iCloud: Everything you need to know!

iCloud is the most recent (and longest-lasting) iteration of Apple's online services for its customers, including email, contacts, calendars, content sync, and online storage, à la Dropbox or Google Drive. The service is accessible from both iOS and macOS devices, and features a variety of storage tiers to choose from.

Here's everything you need to know about iCloud.

What is iCloud?

iCloud is Apple's cloud solution for keeping your digital life in sync across your devices. iCloud can store and sync everything from calendar events to the photo album for your most recent vacation so that you can access that content anywhere on any Apple device.

Additionally, iCloud also powers syncing for a lot of third-party apps on iPhone, iPad, and Mac, keeping documents, lists, podcasts, and more up to date on the relevant devices.

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What does Apple store or sync with iCloud?

Almost all of Apple's native apps on iOS, as well as their Mac equivalents, stay in sync using iCloud. These include:

  • Mail
  • Contacts
  • Calendar
  • Notes
  • Reminders

Additionally, you can sync your photos using iCloud Photo Library. Your Safari bookmarks and open tabs can also be synced so that you can continue your web browsing on any of your iCloud devices with Safari installed.

If you're looking for general online storage, you can use iCloud Drive, which will store and sync anything you put into it, making documents, images, audio files, and much more accessible across your iOS and macOS devices. As previously mentioned, iCloud can also sync data from third-party apps so that your entire digital life stays up-to-date across your devices, and third-party apps can access iCloud Drive for storage as well.

What is an iCloud backup?

Your iPhone or iPad can be backed up to iCloud. By default, your devices will back up to iCloud at the same time each day as long as they are charging at that time. You can also manually back up your iOS devices from the Settings app.

When restoring your iOS device or setting up a new one, you can choose to restore from a recent iCloud backup. Because of recent security changes made to how iCloud handles these backups, the health data that you store on your iPhone will be included in your backup. Previously, you needed to create an encrypted backup in iTunes in order to back up that data.

Exactly what's included in an iCloud backup

This is Apple's official list of what is included in an iCloud backup:

  • App data
  • Apple Watch backups
  • Call history
  • Device settings
  • HomeKit configuration
  • Home screen and app organization
  • iMessage, text (SMS), and MMS messages
  • Photos and videos on your iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch
  • Purchase history from Apple services, like your music, movies, TV shows, apps, and books
  • Ringtones
  • Visual Voicemail password (requires the SIM card that was in use during backup)

Your backups only include information stored on your iOS device. Content already stored in iCloud, such as Calendars, Contacts, and your iCloud Photo Library, are already stored in iCloud, and thus don't need to be backed up.

Where can I use iCloud?

iCloud support comes built in on every modern Apple device, and has since its introduction in 2011. You can manage your iCloud account in the Settings app on iPhone, iPad, and Apple TV as well as System Preferences on macOS. You can also manage everything, and even restore certain lost items, using iCloud.com

I can access iCloud on the web?

Indeed you can. iCloud.com lets you access Mail, Contacts, Calendars, Notes, Reminders, and Photos from the web on any modern browser. You can also check out iCloud Drive and what you have stored there, as well as web-based versions of the iWork suite, Pages, Numbers, and Keynote.

Each of these web apps offers most of the same functionality as their iOS and macOS counterparts, including photo management in Photos, creating and managing events in Calendars, and even making documents and collaborating with others on projects in the iWork apps.

Can I use iCloud on Windows?

Yes you can. iCloud is officially supported on Windows, and you can download the official iCloud for Windows app onto your PC in order to set up iCloud syncing.

iCloud for Windows can be configured to sync items to iCloud Drive, send images to your iCloud Photo Library, sync your mail, calendar, and contacts with Outlook, and even sync your bookmarks with a browser of your choice.

Can I use iCloud on Android?

As of right now, there is no official solution for using your iCloud account with Android devices to sync contacts and calendars, store photos in iCloud Photo Library, or keep content in iCloud Drive.

That being said, you can use your iCloud email address with email apps available for Android, so if you do need to use an Android device, you can at least get your email messages.

Is iCloud free to use?

Yes, but with a caveat. While you can set up and use an iCloud account free of charge, you start with a small (quite frankly, too small) amount of storage, 5GB. This data will quickly be eaten by your photos, videos, iCloud Drive content, and your iCloud backups. Once filled, you won't be able to store more without deleting older content or upgrading to a paid iCloud storage plan.

What do iCloud storage plans cost?

iCloud has a few different storage plans that you can pick from. Here's how they break down.

  • 5GB - Free
  • 50GB - $0.99 per month
  • 200GB - $2.99 per month
  • 2TB - $9.99 per month

You can change upgrade or downgrade the amount of storage you have for your iCloud account at any time on one of your Apple devices.

Can I share iCloud storage with my family?

Yes you can. If you set up Family Sharing, in addition to being able to share App Store purchases and an Apple Music subscription, your family members will be able to share your iCloud storage. Apple stresses that when you choose to do this, all photos and documents stay private, and family members won't be able to snoop on what others have stored in iCloud.

Alright, sounds good. How do I sign up for an iCloud account?

You can create a new iCloud account on any iPhone, iPad, or Mac. When you set up a new device, you'll be given the option of signing in with a current Apple ID to access your iCloud account, or setting up a new one to create a new iCloud account.

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