iCloud Drive was released in iOS 8, but it wasn’t until OS X Yosemite was released on the Mac last week that the service actually became useful. That’s because iCloud Drive lets you synchronize files between your iOS 8 devices, Macs, and other computers via the web — not just files from iOS and Mac apps, but any files you want to place in the folder. This provides added Dropbox-like sync to iCloud, and it’s a nifty feature to get files into supported iOS apps and vice-versa. With iCloud Drive, you’ll no longer need to sync your files via iTunes or email them to yourself.

Enabling iCloud Drive on your iOS 8 device

To get started with iCloud Drive, you’ll need to enable the feature. Here’s how:

  1. Navigate to Settings | iCloud | iCloud Drive
  2. Select the ON switch for iCloud Drive (Figure A)

Figure A

You must enable iCloud Drive if you’ve previously used iCloud document sync in previous versions of iOS.

Note: Once iCloud Drive has been enabled on one device, all of your existing iCloud devices will be migrated over to use iCloud Drive as well. If you were previously using iCloud document sync with various applications, then those documents will be available inside of iCloud Drive.

Adding files using your Mac

Once iCloud Drive has been enabled, you’ll see a new sidebar item in the Finder on your Mac called iCloud Drive (Figure B). Just like Dropbox, this is a folder whose contents will synchronize between your devices. Any files you place inside of this folder will automatically sync between iOS and Mac devices, plus any changes to files in iCloud Drive will be merged back into all of the devices as well.

Figure B

iCloud Drive will appear in the sidebar of the Finder as a folder, just like Dropbox.

In addition to files you want to sync, there are folders automatically populated in iCloud Drive for any iCloud Drive-enabled applications on your Mac or iOS. Each folder will contain the files generated in those applications. For instance, if you had a Pages document, Pages will save it in iCloud Drive | Pages whenever you save using iCloud, keeping your iCloud Drive folder organized a bit better.

To open a file in iCloud Drive for editing on the Mac, simply double-click it in your iCloud Drive folder. This will open it in an app on your Mac that can edit the file. Save as normal to update the file.

To add a file to iCloud Drive on your Mac, simply drag and drop it in the iCloud Drive root folder or any subfolder.

Viewing and editing files on iOS

We’ll use Pages for this example to show you how you can open and edit a file stored in your iCloud Drive in iOS 8, but other applications that support iCloud Drive will let you open and edit compatible files in the same manner.

To open a document in Pages on iOS 8 in iCloud Drive:

  1. Open Pages
  2. Select the plus sign [+] in the Documents list
  3. Select iCloud (Figure C)

Figure C

When browsing for a file in iOS, you’ll see the exact same file listing as you did on the Mac.

In this standard iCloud Drive browser, you’ll see the same file and directory listing as on your other devices, allowing you to select and import a file to edit from your drive. Whenever you’re done editing the file, you can save the file back out to your iCloud Drive and have the edited file synced back to all of your devices.

Viewing files online

What if you’re on another computer that isn’t compatible with iCloud Drive or if you’re on a shared public computer? Fortunately, you can still access your files. That’s because iCloud Drive is also accessible from iCloud.com.

Simply navigate to iCloud.com in your web browser, then sign into your iCloud account. Once you’ve done that, click the Drive icon to see, download, and upload files to your iCloud Drive storage (Figure D).

Figure D

Files from your iCloud Drive can be visible from iCloud.com.

Get additional storage

iCloud Drive shares the total storage allotment from your iCloud account. By default, you’re given 5 GB of storage for free. This isn’t much, so you’ll probably want to upgrade to additional storage if you store and sync a lot of files.

iCloud makes this easy on iOS. Just follow these steps:

  1. Open Settings | iCloud | Storage
  2. Tap the Change Storage Plan button

At the time of this writing, Apple offers the following plans for upgrade:

  • 200 GB for $3.99/month
  • 500 GB for $9.99/month
  • 1TB for $19.99/month

You can upgrade or downgrade your storage options at any time by navigating to this screen.

Synchronize everything

As you can see, iCloud Drive is almost a Dropbox replacement, letting you synchronize files and folders between your Macs and iOS devices, but also between Windows and any other device by using the iCloud.com interface.

Do you use iCloud Drive? Have you tried syncing files between your devices? How do you like it? Do you want additional features? Let us know in the discussion thread below.