Apple iCloud: The smart person's guide

Apple's iCloud is a cloud file storage and services platform that provides users with secure ways to store and share files, find lost equipment, and synchronize information across multiple devices.

Image: Apple Inc.

iCloud is Apple's cloud file storage and services platform. The service permits users to leverage secure and highly reliable cloud computing features and capabilities to store and share a wide variety of files, locate lost equipment, and synchronize information across multiple devices.

Apple's iCloud includes multiple features and components. The features included with iCloud are iCloud Drive, iCloud Storage Plans (additional file storage), iCloud Photo Library (cloud-based photo storage), Family Sharing (account and resource sharing), Safari and iCloud Keychain services, and more.

We'll periodically update this resource guide when new information is available about iCloud.

SEE: Cloud Computing Policy (Tech Pro Research)

Executive summary

  • What it is: The cloud service permits users to store and share files across multiple devices and platforms, including with other authorized users. Using iCloud, users can also locate lost equipment, share web surfing status with other devices, share passwords across multiple authorized devices, and synchronize common personal information management components such as mail, Calendar, and Contacts. Users can leverage iCloud to back up iPhones, iPads, and iPod touches.
  • Why it matters: Cloud services play an increasingly important role fulfilling file sharing, collaboration, and application needs. Apple's iCloud service adds more features, including the ability to locate misplaced devices, calendar and contact synchronization, and cloud-based backup.
  • Who this affects: Apple customers benefit most from iCloud. Mac, iPhone, iPad, and iPod users can all leverage the cloud platform to add functionality and serviceability to such Apple devices. While iCloud components, including bookmark synchronization, web-based file access, creation, editing and sharing, and limited application access are all available to Windows users, Apple users—for whom iCloud integration is baked into devices' operating systems—receive additional functionality.
  • When it was released: Apple iCloud entered service October 12, 2011 after being announced at the 2011 Apple Worldwide Developer's Conference (WWDC) on June 6, 2011. The predecessor service MobileMe launched January 5, 2000 and was re-launched as part of Apple's .Mac effort on July 17, 2002. MobileMe was ultimately discontinued June 30, 2012.
  • How to get it: An iCloud setup assistant is built into iPhones, iPads, iPod touches, and Macs. Apple offers directions for setting iCloud up on iOS devices, Macs, and Windows machines. Apple includes 5 GB of free storage with each iCloud account. In the US, 50 GB additional storage costs $0.99 per month; 200 GB costs $2.99 a month; 1TB costs $9.99 a month; and 2 TB costs $19.99 a month. File storage capacity and pricing options vary by country.

SEE: Check out all of TechRepublic's smart person's guides (TechRepublic)

What it is

The cloud service permits users to store, back up, access, view, edit, and share a variety of files and information, including documents, spreadsheets, presentations, photos, videos, music, email, bookmarks, and more across multiple devices and platforms, including with other authorized users. The devices across which iCloud users can share files include Macs, iPhones, iPads, iPod touches, and Windows PCs and tablets.


iCloud System Preferences enable customizing the cloud-computing operation.

Using iCloud, users can also locate lost equipment. The Find My iPhone feature permits iCloud users to track iPhones, iPads, and Macs. Users can sign into iCloud or use the Find My iPhone app to determine the location of a missing device for which the feature was previously enabled.

If a device is lost, iCloud users can remotely send the device a command placing it in Lost Mode, which helps protect the device's data against unauthorized use and encourages whoever retrieves the device to call the owner. iCloud users can also implement a remote erase operation, if necessary to remove personal data from a lost device.

iCloud permits sharing web surfing status with other authorized devices. As a result, users can pick up (such as using a Mac) where he or she left off reading on a mobile device (such as an iPhone), or vice versa.

The platform enables sharing Keychain information—application and website passwords—across multiple authorized devices. The feature helps eliminate the need for a third-party password management program and makes it easier for Apple users to navigate websites and programs without having to commit multiple passwords for numerous sites to memory.

iCloud enables synchronizing email, Calendar, Contacts, Reminders, and Notes. When a compatible Mac or iOS device is configured to share corresponding data using iCloud, the cloud service automatically synchronizes the information across all the authorized devices. Then, contacts can be created on a Mac, viewed on an iPhone, and edited on an iPad, for example.

