant prices, if it does, I might reconsider.

But in general, I wouldn't use a different app for something which comes natively with the OS I'm using (i.e.: I wouldn't continue to use Deopbox for the same reason I don't use third party clients/apps for Mail, Safari, weather, notes, calendar etc - the native apps are perfectly integrated and work brilliantly).

OH.I have 25GB for free on Dropbox, 25GB on Skydrive, and 20GB on google Drive. all free, all for life. Not sure what i did to get so much more than normal.

Dropbox with Carousel is a great solution for accessing all those photos, but Dropbox's pricing is ridiculous. I'll be moving to iCloud Drive as soon as it's commercially available.

Where's the free 25GB option? Nowhere, you have to "earn" it. What you start with is 2GB. What if I need 50GB? There's no purchase option less than 100GB, and that costs $100/yr. Compare that to iCloud Drive at $48/yr for 200GB.

iCloud Drive = $48 for 200GB = $0.24/GB
Dropbox = $100 for 100GB = $1.00/GB

Seems like Dropbox is more than 4x as expensive to me.

Me too. I'll drop my 100GB of SugarSync, in favour of 200GB of iCloud Drive in a heartbeat. Although, I will keep the free Dropbox because some clients use it. And business OneDrive for Office 365. And personal OneDrive. It's still a Cloud Cloud Cloud Cloud World.

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Haven't had a chance to look at the beta and probably won't but a feature that would be real cool is something similar to what Pogoplug does. If I could use my Time Capsule through iCloud as just another folder in my iCloud account and it shows up in Finder or through iCloud.com that would be sweet.

The Pogoplug device sitting on my network at home shows up on my desktop as a mounted drive. I can also go to pogoplug.com and have access to to all the storage devices that are connected to the device from anywhere on the Internet. Their only problem is that they are a small company with a great product so there are some issues. The concept is awesome the execution needs some work. If Apple with all their $$$ could improve on that it would take the world by storm.

I am a heavy Dropbox user, but I will switch in a New York minute if iCloud Drive does everything the Dropbox does.

I have not seen, heard or read if you can E-mail or message a link to a file in iCloud Drive to another individual. Has anyone seen, heard or read about this feature in iCloud Drive???

That's my biggest issue as well. As I understand it, iCloud Drive attaches the file (if to an Apple device) and supplies a direct link to iCloud with the respective attachment (if to a PC user). So it's similar to Dropbox in a PC aspect but regular mailing system if to another Apple device.

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I am a 200gb Dropbox user I will be dropping it for this just because of the price its 1/4 the price and will allow more scalability up to 1 tb I have had 3 raid hard drives fail on me and loose pictures so i just need a affordable cloud option that will work and although dropbox is working now the lack of integration has made it a little clunky and i like this option.

I like Dropbox but sending files via email is a pain when the recipient can't access third-party websites because of corporate security. Therefore I would have to open up my Mac and forego mobility (via iPhone) just to send a few documents. Hopefully, then, iCloud Drive will be able to just attach the dag file and we can move on with our day (but I guess this would still be problematic for PC users, but you win some and you lose some) :-)

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I'll probably move my photos from Dropbox to iCloud as I like the way the sync under iOS 8 / Yosemite is being described, provided I don't have to use iPhoto for it to work (the reason why I'm not using photostream). For other documents it depends on how well iCloud will be supported. Right now Dropbox is still better supported so for the moment I'll keep my other stuff there.

Very true. That's actually a good idea, though I suspect iCloud Drive and it's cheap pricing will rectify that oversight.

Agreed. It's annoying that I can only use iCloud backup for my phone, and not my iPad, since the iPhone tales up 4Gb, and I have to stay on top of that.

I suppose if I turned off "Sync Photos" on the iPad it might work.

I still wonder if Photo stream photos take up backup storage. I wish I could browse my iCloud backup.

After iCloud Drive is released and gains some traction, Apple will be in a position to announce "...and the best thing is, now you get xxGB for free. Yes, free!". If you start at free, you don't have anywhere to go - except to give even more for free.

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I really only want iCloud drive for Photos backup and online accessibility. I want the peace of mind that all of my photos are backed up and recoverable (on top of my NAS-based TimeMachine and annual Blu-ray backups), and the added bonus of being able to browse and view my entire library from my mobile device is a bonus.

I'm not too concerned about the workplace files since we use SharePoint. But it would be nice to be able to find a personal file and easily share it with anyone, assumably from almost any app with iOS extensions. I can already do this with my NAS, but the "cloud" backup would be a plus.

I have heard no mention of "versions", or TimeMachine-like file history browsing. This is a must. Even if only accessible from OS X.

Also, I would like to know if the data will be geographically redundant. I would hate to lose all of my files & photos entrusted to iCloud to a fire or some other catastrophe at a single location.

I'm hoping that it won't actually allow us to put files in it "in any way we want" as that would be a nightmare to administer the same folder on iOS and create unnecessary ugliness. I like the way iOS does it where they only allow you to make one peel of folders. Most users don't need any more than that and most users are confused by any more than that. Digging through folders within folders is so 20th century and only the OCD really need it.

I just have one question. Does it act like a hard drive in the air? If you have 250 GB on your Mac, can you still put 1 TB of files into it if you pay for it?

I also have this question. Anybody? iDisk was unique in that, it didn't use local HD space. What good is cloud storage, (free or not) if I can't easily access it? How's that improve quality of life?

I found a wonderful app that addresses this by creating virtual drives ExpanDrive (after much searching) which do not use local HD space. I have nothing to do with it other than to be a satisfied user - http://www.macupdate.com/app/mac/26992/expandrive

j1bExpanDrive is expensive for that kind of use.
You can easily enable file sharing via afp, and just open the port 549 on your router.
Sharing Folders Mac to mac is just as easy as connect to service "afp://ipaddress", and there are a few apps for iOS to connect the same way (iFiles comes to mind, ifilesapp.com
This makes your home machine accessible from the outside world.

Based on some (very rudimentary) testing, it appears that it does use space on the local drive. If that's the case, it's more of a file-syncing and -sharing tool than a hard-drive in the cloud. I will continue to check, and post back if I see any different behavior.

One of the biggest things I'm looking for is a true hard-drive in the cloud. If it's true this is just file syncing/sharing.. that just isn't as good as I was hoping for.

Same question here. Also I remember at one point iCloud Photo Library previews referenced the idea that the full-quality files would live in iCloud, while devices will only store thumbnails for browsing purposes. So it looked like your iCloud Drive folder would take up 1:1 hard drive space, while your iCloud Photo Library would sync at a lower hard drive to cloud space ratio. Kind of like how Dropbox allows you to selectively sync files, but with the added advantage of having thumbnails available for browsing in the new Photos app. But what happened to iCloud Photo Library?

I will wait to see if it works the way I want it to.
I backup through boxcryptor to Dropbox. Copy files from iOS devices to Dropbox, then have bash scripts on the desktop to move the files from Dropbox into iTunes and local folders. It's cloud transport system for me. I have used other solutions, but currently Dropbox is the cleanest.

Thanks for the detailed information on iCloud drive. Will there be the ability to attach iCloud drive files into an email on your iOS devices finally? I've been using box crane to do it, but its rather clunky.

@bbmark - unfortunately not... Mail in iOS 8 does not allow attaching of iCloud documents, nor is there any way to browse iCloud from your iOS device. In fact, there is very little different about iCloud Drive when it comes to iOS 8, other than the fact that more apps can use it.

I find it interesting that this article describes the siloing of documents into folders a "feature", as I can only see disadvantages with this approach. It's a very retro approach that is the antithesis of Google's "search, don't organise" mantra.

On the one hand, we're being encouraged not to create endless directory hierarchies because Spotlight can find anything we want and, on the other, we have a cloud drive that segregates documents not only by type, but by application!

This becomes a problem when you have more than one iOS app capable of editing the same type of file - each app cannot see the other app's files. The one I've been having with are PDF apps: on OS X you have iBooks and Preview for start, but I have several more iOS apps that allow me to mark up PDF documents and still more that export in that format.

And although you can technically copy any folder (like your old Dropbox folder) to the iCloud drive on your Mac, it will only be visible on other Macs, and invisible to your iOS devices.

So, in short: this is no substitute for Dropbox at all.

I think that even though Apple is making a good stride to try to improve icloud it will not compete with Dropbox or Google Drive.... Until then I am staying with Dropbox... I don't even really use icloud that much anyhow but maybe the release of Yosemite will change my perspective... we will see :/

I think that eventhough Apple is making a good stride to try to improve icloud, it will not compete with Dropbox or Google Drive.... Until then I am staying with Dropbox... I don't even really use Icloud that much anyhow but maybe the release of Yosemite will change my perspective... we will see :/

I'm thinking of moving my Dropbox folder into my iCloud drive folder. Sounds odd but if I am still primarily using Dropbox for sharing files, it would seem to provide an auto sync to both services. This way I can try iCloud drive out a bit more on my different Apple devices but also have Dropbox up to date. Commitment is a challenging thing...