Users choosing to back up iPhones, iPads, and iPods can leverage iCloud for these devices' backups. In addition to backing up all photos and videos using iCloud, regardless of which device the image was initially captured on, iCloud permits users to back up iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch configurations and data, which simplifies the process of configuring a new device. Users can choose to restore the entire old backup when deploying the new device. Alternatively, users can deploy a new device and then selectively recover files stored within iCloud Drive or components backed up to iCloud.

Competing cloud storage products include Backblaze, Box, Dropbox, and Google Drive. Microsoft's cloud version, which is intended primarily for Windows PCs but also works for Mac and iOS users, is OneDrive.

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Why it matters

Cloud computing is significantly disrupting corporate and personal technology strategies, as noted within a 2016 CIO article. The trend is well documented.

Cloud file storage and synchronization services offer secure and reliable alternatives to backing up information, enabling personal information management (such as email operation and calendar sharing) synchronization, and sharing and distributing files with authorized users.

SEE: Power checklist: Managing and troubleshooting cloud storage (Tech Pro Research)

Cloud subscriptions simplify license management for numerous applications, from creative suite tools to common office productivity applications. Cloud services also permit organizations to more easily receive updates, install application patches, and deploy upgraded software editions.

Apple iCloud extends cloud advantages by enabling users to track, retrieve, better secure, and erase data and information on lost equipment. iCloud synchronizes email, appointments, contacts, notes, and reminders across a user's devices, thereby simplifying the daily task of accessing, editing, and synchronizing critical and commonly used data. It's impractical to manually attempt to back up, synchronize, track, and otherwise manage so many devices and datasets.


The iCloud web-based interface provides web access to iCloud-synchronized Mail, Notes, Reminders, Contacts, Calendar, and more. Windows users can also access Pages documents, Keynote presentations, and Numbers spreadsheets stored within iCloud, as well as track lost equipment.

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Who this affects

Apple users benefit most from iCloud features and services; iCloud integration is natively baked into iPod touch, iPhone, iPad, and Mac devices' operating systems. The result is seamless configuration, the ability to customize and set various iCloud options differently on a variety of independent devices, and reliable operation.


iCloud Drive enables sharing a variety of files across various devices, including Macs, iPhones, and iPads.

Image: Apple Inc.

Apple provides PC users with an iCloud application that permits sharing files using iCloud Drive, sharing and backing up photos and videos, synchronizing Mail, Contacts, Calendars, Tasks, and Bookmarks and a cross-platform web-based iCloud interface for sharing files and tracking lost equipment. However, Windows phones and mobile tablets don't natively back up applications, settings, program configurations, and other information the way iOS devices do with iCloud, and Windows devices cannot be restored using iCloud the way in which Apple devices are restored.


iCloud provides Apple users with the ability to back up photos and videos and share the files across Macs, iPads, and iPhones.

Image: Apple Inc.

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When it was released

Apple announced iCloud at the 2011 WWDC on June 6, 2011. iCloud entered service on October 12, 2011.

The predecessor service MobileMe originally launched January 5, 2000. MobileMe was re-launched as part of Apple's .Mac branding effort on July 17, 2002. Apple discontinued MobileMe operation June 30, 2012.

Additional resources:

How to get it

Apple includes an iCloud setup assistant within its iPhones, iPads, iPod touches, and Macs. The assistant simplifies deploying a new device, or a reimaged system (such as occurs when replacing a failed hard drive).

Apple also publishes and maintains directions for setting iCloud up on iOS devices, Macs, and Windows machines.

5 GB of free storage are included, by default, with each iCloud account; additional storage is available. And, because Apple reportedly leverages Amazon Web Services and Google Web Platform to power its underlying cloud services, Apple can competitively price its data storage subscriptions.

In the US, 50 GB additional storage costs $0.99 per month; 200 GB costs $2.99 a month; 1 TB costs $9.99 a month; and 2 TB costs $19.99 a month. File storage capacity and pricing options vary by country.

Additional resources:

About Erik Eckel

Erik Eckel owns and operates two technology companies. As a managing partner with Louisville Geek, he works daily as an IT consultant to assist small businesses in overcoming technology challenges and maximizing IT investments. He is also president o...

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